Quaid, Iqbal and Muslim Nationalism

When Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was asked by British writer Beverly Nichols how he would define the vital principles of Pakistan, he said:

“In five words: the Muslims are a nation.”

“… If you grant that,” he added, “and if you are an honest man, you must grant the principle of Pakistan. You would have to grant it even if the obstacles were a hundred times more formidable than they actually are. Of course, if you do not grant it, then,”.. . He shrugged his shoulders and smiled, “Then, there is an, end of the matter.”

When Nichols further asked him, “When you say the Muslims are a Nation, are you thinking in terms of religion?”

The Quaid replied, “Partly, but by no means exclusively. You must remember that Islam is not merely a religious doctrine but a realistic and practical Code of Conduct. I am thinking in terms of life, of everything important in life. I am thinking in terms of our history, our heroes, our art, our architecture, our music, our laws, our jurisprudence…”

Such a concise yet comprehensive summary of the two-nation theory and the entire ideology underlying the struggle for Pakistan! No wonder Nichols titled this chapter of his book Dialogue with a Giant. What’s more is that the Quaid’s words were a complete reflection of how Allama Iqbal – the spiritual father of the nation – had defined a nation, and more specifically, the Muslim Nation.

Iqbal had voiced his ideas of Muslim nationhood time and again in his writings, lectures and speeches, and these ideas finally came out in the form of a vision – the desire to see a separate homeland being formed for a separate nation – in his presidential address to the annual session of the All-India Muslim League, in 1930; more famously known as the Allahabad Address.

However, the answer to the fundamental question ‘what is a nation?’ had been given before Iqbal by French Orientalist Ernest Renan (1823-1892) whose ideas of nationhood differed strikingly from the those more prominent Western thinkers of his time whose ideas prevailed in 19th century Western society. In his famous 1882 lecture “What is a Nation?” – Renan described a nation in the following words:

“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present… To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more – these are the essential conditions for being a people… A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”

Iqbal, inspired by Renan’s ideas, quoted from his lecture in the famous Allahabad Address in 1930:

“Man,” says Renan, “is enslaved neither by his race nor by his religion, nor by the course of rivers, nor by the direction of mountain ranges. A great aggregation of men, sane of mind and warm of heart, creates a moral consciousness which is called a nation.”

Iqbal, agreeing with Renan that race or geography did not constitute a nation, and also that mere belief in religious ideas could not bring a people together, took this idea a step further in saying that “Islam has a far deeper significance for us than merely religious.”

“…According to the Quran, it is the religion of Islam alone which sustains a nation in its true cultural or political sense. It is for this reason that the Quran openly declares that any system other than that of Islam must be deprecated and rejected. (3:84)” – Islam and Nationalism.

“In India, as elsewhere, the structure of Islam as a society is almost entirely due to the working of Islam as a culture inspired by a specific ethical ideal. What I mean to say is that Muslim society, with its remarkable homogeneity and inner unity, has grown to be what it is, under the pressure of the laws and institutions associated with the culture of Islam.” -Allahabad Address.

“Mere belief in the Islamic principle, though exceedingly important, is not sufficient. In order to participate in the life of the communal self, the individual mind must undergo a complete transformation, and this transformation is secured, externally by the institutions of Islam, and internally by that uniform culture which the intellectual energy of our forefathers has produced.” – The Muslim Community.

It was this “complete transformation” of the individual mind which enabled the Muslims to become a nation, and transcend the boundaries of race, geography and culture to obtain that oneness of vision which has been mentioned by Iqbal in Javednama:

What is the nation, you who declare ‘No god but God’?
With thousands of eyes, to be one in vision
And elsewhere:

کیا تو نے صحرا نشینوں کو یکتا

خبر میں، نظر میں، اذان سحر میں

The subject of Iqbal’s case study, in particular, was the Muslim Nation of the Indian subcontinent. Although Islam, in Iqbal’s view, being entirely different from other religions, had doubtless acted as a “binding force”, to bring together people of different race and culture throughout its history, yet, it had done much more for the Indian Muslim Nation, the effects of which had been much more far reaching:

“It cannot be denied that Islam, regarded as an ethical ideal plus a certain kind of polity – by which expression I mean a social structure regulated by a legal system and animated by a specific ethical ideal – has been the chief formative factor in the life-history of the Muslims of India. It has furnished those basic emotions and loyalties which gradually unify scattered individuals and groups, and finally transform them into a well-defined people, possessing a moral consciousness of their own. Indeed it is not an exaggeration to say that India is perhaps the only country in the world where Islam, as a people-building force, has worked at its best.” -Allahabad Address.

The past centuries had indeed witnessed in India the emergence of a nation which possessed a character of its own, an entity, an organism on which Islam as a belief system and culture had had a deep and lasting impact, perhaps much more than any other in the history of Islam. The Indian Muslim Nation was, therefore, a unique amalgamation of Islamic beliefs and a uniform culture which not only emanated from those beliefs but also served to strengthen the same.

Iqbal’s view of this “Uniform Culture” was seen to be echoed by the Quaid when he said “…our history, our heroes, our art, our architecture, our music, our laws, our jurisprudence” – a uniformity of culture, lifestyle and code of ethics/conduct, transferred to us from our forefathers, and which, despite living with other nations for centuries, managed to preserve its exclusive status and identity. In Quaid’s words:

“In all these things our outlook is not only fundamentally different but often radically antagonistic to the Hindus. We are different beings. There is nothing in life which links us together. Our names, our clothes, our foods — they are all different; our economic life, our educational ideas, our treatment of women, our attitude to animals… we challenge each other at every point of the compass. Take one example, the eternal question of the cow. We eat the cow, the Hindus worship it.”

Thus, according to our founding fathers, Islam as a religion was capable of connecting individuals through the unity of thought/vision which it offered – and the uniformity of culture arising from that unity – and collectively binding them to form a nation; with the Indian Muslim Nation being an epitome of such nation building by Islam.

It was based on this special status of the Muslim Nation of India that Iqbal proposed the formation of Pakistan. We, as Pakistanis, must understand that Islam, belief in Islam and Muslim culture are the vital components and the building blocks of our society. Muslim culture is a complete lifestyle and code of conduct which evolved and flourished through centuries and was finally passed on to us. This culture is not Arab, or Persian, or Turkish, or Indian, but Muslim Culture in its most enriched form. We cannot replace it by importing a foreign culture which is not compatible with what we have inherited from our forefathers:

اپنی ملت پر قیاس اقوام مغرب سےنه کر

خاص ہے ترکیب میں قوم رسول ہاشمی

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