By Khurram Ali Shafique

It seems that the liberals and the conservatives in Pakistan have been equally missing the main point of the Quaid’s famous speech.

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 in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other … The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.

Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

These words appeared in the speech delivered by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah before the constituent assembly of Pakistan (including the present-day Bangladesh) on August 11, 1947. Some debates may have occurred in the press even at that time but the interpretations that we now hear are traceable more directly to the argument presented by the members of the Congress Party in the constituent assembly of Pakistan while opposing the Objectives Resolution in March 1949. They said that in the light of this speech, the constitution of Pakistan should not be based on the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice ‘as enunciated by Islam’ but rather on the general conception of these principles.

It is usually overlooked that the speech of the Quaid emphasizes a vision for the future that is to be achieved gradually: ‘in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims … in the political sense as citizens of the State.’

What is the process through which it happens? What is the first thing to do so that the process may be started? How long the entire process might be? What is going to happen in the meanwhile? These are the questions the leaders of the Congress did not raise in 1949, and our intellectuals have also failed to. Although, ironically, the whole point of the Quaid was to answer these very questions.

He offered a parallel from the British history as a case study: (a) the Roman Catholics and the Protestants used to persecute each other there; (b) then they started to discharge the duties imposed on them by the government of their country and ‘went through that fire’; (c) now, the Roman Catholics and Protestants are equal citizens of Great Britain.

The transitional period between (a) and (c) is actually 210 years – from the passing of the Corporation Act in 1661 to the adoption of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act in 1871. So, to begin with, we are dealing with a period of more than two centuries, and it would be wrong to interpret the speech of the Quaid to mean that the desired goal should have been achieved already.

In 1661, the Protestants were in power in Britain and passed the Corporation Act, according to which nobody could be in government service without receiving communion from the Church of England (and hence the Roman Catholics were barred).

Four penal laws were also passed in 1661, 1662, 1664 and 1665, collectively called the Clarendon Code. Among other restrictions, clergy from other sects was prohibited from using titles related to the Church.

This was topped up with the Test Act in 1763, requiring all civil and military employees to take an oath that they did not believe in transubstantiation, a fundamental doctrine of the Catholic faith. From 1678, it also became obligatory for the members of parliament to take the oath in an even more comprehensive manner.

These acts were repealed only in 1828 and 1829, when it was presumed that Protestantism had become so effectively dominant in the land that even the Catholics could be expected to support and defend it. The government servants were then asked to take oath that they would never exercise the power of their office ‘to injure or weaken the Protestant Church’, and so on. The oath was to be taken by both the Catholics and the Protestants ‘upon the true faith of a Christian’ (the Jews and the atheists continued to be barred till 1858 and 1886, respectively). The Clarendon Code was also being repealed gradually at this time, but a part of it lasted till the passing of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act in 1871.

Hence, it seems wrong to presume that the Quaid was promising on August 11 that discriminatory laws would never be passed in Pakistan because the emphasis of the speech appears to be rather on obeying the government even if its commands contradict one’s political or religious beliefs, and it is promised that if the citizens of Pakistan do this as the citizens did in Britain, they too would become a nation of equal citizens ‘in course of time’.

Such were ‘the realities of situation’ in Britain, according to the Quaid, and the British surmounted them because they ‘had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step.’

We seem to have been doing the opposite. Some of us refuse to obey because we believe that the laws of the land are too religious by our standards, and others refuse because in their opinion the laws are not religious enough. Our liberals and our fanatics have jointly pushed us back to an earlier phase of historical evolution – the executions carried out in the Tudor period, the Gunpowder Plot, the beheading of Charles I, the Civil War, its aftermath and so on. Our political experiences have been similar to these.

Are we ready even to start that long ‘course of time’ which, according to the Quaid, will eventually make us equal citizens? Like it or not, the process started when everybody agreed to respect the law, irrespective of political views or religious beliefs.