Turkey, Pakistan and Secularism

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Yasser Latif Hamdani[1]


(Modern Turkey and Pakistan share a lot of similarities in the way they were both brought about into existence. Much like the Muslim ruling military elite of the Ottoman Empire around the time of World War I, the former Muslim elite of the Mughal Empire had developed a sense of identity because of the loss of sovereignty. Just as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had rallied the Muslim inhabitants of Anatolia, Thrace and Kurdistan against the invading Greeks, Mohammed Ali Jinnah had managed to unite all Muslim inhabitants of British India under the flag of the Muslim League. Pitted against Jinnah and Kemal in their respective struggles were the Islamic clerics and theocrats who denounced their attempts at restoring sovereignty to their people, as un-Islamic. In fact during the Pakistan Movement, the ulema openly denounced Jinnah and the Muslim League for trying to emulate the Kemalist model in South Asia. There was of course much evidence for it. Jinnah had described Kemal Ataturk as the greatest Muslim of the modern age and put up Modern Turkey as an example before Muslims of South Asia. – Author)

Not long ago, the author of this article was fortunate to visit Kemal Ataturk’s Marine Mansion in Florya Istanbul, located on the Marmara Sea. Ataturk had spent his last days in this mansion. As I walked through the beautiful mansion by the sea filled with Ataturk’s belongings and personal effects, it hit me as to how much the modernists in the Muslim world derive inspiration from the great father of the Turks and his regeneration of the Turkish nation.

My own interest in Ataturk dates back to the late 1990s when Pakistan’s then military ruler General Musharraf had listed Ataturk as his model. He was not the first Pakistani ruler to claim inspiration from Ataturk though. Pakistan’s early leadership was of a modernist persuasion and from Jinnah to Ayub Khan most Pakistanis held the

Turk founder in great esteem. The biographers of Mr. Jinnah, including Stanley Wolpert, author of Jinnah of Pakistan (Jinnah of Pakistan, by Stanley Wolpert, Page 132), and Hector Bolitho, the author of Jinnah the Creator of Pakistan (Jinnah the creator of Pakistan Page 96), refer in some detail to the father of Pakistan’s fascination with the Grey Wolf; An intimate study of a dictator a book by H C Armstrong. After reading about the then newly published book in the Times Literary Supplement, Jinnah had picked up the book in Hampstead on one of his walks.

Apparently he found in the Turk leader, his contemporary, a kindred spirit. He then gave the copy to his daughter Dina saying “read this it is good”. Apparently the impression that Ataturk left on the suave barrister was so profound that doting Dina started calling him “Greywolf”. Quite fittingly there is a wolf bust in Jinnah’s study in the flagstaff house where he spent his last year as Governor General.

Grey Wolf

As a student at Rutgers University in early 2000s, I had access to one of the finest libraries on East Coast – the Alexandar Library. After reading Ataturk by Andrew Mango- a birthday present I had gotten for my 20th birthday, I tracked down in the Alexandar Library a 1933 edition of Grey Wolf; An Intimate Study of a Dictator. It makes for an interesting reading. The book was highly controversial when it first came out. Apart from some apparent character flaws alleged by H C Armstrong, there was much about Ataturk that Jinnah might have seen in his own image.

Courage, tenacity, and a strong will were three attributes of Ataturk that come across in the book and these were the three attributes that defined the Quaid-e-Azam as well. Both men were essentially loners at the pinnacle of their success. Jinnah must have felt some similarity with the splendid isolation of the father of the Turks who like Jinnah was averse to playing second fiddle to anyone. But it is clear that Jinnah’s case was one of inspiration rather than emulation. Speaking to an audience he declared that he wished he could be Mustafa Kemal but unlike the Turkish leader he was not a military man and did not have an army behind him; that his weapons were argument and logic. (Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Nation’s voice, towards consolidation, Speeches and Statements 1935-1940, Page 188). In any event Kemal Ataturk’s own orientation lay towards mainland Europe dominated by military strongmen while Jinnah’s training was in British parliamentary institutions. As Naeem Qureshi writes, describing Jinnah’s admiration of Ataturk, in his book ‘Ottoman Turkey Ataturk and Muslim South Asia’: “Inspiration reinforces vitality. Imitation dampens it”. (Ottoman Turkey, Ataturk, and Muslim South Asia, by M Naeem Qureshi, Oxford, Pages 156)

Greeks and Armenians hate Ataturk perhaps even more than Indians hate Jinnah. Greeks and Armenians accuse Ataturk (quite unjustifiably) of being the consummator in chief of Armenian and Greek genocides.

To be fair to Ataturk he did not have a direct role to play in the ethnic cleansing of Armenians. He did not speak against it but he was in no position to influence the young Turks in anyway. It is also true that Symrna (now Izmir) was burnt down as his forces entered the town, but direct complicity is another thing. While shying away from calling it genocide, Ataturk did condemn the near total exodus of Christians from Turkey in 1926. Still a recent book, ‘Ataturk in Nazi Imagination’ goes so far as to paint Ataturk as the original inspiration for Nazism and Fascism. It is true that Hitler and Mussolini both saw Kemalist Turkey as a successful example of an ordered society coming out of the ruins of a chaotic feudal one but it must be stated that Ataturk was replacing an old order with a new one and not – as in the case of Hitler and Mussolini- seizing power in societies that had already been modernizing and industrializing. Secondly Ataturk’s authoritarianism was not an end unto itself but a means to an end – to quote Armstrong he was a dictator so that that Turkey may not have more dictators.

Ataturk and Erdogan

Inspiration from Ataturk can often take different shapes. Reccip Tayyip Erdogan, the current President of Turkey, has been trying to become the country’s most powerful president since Ataturk. Erdogan seems to be imbibing all the wrong lessons from the great man’s legacy.

He is using his extensive charisma to carry out social and cultural engineering in reverse. Just as Ataturk set about westernizing his nation, Erdogan is going the other direction – Islamizing the most modern Muslim nation in the world. Unlike Ataturk however, Erdogan is operating in the 21st century with a vibrant Turkish civil society and an aware and educated population. Social and cultural engineering may not entirely be possible. Erdogan’s government pushed back at the army interventions hard and drove them out of power. For a while it looked like that the country would take a perilous Islamist course. With the elections last month, however, Turkey has shown that it is a full blown democracy.

While at present there is some uncertainty around the formation of the new government, there are overwhelming positives that have come out of these elections, positives that other countries in the Muslim world, especially Pakistan, should take note of. First and foremost, the obvious question: is Turkey going to be Islamist or Kemalist? The people of Turkey have shown that they want a balance. All indications are that Turkey’s main Islamic rooted party, the Adalet ve Kalkýnma Partisi (AKP), will ultimately have to form a coalition government with the Kemalist Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP). The AKP has been at the forefront of the democratisation of Turkey and the curtailment of the role of the military in the country. It has also, over its 13 years in power, shown itself to be a capable economic manager. Erdogan in recent times was increasingly showing the authoritarian tendency of consolidating all power in his person in an attempt to become the ‘Islamic Ataturk’ to undo Kemal Ataturk’s secularising reforms. By depriving the AKP of an outright majority, the people rejected overwhelmingly Erdogan’s social re-engineering agenda. They also stopped his attempt to change parliamentary democracy to a presidential one in its tracks. Yet the AKP is the single largest party by a mile because it is a party with deep roots in the masses, especially the rural and urban middle classes, which are by temperament conservative. The last few years show, however, that democracy in the hands of autocrats can also become a means to an end. Erdogan has not just sought to crush the military in Turkey but has also tried to curtail the independence of the judiciary. Our Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, had done exactly that when he tried to concentrate power into his own hands through the 15th Amendment in 1999. Erdogan has been jailing generals, cutting down judges to size and so on and so forth, but the underlying premise of parliamentary democracy is that it operates when other institutions are allowed to operate. A lopsided democracy is no democracy and when constitutional democracy fails, democracy by direct action takes its place. In an essay written in 1919 on precisely the issue of democracy and direct action, Bertrand Russell made this poignant statement: “The fact is that democracies, as soon as they are well established, are just as jealous of power as other forms of government.”

Bertrand Russell’s essay should be mandatory reading for all would-be democrats. He writes: “Thus the theory of democracy demands a good deal more than the mere mechanical supremacy of the majority. It demands: (1) division of the community into more or less autonomous groups; (2) delimitation of the powers of the autonomous groups by determining which of their concerns are so much more important to themselves than to others that others had better have no say in them. Direct action may, in most cases, be judged by these tests.”

Thus democracy has to be sustained by the will of the people to hold their rulers accountable. This is what the voters have done in Turkey.

They have come out against against what they view as heavy handed tactics against people merely standing up for their rights. Erdogan, in the tradition of most despots, came out and declared that social media was a new menace, where all kinds of lies are to be found. In other words, whoever criticises Erdogan is lying and creating chaos and confusion. In doing so Erdogan, who has championed the Arab spring and revolutions, has dug himself into a hole, where he may find the company of men like Hosni Mubarik, who had cracked down on Facebook and Twitter. When he claimed that terrorists were behind the protests in Istanbul, he sounded eerily similar to the late Muammar Gaddafi.

Blind emulation of Ataturk is neither possible nor ideal – certainly not in the 21st century. Yet his memory still inspires. The inspiration does not lie in his theories about Turkish racial superiority or the Sun language theory – two ideas that were rightly abandoned soon after his death. It also does not lie in the state’s brutal repression of dissent which saw some of the finest Turkish minds including Halide Edib go into exile. Nor is his crackdown on Sufi dargahs exactly worthy of emulation. The Turks have instinctively adopted what is good and left out what is bad.

The best outcome of the recent elections was that they were a thumping triumph of diversity and multiculturalism over monoculture. Feleknas Uca of the pro-Kurdish Halklarýn Demokratik Partisi (HDP), a newly elected Yazidi legislator, summed it up best when speaking to AFP. She said, “In Turkey there is one system based on one nation, one language, one land and one religion. We say more religions, more languages, more nations.” This is precisely what the rise of the HDP means. The HDP, which has its roots in Kurdish nationalism, decided under the leadership of human rights lawyer Sellahattin Demirtas to expand its voter base by appealing not just to Kurds but the Turkish left and other liberal Turkish groups. The electorate rewarded the HDP accordingly with 80 seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Turkey, which has as troubled a history with its ethnic and religious diversity as us if not more, today has three Turkish-Armenians in its legislature, one each from the AKP, CHP and HDP. This is an extraordinary achievement considering the total number of Turkish-Armenians is less than 100,000 out of a population of 75 million. Amongst the HDP’s other legislators elected is Erol Dora, a Syriac Christian. The total number of women legislators in the Grand National Assembly has gone up to 96. As many as 30 of the HDP’s 80-strong contingent are women. The Turkish parliament is going to have representation from Alavis, Christians, Roma, Armenians, Kurds and Yazidis. This is no small thing for a country that has been self-consciously Turkish in identity and consequently Hanafi Sunni Muslim in religion. It must be remembered that 99 percent of Turkey is Muslim and about 80 percent identifies as being Turk.

Ataturk inspires because he was the first leader in the Muslim world to realize that women have to play an equal role in the progress of a nation (you find an echo of Ataturk in Jinnah’s famous “No nation can rise to heights of glory unless your women are side by side you). More so in the British Empire, but even in the Ottoman Empire, ruling Muslim elites saw a steady decline in their fortunes. Ataturk, as a young Ottoman officer, was extremely concerned about the future of his people, i.e. the Turks (or the Muslim Ottomans from Anatolia). Kemal Ataturk initially went along with the established narrative of the Turks as the defenders of the Khilafat and Islam, mobilising support not just in Anatolia but also amongst Muslims around the world, especially in the subcontinent.

Throughout the war of independence Kemal Ataturk appealed to Islam and jihad, uniting the Turkish speaking Anatolian Muslims, Arabic speaking Hatay Muslims and the Kurds behind him. The identity of the Turk was rooted in Hanafi Sunni Islam. Turkey’s equivalent of Allama Iqbal was Ziya Gokalp whose tome the Principles of Turkism helped lay the foundation of the exclusively Turkish nation, which was defined around religion (Sunni Hanafi Islam), language (Turkish) and common history (Seljuq and Ottoman). This also led to the great population exchange under the Treaty of Lausanne, which was done entirely on religious lines, i.e. all Muslims in Greece were deemed to be Turks and all Christians in Turkey were deemed to be Greeks or Armenians. Thus, the world saw one of the largest transfers of population exceeded only by the haphazard migration during the partition of India and creation of Pakistan.

Consequently, Turkey, as it came into being in 1923, was an almost exclusively Muslim state. Once the revolution was complete, however, Kemal Ataturk unceremoniously dumped the appeals to Khilafat, Islam and jihad and sought to transform Turkey into a nation state based on secularism and modern republican values. Faced with the paradox of the fact that religion was the central plank of Turkish identity, Ataturk attempted to recreate the pre-Islamic past of Turkey by insisting that Turkish was the sun language and mother of all languages. Some of these projects were obviously shelved but what survived was Ataturk’s idea that the state must be secular in order for there to be progress. That became the basis of the Kemalist ideology, which galvanised the Turks for a good 70 years.

Kemal and Jinnah: a comparison of their careers

Mustafa Kemal chose a career in the military as it was the right career for a young Muslim man in the Ottoman Empire, all other professions being too low for the ruling Turks. Young Jinnah came from a largely business community and went to London to study commerce.

There he discovered that he wanted to be barrister and so he enrolled into London’s Lincoln’s Inn where he was called to bar at a very young age of 19 or 20. It was at this time that both young Mustafa – who had earned the title of “Kemal” or excellence at the military academy-and young Jinnah were exposed to the ideas of enlightenment and western liberalism with one major difference. For Mustafa Kemal it was the radical liberalism of the philosophers of the French Political system which put its stock in “revolution”, but for Jinnah it was the constitutional liberalism of John Locke, Burke and John Morley which believed in “evolution”. It was John Morley more than anyone else who ignited the fire of liberal politics in Jinnah. Kemal’s inspiration was very clearly the French Revolution.

While Kemal was away on long military campaigns in distant parts of the Empire, most of Jinnah’s time in London was spent reading books in the Reading Room of the British Museum and listening to great debates of parliamentarians in the House of Commons. He also actively campaigned for the successful election of Dadabhoy Naoroji, a Parsi liberal candidate, to the House of Commons. Soon after the completion of his training as barrister, Jinnah returned to India where he toiled hard the next few years to set up a successful practice. By age 30 he was reasonably accomplished as a barrister and it was then that Jinnah joined the Indian National Congress- the party of Indian nationalists striving for self rule, rising to prominence as its rising star and the most eloquent leader alongside Gokhale and Tilak.

Kemal too was stirred with the ideas he imbibed from Europe. He was stirred by the idea of European nationalism and joined “Vatan” a secretive party consisting of ambitious young Muslim officers of the Ottoman Empire who planned on throwing off the shackles of the Caliph in order to liberate their co-religionists from the tyranny of a feudal religious order. For long the Ottoman Muslim elite had felt that religious edicts of the established order kept Muslims behind in commerce, economics and science. Turkey’s various other Non-Muslim “millets” (community-nations) were doing very well without similar hindrances. Perhaps the greatest impetus for the “Young Turks Revolution” came from a sense of injustice that nationalists like Enver Pasha and Kemal felt when they looked over to the cafes, bars and shopping areas of the Non-Muslim districts of Constantinople and looked back at the squalor and dump the Muslim district of “Stambul” had become. A similar impulse was to later inspire Muslim modernists of Aligarh etc to fight for and create a Muslim homeland in South Asia, which forms the basis for our comparison in this paper.

While Kemal always defined his identity in very clear terms as being rooted in the hopes and fears of the ruling Muslim class in the decaying Ottoman Empire, Jinnah to begin with saw himself as an Indian “first, second and last” and defined his identity in secular territorial terms- an Indian without consideration of religious or linguistic concern. In 1906, he viewed with alarm the attempts of the Muslim elite to forge a separate identity and a separate political party, the Muslim League (which he was to join almost a decade later), for themselves. Interestingly at this time Jinnah vehemently opposed the principle of separate electorates for Muslims and rebuked the notion that Muslims had any special concerns.

Indeed to the very last, Jinnah seemed to have held on to this secular conception of citizenship even if tactically, he came to support – as he put- the separate electorate demand on temporary basis. In 1916, Jinnah presided over what became known at the time as the “Lucknow Pact” between the Congress and the Muslim League, both of which he was a member. As a frontline secular Indian Nationalist Jinnah had joined the Muslim League on the condition that his commitment to the “national cause” would come before his loyalty to the Muslim League and that Muslim League would ally itself with the Congress in a united demand to attain self-government.

This was also a time of great upheaval in the world. A famous assassination in Sarajevo had plunged the entire western world into a great war. Ottoman Turkey under the influence of the flamboyant and charismatic Enver Pasha, leader of the Young Turks and Turkey’s Minister of War, had made the fateful decision of joining forces with Germany. Kemal had been part of the Turkish revolution but was never given a leading role and was not particularly liked by Enver Pasha. This war – which was to end Enver Pasha’s political career- came as a blessing in disguise for Kemal who valiantly defended the coast of Galipolli against invading British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops and won fame all over Turkey. It was this battle that got him the Islamic title of Gazi or victorious. The war however ended badly for Germany and its allies, notably Turkey. At the end of the war the Ottoman Empire was at the mercy of the British, the French and the Greeks. This is where Kemal emerged to take charge of the Nationalist forces and resistance, setting up a parallel government in the Muslim majority region of Anatolia. The treat at Versailles had proven to be humiliating and was widely condemned. Kemal denounced the treaty and declared war on all those who were trying to carve up Turkey.

Through a call for Islam and Jehad, Kemal Ataturk united the Muslim inhabitants of Anatolia under his banner and inflicted a most severe defeat on the invading Greek forces, bringing the British and the French to the table. His right hand man Ismet (later Ismet Inonu) won a great victory at Inonu which sealed the fate of the Greek campaign in Thrace.

Ismet went as the representative and chief negotiator of the parallel national government to Laussane where he signed a treaty preserving the Muslim majority areas of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire between Greece, Armenia, Georgia and Syria as one state. Thus was born the first real Nation-state in the Muslim World. The treaty of Laussane was also the first treaty in the history of the 20th century to accept the concept of religious identity as ethnicity- a principle that was to be later applied to Pakistan, Israel, Ireland, East Timor and more recently Kosovo.

For the Muslims of British India, the defeat of Turkey in the First World War created a new anxiety. A majority of the Muslims in India were Sunni Muslims and followers of the Turkish Caliph. They soon started an agitation for the protection of “Khilafat”, which was joined in by the famous Hindu leader, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Gandhi, being a religious man, believed religious Muslims and religious Hindus could work together to drive the British out. Jinnah, while sympathetic to Turkey and its cause, viewed with skepticism both the Khilafat movement, which he described as “false religious frenzy”, and warned Gandhi against the mixing of religious causes with political ones.

Jinnah’s secular constitutional approach found no takers in the Congress or amongst the Muslims and so he broke away from the Congress Party, briefly making his own “Liberal Independents” party within the Indian legislature. He also became the president of his own anti-British faction of the Muslim League before finally giving up – after the death of his wife – and settling down in London in 1931.

Meanwhile in 1924, Kemal Ataturk and the Turkish legislature voted to abolish the institution of Khilafat. Kemal Ataturk had set about on a Modernist agenda which was to transform Turkey into a secular state. This was an objective Ataturk followed with great zeal and determination. He transformed a conservative Muslim nation in to a European nation overnight though perceptive historians warn against discounting the 60 years of Turkish reforms including the Tanzimat. Ataturk forged ahead with his remarkable reforms i.e. the abolition of canonical law, the introduction of Swiss legal code, roman alphabet for Turkey replacing the age old Arabic script which was the language of the Quran, complete equality for women and finally the abolition of state religion in 1927. Ataturk passed away in 1938 leaving his republic to his able successor Ismet Inonu.

Ataturk left an extraordinary mark on the psyche of the Muslims of South Asia. When he decided to abolish the Khilafat, Shaukat Ali sent a telegram on behalf of the Muslims of South Asia begging Ataturk to revise his decision. Some even suggested that Ataturk ought to become the Caliph himself. Yet despite the shock, Indian Muslims by and large continued to admire Ataturk. The Turkish Republic supplanted the Caliphate in their minds. Naeem Qureshi writes:

“As time passed, the impact of Mustafa Kemal on contemporary Muslim India became increasingly discernable. This was precisely the period when he had embarked on an ambitious programme of rapid modernization, touching almost every facet of national life in Turkey…. What was Muslim India’s raction to Mustafa Kemal’s reforms? Murray Titus, a contemporary writer, suggests that India’s liberal Muslims, like their Turkish counterparts, strove to be progressive but not too progressive. The masses were led by those who had a strong aversion to radical reform and preferred adherence to stricter interpretation of Islamic injunctions. .. Of all of them Iqbal was one who appreciated the idea of ijtihad in religious and political thought of the Turkish state the most. He unreservedly agreed with the Turkish view that according to the spirit of Islam, the caliphate or imamate could be vested in a body of persons or an elected assembly.”

(Ottoman Turkey, Ataturk, and Muslim South Asia, by M Naeem Qureshi, Oxford, Pages 150-151)

Throughout Jinnah’s pronouncements in the 1930s as the leader of the Muslim League, we find references to Kemalist Turkey as the example for the Muslims of India to follow. Speaking to a gathering Jinnah expressed the wish to be like Mustafa Kemal but that unlike the leader of the Turks he had no army and that his only weapons were logic and reason. Upon the latter’s death Jinnah eulogised him as the greatest man of the age by following whose example there was no reason the Muslims of India should remain in a quagmire. Jinnah told Civil and Military Gazette on 11 November 1938:

“He was the greatest Muslaman in the modern Islamic World and I am sure that the entire Musalman world will deeply mourn his passing away. It is impossible to express adequately in a press interview one’s appreciation of his remarkable and varied services, as the builder and the maker of Modern Turkey and an example to the rest of the world, especially to the Musalman States in the Far East. The remarkable way in which he rescued and built up his people against all odds, has no parallel in the history of the world. He must have derived the greatest sense of satisfaction that he fully accomplished his mission during his life-time and left his people and his country consolidated, united and a powerful nation. In him, not only the Musalmans but the whole world have lost one of the greatest men that ever lived“. (Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali  Jinnah,  the  Nation’s  voice,  towards  consolidation, Speeches and Statements 1935-1940, Page 306)


He also instructed the Muslim League to celebrate Kemal Day:

“I request provincial, District and Primary Muslim Leagues all over India to observe Friday the 16th of November as Kemal Day and hold public meetings to express deepest feeling of sorrow and sympathy of Musalmans of India in the irreparable loss that the Turkish Nation has suffered in the passing away of one of the greatest sons of Islam and a world figure and the saviour and maker of Modern Turkey Kemal Ataturk”. (Ibid Page 307)

Speaking at the Patna Session of the All India Muslim League in December 1938, Jinnah once again spoke of Ataturk at the beginning of his address:

“Another great figure, a world figure, that has passed away is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. His death has come as the greatest blow to the Muslim World. He was the foremost figure in the Muslim East. In Persia and Afghanistan, in Egypt and of course in Turkey, he proved, to the consternation of the rest of the world, that Muslim Nations were coming into their own. In Kemal Ataturk, the Islamic world has lost a great hero. With the example of this great Musalman in front of them as an inspiration, will Muslims of India still remain in quagmire? (Ibid Page 327)

The Muslim League adopted the following resolution: “Resolved that this Annual Session of the All India Muslim League expresses its deepest feelings of sorrow and grief at the sad demise of Ataturk Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha whom it acknowledges as a truly great personality in the Islamic world, a great general and a great statesman. He rebuilt and revived the Turkish Nation after its defeat and disintegration and in spite of opposition from the European powers succeeded in defeating the enemies of Turkey and within a short time brought his country in the front rank of nations. By establishing a concord and alliance of the Eastern Nations he guided the East to the true goal of political power and prosperity. His memory will inspire Muslims all over the world with courage, perseverance and manliness. With this expression of its heartfelt grief, the Session of the All India Muslim League wishes to convey its message of sympathy and condolence to the Turkish nation in its great bereavement.” (Ibid Page 581)

The foregoing lines make it abundantly clear that Jinnah had looked at Turkey as a model, if not the only model. Obviously at the time he said these words, the idea of a separate homeland for Muslims was still some time away but these lines make it clear that Jinnah had held out Ataturk as the model Muslim. It is not that Jinnah was not aware of Ataturk’s secularizing reforms. As mentioned above, his interest had been evoked by the book “Grey Wolf” which makes plain the thinly veiled contempt Ataturk held organized religion in. There was however one key difference between the Kemalist ideology and Jinnah’s vision.

Ataturk’s ideas were shaped by the French idea of republicanism whereas Jinnah’s liberal democratic views were influenced by the turn of the century British liberal tradition. Between these two strains the British liberal tradition was more tolerant of having some role for religion, separate from the state, in the organisation of society. The French idea was to build a wall of separation. However, the objective was the same: the creation of a modern republic. Unlike Kemal Ataturk, who managed to stay on as president for a considerable number of years before his death, Jinnah died too early after the creation of Pakistan to allow his secularism to take root.

Fuelled by a desire to “modernize Indian Muslims like Ataturk” (“Under Shadow of Swords” by M J Akbar) Jinnah had returned to Bombay and taken over the leadership of the moribund Muslim League. His political objectives however remained the same: Come to an understanding with the Congress, which would secure a fair deal for his Muslim constituents and to put up a joint front against the British constitutionally. After failing to come to an arrangement with the Congress over power sharing repeatedly (he was rebuffed by Gandhi’s “inner voice” and Jawaharlal Nehru’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that Hindu Muslim Unity was condition precedent to India’s independence and unity), Jinnah and the Muslim League passed the famous Lahore Resolution at one of the largest mass gatherings in Indian history till that point calling for a new federation to be formed of Muslim majority provinces. It was a transformation for this was the first time that Jinnah proclaimed Muslims of India to be a nation rather than a community or a minority. Still this was though more of a maximum demand, as Jinnah showed repeatedly the willingness to settle for autonomous regions within United India and safeguards for the Muslim minority within United India. The idea throughout had been to get the Muslim majority provinces behind the Muslim League so that when it came to the final round of constitutional negotiations, he would be able to negotiate a fair share for his Muslims. In 1946 he had been willing to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan, a plan that would have ensured a federated India with maximum autonomy to its parts. As the Indian author Joya Chatterji poignantly mentioned in her book, “Bengal Divided”, ultimately partition was a Hindu choice and not purely a Muslim one as is often believed. Other perceptive historians like Neeti Nair (author of “Changing Homelands”) have argued that the approach to exclusively blaming the Muslims for wanting separatism is overblown. The Plan was ultimately rejected by the Congress which openly declared its intention to undo the salient features of the agreement once in the constituent assembly. The result was the partition of British India into two states – India and Pakistan and more specifically partition of Punjab and Bengal, two of proposed Pakistan’s main provinces.

Horrible communal violence broke out as a result of the partition of Punjab – a partition that Jinnah did not want. He had wanted his federation to consist of units with a new center and not the actual partition of units. In the wake of this, Jinnah took office – surprisingly as the Governor General- instead of the Prime Minister- a move that is often criticized by the purists of parliamentary democracy. Jinnah however was already dying of cancer (he died 13 months later) when he took office and preferred to leave the day to day running to his right hand man Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first Prime Minister. While speaking to the constituent assembly Jinnah made the clearest pronouncement of his secularism:

“You are free – You are free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state. .. if we keep this infront of us as a principle, you will see that in course of time, Hindus will cease be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense because that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of the state”.

(Jinnah 11th August, 1947)

He went on to recount the history of Protestant and Catholic conflict in England and how they had evolved beyond it and he expressed his fervent hope that in Pakistan there would be no bar against any class or religion. Having secured for his Muslim nation a homeland where they were in a majority, Jinnah’s hope was that ultimately – over the “due course of time”- a secular Pakistani identity would evolve. Indeed this had been his original ambition for India – to secure a compromise between Hindus and Muslims on power sharing and constitutional safeguards so that an Indian nation could be built through mutual adjustment. Now having created a Pakistan for his followers, his original idealism was rekindled and he wanted to see a Pakistan where religion would cease to be a political consideration. It was a noble vision, if yet unfulfilled and many would say naïve.

Turkey, Pakistan and Islam

Many Pakistanis have long been enchanted with the Turkish model as the ideal model for Pakistan and rightly so. Turkey has long held out the hope that a Muslim majority country can modernize and progress.

Paradoxically, however, Turkey’s democratisation has opened the doors for political Islam in the country. Erdogan is probably the most charismatic leader this country has seen since Ataturk himself and while he is reverent towards the great father of the Turks, he has rolled back many of the salient features of the Kemalist project. However, it is unlikely that he will roll back its most essential feature, i.e. the secular state. Even the most religious of Turks understands that the prosperity of their state and their nation is inextricably linked to the idea that the state must be kept separate from religion. It is not that their commitment to Islam can be questioned. Secular Turkey has perhaps preserved Islam far better than our Islamic republic has; a visit to Turkey would amply disabuse our notions of what a secular state looks like. One would argue that secular Turkey is far more Islamic in spirit than Islamic Pakistan is because the Turks do not treat Islam like a commodity. There are no self-styled muftis and allamas wreaking havoc on an illiterate population as there are in Pakistan. Mosques in Turkey are houses of spirituality and not hate. The Imam Hatip schools (the equivalent of seminaries) produce first-rate scholars of Islam, not terrorists. Nor is Turkish Islam exclusively centered around what women should or should not wear. Perhaps, most importantly, the average Turk understands that whether you are a good Muslim or bad, it is none of his business. Ataturk inspires because while he did not quite succeed in achieving the ideal in his lifetime, he laid the foundations of a great modern democratic republic of the future which was at “peace at home and abroad”. Above all Ataturk inspires because he had unbounded faith in his own destiny and the destiny of his people.

All his endeavours, right, wrong or controversial, were aimed at making his people great. And he was pragmatic in the pursuit of nationalism, never overcommitting and never driven by emotion. Ataturk the great modernist will continue to inspire patriots and reformers around the Muslim world and that is his lasting legacy.

Modern Turkey and Pakistan share a lot of similarities in the way they were both brought about into existence. Much like the Muslim ruling military elite of the Ottoman Empire around the time of World War I, the former Muslim elite of the Mughal Empire had developed a sense of identity because of the loss of sovereignty. Just as Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had rallied the Muslim inhabitants of Anatolia, Thrace and Kurdistan against the invading Greeks, Mohammed Ali Jinnah had managed to unite all Muslim inhabitants of British India under the flag of the Muslim League. Pitted against Jinnah and Kemal in their respective struggles were the Islamic clerics and theocrats who denounced their attempts at restoring sovereignty to their people, as un-Islamic. In fact during the Pakistan Movement, the ulema openly denounced Jinnah and the Muslim League for trying to emulate the Kemalist model in South Asia. There was of course much evidence for it. Jinnah had described Kemal Ataturk as the greatest Muslim of the modern age and put up Modern Turkey as an example before Muslims of South Asia.

Kemal Ataturk, after securing for his people their state, managed to replace the Islamic identity of his followers with a secular nationalist identity. Jinnah could not impose such an identity on his people beyond making his famous 11th August speech (quoted above) in which he promised a secular and democratic polity, partly because he passed away a year later and partly because he believed in the constitutional democratic process of letting the people decide. It can also be said that unlike Kemal Ataturk, Jinnah did not have a truly national army behind him to help him enforce his vision of a secular Pakistan. It is not fair to say that since Pakistan was sought for Muslims, it had to be a theocratic Islamic state. Kemal Ataturk’s remarkable coup against religious orthodoxy came despite the fact that he had rallied his people against the Greeks and the allies in the name of Islam and jihad.

Muslim League’s use of Islamic symbols in the 1946 election pales in comparison to how the Turkish Nationalists had rallied their people in the name of Islam. In his famous six-day speech in 1928, Ataturk made plain why using Islamic symbols had been necessary during the war of independence. Even more interesting was the fact that Turkey had actually carried out an officially mandated exchange of population on the basis of religion with Greece via the Treaty of Lausanne. Not only was Turkey with its 99.6 per cent Muslim population more homogenously Muslim than Pakistan ever will be, in 1932, through an act of parliament, the Turkish state forbade the ethnic Greek and Armenian populations of the Turkish republic from taking part in no less than 30 professions or means of employment.

Yet despite this exclusivist tendency in its nationalist discourse early on, Turkey has managed over 80 years successfully as a secular democratic, even if it was a flawed, national state which has achieved that which in theory was impossible i.e. a reformist progressive Islam existing and strengthening a secular Muslim majority state. It was the commitment of a truly national army, which had fought and won its country’s independence, to its founding father’s six principles that ensured the success of the Turkish experiment, even though the state faced the same issues of language, ethnicity and faith that Pakistan did.

Pakistan and Secularism

Unlike Turkey, Pakistan did not have a national army i.e. an army that had played an active role in freedom struggle. Instead it inherited a former colonial army, which was at best ambivalent to the movement that created the country. Meanwhile Pakistan’s secular politicians like Liaquat Ali Khan assumed that the best way to deal with the forces of the religious right, most of whom had been beaten by the Muslim League convincingly in the 1940s, was to co-opt them by allowing Islam a greater role in state building. Soon afterwards Pakistan was officially christened an “Islamic Republic”.

In the absence of a national army committed to the ideology of the founding father, secularism in Pakistan fell victim to political expediency of unrepresentative rulers and then after the fall of Bangladesh, the state leaned on the Islamic ideology even more than before. Subsequent events like the introduction of the state religion in the constitution and official ex-communication of the Ahmaddiya community are the direct results of the ideological confusion. It was to the credit of Turkish Army’s relentless commitment to Kemalism that in Turkey even the most religious of the politicians do not pursue a theocratic but rather a secular agenda of economic and political reform to allow Turkey entry into the European Union. Meanwhile, even the most secular of politicians in Pakistan are forced to speak in Islamic vocabulary. Cynical Islamisation by both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s populist regime in the 1970s and General Zia ul Haq’s dictatorship in the 1980s ensured that the idea of secularism is buried for some time to come.

In some ways, however, the role of the military in Turkey has been the same as the role of the military in Pakistan, i.e. the guardians of ideology; in Turkey’s case, it was Kemalism, and in our case, it is the  ‘Islamic ideology’. In the name of ideology and protecting the nation and the state, both militaries have led coups against democratically elected governments, attacked ethnic minorities and hanged prime ministers, Menderes there and Bhutto here. Both armies, in addition to the ideology, pay homage to the founding fathers, Ataturk and Jinnah.

It is not easy to reconcile the anglicised Mr Jinnah to Pakistan’s Islamic ideology especially after General Zia’s Islamisation. Some of Ataturk’s speeches during the Turkish War of Independence would have left him behind bars in secularist General Evren’s Turkey (who it may be stated was a close friend of his Pakistani counterpart General Zia). On the issue of Kashmir and Cyprus, Kemalism and Pakistani Islamic ideology become virtually indistinguishable. It, therefore, stands to reason that ideologies in the hands of the military are always a means to an end, a means to hold on to power.

Who would a secular Pakistan benefit the most? Minorities no doubt will be better off in a state that does not distinguish on the basis of faith but they would not be the only beneficiaries. The real beneficiaries of the secular state in Pakistan would be the Muslims, for whose economic and political benefit the country was created in the first place. The misuse of Islam as an instrument of state policy has only served to divide Muslims along doctrinal and sectarian lines. As Pakistan moved further along the perilous course of cynical Islamisation under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and then General Ziaul Haq, the biggest casualty has been the Muslim community itself, which now sees itself not as Muslim but as Shia or Sunni, Barelvi or Deobandi and so on and so forth. It has also encouraged fissiparous tendencies along ethnic and linguistic lines because Islamisation was seen as the buzzword for centralisation. Paradoxically, it was the demise of Pan-Pakistan Muslim unity in 1971 that led to greater emphasis on religion in the country. The kind of Islamisation the country saw in the 1970s and the 1980s would have been impossible before the separation of Bangladesh.

Legal scholars define a secular state as one without a state religion. This definition is, however, quite limited with a number of exceptions. Some of the finest examples of secular democracy in the world today are the constitutional monarchies of Europe. These constitutional monarchies are in form confessional states with established churches.

The examples of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and the UK may be quoted in this regard. Each of these states has an established national church. Instead of a strict legal separation of religion from state, these states have a fusion of church and state at the very top. The UK, for example, limits the monarchy through the Act of Settlement, 1701, to Protestants only. Yet, in practice, these states recognise that the religion of an individual citizen is the personal faith of that individual and their policy towards religion is determined by this principle. Closer to home, Bangladesh is a state that both commits itself to secularism as well as having a state religion through its constitution. Pakistan, which became an Islamic Republic in 1956, did not have a state religion until 1973.

A K Brohi’s classic Fundamental Law of Pakistan gives a very practical reason for this deliberate omission: individuals have religion, states as artificial political constructs do not. Pakistan may have adopted the state religion in 1973 but even the 1973 Constitution has been unable to fully purge itself of the small case of secularism. This Constitution in theory provides for the equality of citizenship for every Pakistani regardless of their faith and also provides for freedom of religion. The fundamental rights chapter of the

Constitution, which are constitutionally placed above all else in even that basic document, is the embodiment of the secular principle. The path to a secular state in Pakistan has to be paved using these fundamental rights as tools of progress. Nor should the argument that Islam and secularism are polar opposites go unchallenged. The basic principle stated in the Quran — that there is no compulsion in religion — underscores the idea of the individual and his or her own spiritual self in the approach to God. It is this idea of spiritual individualism that does not negate but reaffirms the idea that no institution, not even the state, should come between the individual and his or her God. This is secularism in a nutshell.

So how does one go about making Pakistan a secular state? It does not require a revolution as much as it does an evolution. The fundamental rights of citizens must be safeguarded at all costs. The state should ensure that no one is discriminated against because of his/her belief or the absence of it. Merit should be the only criteria in Pakistan for progress.

This means that paperwork, including the ACRs of civil servants, should lose questions about religion added in by General Zia’s regime. The religion column on passports should also be removed. Religion should only be a secondary consideration in census and statistics. The state must also relieve itself of the burden of determining who is a Muslim and who is not. Ultimately, the office of the prime minister, at least, should be thrown open to all members of the National Assembly regardless of religious affiliation. The 1973 Constitution can be changed into a pragmatically secular constitution without the convening of a constituent assembly. The makers of the 1973 Constitution specifically placed Article 239 in the Constitution to ensure that Pakistanis were not bound to their ideas for all times to come.

Pakistan is far more diverse than Turkey, linguistically, ethnically and religiously. Yet this diversity is seldom put to good use. Our diversity beckons the Pakistani equivalent of the HDP to step up to the plate and unify the minorities, ethnic groups, the left and the liberals on one platform. It needs to be a party that can give a socially progressive agenda and emphasise constitutionalism and diversity. It needs to become the voice of the voiceless: of religious minorities, women and other marginalised groups. It needs to be a secular party in deed, in name and in spirit. Such a party is needed to rescue Pakistan from the quagmire of 20th century nationalism and bring it, if need be, kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It needs to be a patriotic party in so much as it must be committed to the principle of a Pakistani federation and the rights of Pakistani citizens without distinction of religion, caste or creed. Pakistan’s democratic project, if allowed to sustain itself, will throw up a party like this sooner or later. And it will throw up the requisite leadership as well.

The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan had discussed, not long ago, the ways in which a party can go about democratically secularising Pakistan. The answer is by educating the people on what it means to be secular. It does not mean that you stop respecting religion but that you do not impose your religion on others. It means avoiding tragic compromises like the ones Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had an excellent opportunity to bring about such a change, made in his troubled five years in power. It means you place the right to worship freely or to not worship at all, the right to speak and the right to equal protection of the law above all other considerations. Jinnah laid down such a state as the ideal for Pakistan not just on August 11 but repeatedly throughout his long political career. However, even he understood it was only going to be possible in “due course of time”. With enough cycles of democracy, I have no doubt that we will be able to achieve that aspiration one day.



The author is a practicing lawyer based in Lahore. He is also author of the book: “Jinnah; Myth and Reality.” His email address is Yasser.hamdani@gmail.com