Jinnah, Imran and Shezan

BY:—Yasser Latif Hamdani

To Jinnah, the question of representation of the legitimate interests of the Muslim minority in United India was a political question and not a religious one. Therefore, a non-Muslim could equally represent the Muslims without any contradiction

The ban on Shezan products by the Lahore Bar Association (LBA) has yet again proved that we are an unthinking, heartless and crooked people as a whole. This ban, which violates at least five of the fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens and other persons under the constitution of Pakistan, is unlikely to be challenged in a court of law because no court of law is going to rule against the high and mighty bar association. The more likely scenario is that the courts will uphold such a bigoted decision and further narrow space for dissent in this country. This writer at least has no hope or faith in Pakistanis of any kind to find it in their hearts to live up to human values of equity and justice, least of all the rabble that passes for lawyers in our time.

Yet I continue to write primarily to set the record straight on two counts. One, the actions of the black sheep that populate this nation state are not and ought not be a reflection on the founder of this nation who — whether our bigots admit it or not — was a man of towering integrity and an inherent sense of justice and fair play and who perhaps is unfortunate enough to be called the founding father of a wretched nation like us. Second, while we are infested with bigots of all shapes and forms, not all of us are like that.

So long as we dare to hope, we are in for constant heartbreak. The all-conquering hero, Imran Khan, claims that he will usher in a new era in Pakistan’s politics by bringing back Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan. This hollow promise lured me into supporting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for three odd months. Lately, Imran Khan’s party has made common cause with the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and other such organisations, which are the antithesis of the fondest hopes Jinnah had for the state he was creating. To make matters worse, the president of the LBA, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, who presided over the ban on the ‘kafir’ (infidel) Shezan soft drink, was supported by Hamid Khan and a bulk of lawyers who identify themselves with the PTI. Apologists for the party now state that Imran Khan has to appeal to a popular base and the Ahmedi issue is only a small matter. It is stated — repeatedly — that Imran Khan is trying to save Pakistan and cannot be bothered with such small matters. May I humbly submit — without offending anyone — that a Pakistan sans Jinnah’s secular vision of equality and justice for all Pakistanis regardless of religion, caste or creed is not a Pakistan worth saving.

While mindful of the sentiments of the people he was leading, Jinnah never made any compromises with bigots. He repeatedly rebuffed Majlis-e-Ahrar’s offers of alliance on the grounds that Majlis-e-Ahrar propagated hate and bigotry against the Ahmedis. On May 23, 1944, Jinnah stated very clearly what his position on the Ahmedi issue was:

“I have been asked a disturbing question, as to who among the Muslims can be a member of the Muslim Conference. It has been asked with particular reference to the Qadianis. My reply is that, as far as the constitution of the All-India Muslim League is concerned, it stipulates that any Muslim, without distinction of creed or sect, can become a member, provided he accepts the views, policy and programme of the Muslim League, signs the form of membership and pays the subscription. I appeal to the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir not to raise sectarian questions, but instead to unite on one platform under one banner. In this lies the welfare of the Muslims. In this way, not only can Muslims make political and social progress effectively, but so can other communities, and so also can the state of Kashmir as a whole.” (For reference please see Jamil-ud-Din Ahmed, Speeches and Statements, Volume I, pg 148.)

It is reported that one Mr M A Sabir tried as hard as he could to persuade the Quaid-e-Azam to declare the Ahmedis as being out of the fold of Islam. But Mr Jinnah stuck resolutely to his principles and kept on replying: “What right have I to declare a person non-Muslim, when he claims to be a Muslim.”

When in 1943 a resolution was presented in the Muslim League to commit Pakistan to an Islamic polity, Jinnah rejected it and called it a censure on every Leaguer. Jinnah did not let any bigot or expediency dictate his policy; against tremendous pressure Jinnah appointed Zafarullah Khan first to argue Pakistan’s case before the Boundary Commission and then as the foreign minister of the new state. As a gesture that spoke louder than words, he appointed Jogindranath Mandal as his law minister. Mr Mandal, a Hindu, had earlier been nominated by Jinnah on a Muslim seat in the interim government of India. To Jinnah, the question of representation of the legitimate interests of the Muslim minority in United India was a political question and not a religious one. Therefore, a non-Muslim could equally represent the Muslims without any contradiction.

Jinnah’s personal observance (or lack thereof) of religious obligations was well known. He made no effort to hide his thoroughly westernised lifestyle. Repeatedly he told the Muslims that he was not a religious leader and that they should not expect from him anything that his own lifestyle does not conform to. His conduct at political rallies was the same — he did not start his speeches with any religious prayer or supplication. When urged by some ulema (religious scholars) to institute public prayer at League rallies, he replied: “Who is going to lead such a prayer, a Shia? A Deobandi? Who?” This is a far cry from Imran Khan’s recent antics at his jalsas (rallies), including his televised namaz (prayer) during the Lahore jalsa. In fact, Imran Khan’s newfound penchant for starting his speeches with a religious prayer is at odds with his own career as a cricketer and a captain. In 1992, Imran Khan did not begin his speech by the now customary “thanks to Almighty Allah”, though perhaps Imran had more faith than anyone who has led the cricket team before or since. Imran the cricket captain, much like Jinnah the politician, did not wear his religion on his sleeve. Imran Khan the politician is a different story.

Anyone who has even a rudimentary idea about the conflict between the two South Asian greats, Jinnah and Gandhi, knows that Jinnah’s break with Gandhi came over Gandhi’s encouragement of the Islamist Khilafat Movement, which Jinnah considered a bigoted and reactionary undertaking. The Quaid famously told Durga Das that he had nothing to do with the pseudo-religious approach to politics that Gandhi was forwarding. In his otherwise well written book, Pakistan: A Personal History, Imran Khan claims that Jinnah and Gandhi were on the same page vis-à-vis the role of religion in politics. Tragically, this misconception seems to inform the great Khan’s every move these days. At the very least then Imran Khan should stop misleading people like me by making references to Jinnah, so that we may stop hoping and wishing and praying for a new dawn, which seems to be no longer an option or priority for Pakistan’s leaders, including Imran Khan.

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at http://globallegalforum.blogspot.com and his twitter handle is @therealylh