By Yasser Latif Hamdani
February 2, 2020
As a biographer of Mr. Jinnah, I inevitably lean on references from his life and at times I admit it can become tedious for the reader. Nevertheless I have no intention of stopping it, especially when one finds our modern reality in Pakistan so absurdly contradictory to the ideas of the founding father of this country. Indeed this is one thing that one is continuously forced to harp upon leaving other issues for other writers to write on. The events of the past few days have underscored how dissent in this country is crushed.
However this crushing of dissent goes further than we think. For example a few months ago the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority asked Twitter Inc. to remove my verified account for no apparent reason. Now none of my tweets can remotely be said to be against the law nor were they in any event critical of the metaphorical holy cows of our state. So I went back and looked at my account and the only conclusion I can draw is that my incessant references to Jinnah have brought on the ire of the PTA. After all there must be some reason why PhDs are not allowed on the life of the Quaid-e-Azam in this country. I venture to guess that the reason for this is that if one digs deep enough into Jinnah’s life, one is likely to find things, generally positive things, that just cannot be reconciled with the official state narrative and the current reality of Pakistan.
Consider for example the oaths of office today in Pakistan. They are riddled with religious statements of faith. The president and prime minister have to be Muslims and therefore solemnly sweartrue faith including belief in Islam and a solemn oath to preserve and safeguard the Islamic ideology of the state. It ends with the invocation that may Allah mighty guide the deponent in the discharge of his duties.
This is keeping with the requirements of the Islamic Republic and its highest offices. However when we read through the transfer of power papers, we find that Jinnah had done the exact opposite. On 10 August 1947, Lord Mountbatten reported to the Earl of Listowel that Jinnah had written to him proposing a few changes to the oaths of office for Governor General, governors and ministers of state. Both India and Pakistan had become independent dominions with King George the Sixth as the head of state of both. Therefore it was natural for the governor-generals, governors and ministers to take an oath of loyalty to the King of their respective countries. It was what Jinnah suggested was truly remarkable.
Jinnah’s proposed changes for the Pakistani version of the oath were twofold. He proposed to use “affirm” instead of “swear” and he asked for an omission of the words “so help me God.” Consequently an official of the state in Pakistan, including the Governor General, was to solemnly affirm allegiance and true faith to the Constitution of Pakistan as by law established and was to remain faithful to King George and his heirs. The Indian oath required Indian officials to swear allegiance and true faith to Constitution of India and to remain faithful to King George and his heirs with the additional statement “so help me God”.
Thus Jinnah omitted all references to a deity not just by omitting the last part but also replacing “swear” with “affirm”. Any lawyer who has been in the trade long enough knows that an affidavit can be made in two ways under law. First would be to swear which means swearing to God or to a deity. The second more secular form is to affirm which means affirming at one’s own conscience. So as a barrister Jinnah understood this difference and chose affirm instead of swear. Second of course was the omission of the reference to God.
This is not to say that Jinnah was necessarily an atheist because Jinnah in his speeches had referred to God many times, like for example “God has given you tremendous opportunity” and the like though notably he never used the term Allah in any of his speeches for as an Anglicized individual, who was famously non-religious in habit, the Arabic word for God was just not in his lexicon.
Secondly if it was only a question of Jinnah’s personal belief or lack thereof, he would not have chosen to impose it on all governors and ministers of Pakistan. The reason why Jinnah made the change in the oath was because he reportedly told his staff that not everyone who holds a public office would be a believer. Jinnah envisaged the most capable men and women to hold public office regardless of their personal faith or lack thereof. The state was a temporal endeavor to Jinnah and not an otherworldly one.
This to him was the difference between a theocratic state and secular one. As he was to remark later, Pakistan was not to be a theocratic state to be run by priests with a divine mission. It also did not mean that the state would ignore those noble principles of Islam such as justice and fair play, which were aimed at a secular purpose. As a Muslim majority state those timeless values were to inform the civic values of the state but not imposed on anyone.
Jinnah’s changes to the oath, however, was indicative of a standard of secularism that was even higher than that of the United States of America, the most constitutionally secular state on earth due the first amendment to its constitution. An oath in the US by a public official involves swearing on a holy book of choice. Jinnah went beyond this and said no religious oath was needed whatsoever for public office.
Obviously Pakistan has rejected in entirety Jinnah and his vision while ascribing to him a plethora of fake quotes based on deliberate distortion of what he actually said. A professor emeritus writing on these pages even claimed that Jinnah wanted Islam to be primary source of law in Pakistan. Jinnah did not – he instead said that modern democracy was not in conflict with Islam. Now Pakistan has every right to reject Jinnah but then a clear distinction must be made and it must be stated for historical veracity that Jinnah did not want this but we do and hence we are overruling it.
Secondly for an honest discourse on history, the state institutions must stop censoring Jinnah and targeting those engaged in a bona fide inquiry into the origins of this state.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is an Advocate of the High Courts of Pakistan
Original Headline: Jinnah’s oath
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan