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By Akbar Ahmed

Mohammad Ali Jinnah
"You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship. . . . We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state."

These are the words of a founding father -- but not one of the founders that America will be celebrating this Fourth of July weekend. They were uttered by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of the state of Pakistan in 1947 and the Muslim world's answer to Thomas Jefferson.

When Americans think of famous leaders from the Muslim world, many picture only those figures who have become archetypes of evil (such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden) or corruption (such as Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf). Meanwhile, many in the Muslim world remember American leaders such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, whom they regard as arrogant warriors against Islam, or Bill Clinton, whom they see as flawed and weak. Even President Obama, despite his rhetoric of outreach, has seen his standing plummet in Muslim nations over the past year.

Blinded by anger, ignorance or mistrust, people on both sides see only what they wish to see, what they expect to see.

Despite the continents, centuries and cultures separating them, Jefferson and Jinnah, the founding fathers of two nations born from revolution, can help break this impasse. In the years following Sept. 11, 2001, their worlds collided, but the things the two men share far outweigh that which divides them.



Each founding father, inspired by his own traditions but also drawing from the other's, concluded that society is best organized on principles of individual liberty, religious freedom and universal education. With their parallel lives, they offer a useful corrective to the misguided notion of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West.

Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson is at the core of the American political ideal. As one biographer wrote, "If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong. If America is right, Jefferson was right." Similarly, Jinnah is Pakistan. For most Pakistanis, he is "The Modern Moses," as one biography of him is titled.

The two were born subjects of the British Empire, yet both led successful revolts against the British and made indelible contributions to the identities of their young nations. Jefferson's drafting of the Declaration of Independence makes him the preeminent interpreter of the American vision; Jinnah's first speeches to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947, from which his statement on freedom of religion is drawn, are equally memorable and eloquent testimonies. As lawyers first and foremost, Jefferson and Jinnah revered the rule of law and the guarantee of key citizens' rights, embodied in the founding documents they shaped, reflecting the finest of human reason.

Particularly revealing is the overlap in the two men's intellectual influences. Jefferson's ideas flowed from the European Enlightenment, and he was inspired by Aristotle and Plato. But he also owned a copy of the Koran, with which he taught himself Arabic, and he hosted the first White House iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during the Muslim holy days of Ramadan.

And while Jinnah looked to the origins of Islam for political inspiration -- for him, Islam above all emphasized compassion, justice and tolerance -- he was steeped in European thought. He studied law in London, admired Prime Minister William Gladstone and Abraham Lincoln, and led the creation of Pakistan without advocating violence of any kind.

In political life, the two suffered accusations of inconsistency: Jefferson for not being robust in defending Virginia from an invading British fleet with Benedict Arnold in command; Jinnah for abandoning his role as ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and becoming the champion of Pakistan.

The controversies did not end with their deaths. Jefferson's views on the separation of church and state generated animosity in his own time and as recently as this year, when the Texas Board of Education dropped him from a list of notable political thinkers. Meanwhile, hard-line Islamic groups have long condemned Jinnah as a kafir, or nonbeliever; "Jinnah Defies Allah" was the subtitle of an exposé in the December 1996 issue of the London magazine Khilafah, a publication of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of Britain's leading Muslim radical groups. (Jinnah's sin, according to the author, was his insistence that Islam stood for democracy and supported women's and minority rights.)

But today such opinions are marginal ones, and the founders' many contributions are commemorated with must-see national monuments -- the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, Jinnah's mausoleum in Karachi -- that affirm their standing as national heroes.


If anything, it is Jefferson and Jinnah who might be critical. If they could contemplate their respective nations today, they would share distress over the acceptance of torture and suspension of certain civil liberties in the former; and the collapse of law and order, resurgence of religious intolerance and widespread corruption in the latter. Their visions are more relevant than ever as a challenge and inspiration for their compatriots and admirers in both nations.

Jefferson and Jinnah do not divide civilizations; they bridge them.

akbar@american.edu
Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun chair of Islamic studies at American University's School of International Service. This essay is adapted from his new book, "Journey Into America: The Challenge of Islam."

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Mr. Jinnah talking to Louis Fischer of Time magazine in 1945

Doon Campbell: What sort of relationship do you envisage between Pakistan and Hindustan?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah: Friendly and reciprocal in the mutual interest of both. That is why I have been urging: let us separate in a friendly way and remain friends thereafter.

Doon Campbell: How would you divide the armed forces? Do you envisage a defence pact or any other kind of military alliance between Pakistan and Hindustan?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah: All the armed forces must be divided completely, but I do envisage an alliance, pact or treaty between Pakistan and Hindustan again in the mutual interest of both and against any aggressive outsider.

Doon Campbell: Do you favour a federation of Pakistan states even if there is to be partition of Punjab and Bengal?


Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The new clamour for partition that is stated is by the vocal section of the caste Hindus in Bengal and the Sikhs in particular in the Punjab will have disastrous results if those two provinces are partitioned and the Sikhs in the Punjab will be the greatest sufferers; and Muslims under contemplated Western Punjab will no doubt be hit, but it certainly will deal the greatest blow to those, particularly the Sikhs, for whose benefit the new stunt has been started. Similarly in Western Bengal, caste Hindus will suffer the most and so will the caste Hindus in Eastern Punjab.

This idea of partition is not only thoughtless and reckless, but if unfortunately His Majesty’s Government favour it, in my opinion it will be a grave error and will prove dangerous immediately and far more so in the future. Immediately it will lead to bitterness and unfriendly attitude between Eastern Bengal and Western Bengal and same will the case with torn Punjab, between Western Punjab and Eastern Punjab.

Partition of Punjab and Bengal, if effected, will no doubt weaken Pakistan to a certain extent. Weak Pakistan and a strong Hindustan will be a temptation the strong Hindustan to try to dictate. I have always said that Pakistan must be sufficiently strong as a balance vis-à-vis Hindustan. I am therefore, deadly against the partition of Bengal and the Punjab and we shall fight every inch against it.

Doon Campbell: Will you demand a corridor through Hindustan connecting the Eastern and Western Pakistan States?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah: Yes.


Doon Campbell: Do you envisage the formation of a Pan-Islamic state stretching from the Far and Middle East to the Far East after the establishment of Pakistan?


Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The theory of Pan-Islamism has long ago exploded, but we shall certainly establish friendly relations and cooperate for mutual good and world peace and we shall always stretch our hand of friendship to the near and Middle East and Far East after the establishment of Pakistan.

Doon Campbell: On what basis will the central administration of Pakistan be set up? What will be the attitude of this Government to the Indian States?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The basis of the central administration of Pakistan and that of the units to be set up will be decided no doubt, by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. But the Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of Government. Its Parliament and Cabinet responsible to the Parliament will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and programme of the Government that may be adopted from time to time.

As regards our attitude towards Indian States I may make it clear once more that the policy of the Muslim League has been and is not to interfere with the Indian States with regard to their internal affairs. But while we expect as rapid a progress as possible in the various states towards the establishment of full responsible government, it is primarily the concern of the ruler and his people.

As regards the position of the states in the light of the announcement made by His Majesty’s Government embodied in the White Paper of the 20th of February, I wish to make it clear that the states are at liberty to form a confederation as one solid group or confederate into more than one groups, or stand as individual states. It is a matter entirely for them to decide. And it is clear, as I can understand, that paramountcy is going to terminate and, therefore, they are completely independent and free. It is for them to adjust such a matter as there may be by virtue of their treaties and agreements with the paramount power. They must consider as completely independent and free states, free from any paramountcy, as to what is best in their interest and it will be open to them to decide whether they should join the Pakistan Constituent Assembly or the Hindustan Constituent Assembly – Constituent Assemblies must be and will be two sovereign Constituent Assemblies of Pakistan and Hindustan.


Doon Campbell: In general terms what will be the foreign policy of Pakistan? Will it apply for membership of the United Nations?


Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The foreign policy of Pakistan can only be for peace and friendly relations with all other nations and we shall certainly play our part in the membership of the United Nations.

Doon Campbell: On which major power is Pakistan most likely to lean?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The one that will be in our best interests. It will not be a case of leaning to any power, but we shall certainly establish friendship and alliances which will be for the benefit of all those who may enter into such an alliance.

Doon Campbell: What sort of relationship do you envisage between Pakistan and Britain?


Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The question can only be decided by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and as I understand the situation, a relationship between Pakistan and British can be established which will be really beneficial for both. Pakistan cannot live in isolation, nor can any other nation do so today. We shall have choose our friends and I trust, wisely.

Doon Campbell: What are your views in regard to the protection of minorities in Pakistan territories?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah: There is only one answer: The minorities must be protected and safeguarded. The minorities in Pakistan will be the citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all the rights, privileges and obligations of citizenship without any distinction of caste creed or sect.

They will be treated justly and fairly. The Government will run the administration and control the legislative measures by its Parliament, and the collective conscience of the Parliament itself will be a guarantee that the minorities need not have any apprehension of any injustice being done to them. Over and above that there will be provisions for the protection and safeguard of the minorities which in my opinion must be embodied in the constitution itself. And this will leave no doubt as to the fundamental rights of the citizens, protection of religion and faith of every section, freedom of thought and protection of their cultural and social life. - API




Q & A text sourced from photocopy of original: Dawn, 22nd May 1947 (with thanks to Mr. Inamullah Khawaja). See also copy in Zaidi, Z.H. (ed) (1993) Jinnah Papers: Prelude to Pakistan, Vol. I Part I. Lahore: Quaid-i-Azam Papers Project, p.845, which was obtained from an original typewritten document containing corrections in Jinnah’s own handwriting as well as his signature. Thanks to Jinnah Archives dot com