Was Pakistan REALLY made for Islam?

Khalid bin Sayeed begins his article,Pakistan: The Formative Phase (1857-1948), with the simple question, “How does one explain the origin of Pakistan?”[1] and it is with this that he jumps straight to the crux of the matter. Was the creation of Pakistan a victory of religious ideals, a personal accomplishment of the great Mr. Jinnah, the culmination of the white man’s evil design of ‘divide and conquer’, or was it something less romantic – a mere result of ethnic tensions, concerned with economic rights and seats in the assemblies?

Was the creation of Pakistan based solely on Hindu-Muslim incompatibility with regards to their separate religious ideologies, or was the underlying socio-economic and ethnic tension the main cause of Partition?

Firstly, we see that in the many events that led to Partition, very few had any direct relevance to religion. Initially, the Congress and the League were not always enemies. The demands of the League and the early Congress were remarkably similar. Not until the Hindu Mahasaba shot down Muslim proposals in 1928, did Jinnah stop fighting for a united victory. Persecution by the British after the Indian Revolt (1857) had pushed the ulema & mullahs out of the political arena. It was only with the Khilafat Movement (1918) that Gandhi “implanted the religious idiom in modern Indian-Muslim politics”.[1] Also, the political aims and ideas of all of India’s Muslims were not in accordance until the 1940’s.

The ulema felt displaced by the introduction of English into all government institutions, which left them with little or no authority, and felt betrayed by the Muslim salariat and educationists who accepted this change. Wealthy Muslim landed elites in the Punjab were aligned with the Unionist Party, which protected their power-structures within the province and they saw little reason to extend their interests to the national level. It was only when the withdrawal of the British from India had become inevitable, and Nehru had declared a dramatic land reform program that they decided to throw their weight behind the Muslim League. It was a purely political maneuver to preserve their feudal structures and had little or nothing to do with Muslim unity. The Muslim salariat were concerned primarily with their jobs in government. Muslim and Hindu professionals were “pitted against each other because their lives and careers were embedded within the rival institutionalized communities… Muslim ashraf were preoccupied…ignored poor Muslims and their problems.”[2] Peasants in Muslim-majority Bengal were concerned with basic economic provisions more than government seats. The majority was poor and wanted nothing more than decent living. So while the League claimed to represent all the Muslims of India, this ‘nation’ of distinct peoples, in reality it could not unite them under a single banner.

The economic, social, and political needs of each group were divergent. How was the Muslim League to bring them all together without a defined political agenda, and how was this agenda to be formed? Concede land reforms to Bengalis, and the Punjabis are in disagreement. Protect the feudals, and you are no longer fighting for the masses, as you claim. Fight for seats in government, but how can you win them when you don’t have the support of the majority of India’s Muslim population?

For 400 years, a minority ruled over the majority in India. With the advent of the British, Muslims realized that they had been “reduced to inferior economic and social status”.[3] Competition between the Hindus and the Muslims was fairly one-sided as the Muslims had not readily accepted the arrival of the British, the end of Mughal power, and the introduction of English. As such, the Hindus had a head start in taking over government posts. Muslims ignored the calls of Sir Syed to ingratiate themselves with the white man. They were nostalgic, trapped in the past of Mughal glamour and unable to come to terms with the harsh reality of the present. The Muslims were on the losing end of a fight for the representation, equality and rights to which they had been accustomed under Muslim rule. To them, the idea of a separate state, the idea of Pakistan, a separate place just for Muslims, was extremely attractive because it would, in effect, eliminate the competition.

What was the one thing that the Muslims of India had in common? They were Muslim. This was the League’s ticket. With the support of the Punjabi land magnates guaranteed by their reluctance to have their lands broken up by the Congress reform program, and the salariat entranced by the idea of not having to compete for jobs, how was the League to bring together the final piece – the Bengalis? A religious movement came into shape. The Muslims were a separate people; the Two-Nation Theory of cooperation presented by Sir Syed was overhauled in favor of a Hindu-exclusivist approach. What the Muslim League now declared was that “Muslims were a separate nation by virtue of their common faith in Islam. As a nation, it was entitled to the right of self-determination over territories where Muslims were in majority”.[4] This was to be the basis on which the Muslims fought for a separate national identity.

Despite present-day claims to the contrary, we can clearly see that the Muslim League had consistently maintained a secular stance, excluding the Khilafat Movement. When Pakistan was finally made, Jinnah declared, “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the state.”[5] With this, he was only reinforcing the League’s secular approach. It was 22 years later that General Sher Ali announced that ‘Islamic ideology’ was to be ‘Pakistan ideology’.


[1] Alavi, Hamza. “Misreading Partition Road Signs,” Economic & Political Weekly (Nov 2-9, 2002): 4515-4523

[2] Alavi, Hamza, “Social Forces and Ideology in the Making of Pakistan,” Economic and Political Weekly (Dec 21, 2002): 5119-5124

[3] Sayeed, Khalid bin. Pakistan: The Formative Phase (1857-1948).
Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1969, pages 3-12.

[4] Ahmed, Ishtiaq. “Nationalism: Inclusive vs. Exclusive – I.” Daily Times, Opinion, June 29, 2010

[5] Alavi, Hamza, “Social Forces and Ideology in the Making of Pakistan,” Economic and Political Weekly (Dec 21, 2002): 5119-5124


[1] Sayeed, Khalid bin. Pakistan: The Formative Phase (1857-1948).
Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1969, pages 3-12.

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