Pakistan and Israel, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Jews

July 12, 2012



Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Qaid e Azam


The year 1947 was a tumultuous one. In that year, British India became independent, splitting into India, a state in which Hinduism was culturally dominant, and Pakistan, which was founded as a state for Muslims.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, reverently referred to by Pakistanis as Qaid e Azam (The Great Leader), believed, as did many Muslims in British India, that Muslims in India would be dominated  and oppressed in a country in which they would be a minority. The establishment of Pakistan on August 14, 1947  was accompanied by  bloody and turbulent cross migrations of Muslims from India to Pakistan, and Hindus from Pakistan to India. The foundation of two   modern states caused  mass displacement, with an estimated 14 million people uprooted and sent to places in “their” new country that were entirely foreign to them. The death toll of this bloody chapter in Indo Pakistani history is a subject of much contention, with a consensus figure of 500,000 dead commonly used.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the first leader of Pakistan, had a vision for Pakistan of it being a lountry in which Muslims would be numerically and culturally dominant. Despite this, he promoted a vision of Pakistan in which all faith communities in Pakistan would enjoy complete civic equality. In his famous speech of August 11, 1947, Jinnah stated as follows.


“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… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State… I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in due course 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.”

Pakistan today remains highly ambivalent about the secularism of its founding father. Pakistani historians were forced to turn to neighbouring India to get a recording of Jinnah’s famous speech, since Pakistani Islamists had sought out and destroyed every last recording in Pakistan of the famous speech.

At the same time as Pakistan was founded, Britain was also withdrawing from what was then Palestine. The secular Zionists who later declared the State of Israel in May of 1948 made the same promise to Arab Muslims in Israel as was made to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Zoroastrians in Pakistan. Despite all of the international focus on Israel and its Arab neighbours, Israel did a far better job of protecting minority faith communities than did Pakistan and India.

A common denominator to Pakistan and Israel is an assumption upon which both states were founded, that there was a need  for a minority to have a state in which it would be numerically dominant. Pakistani Muslims did not want to be dominated by Hindu culture and political institutions, and Jews felt the same way about nations from which they had fled.  Indeed, the level of violence against Jews in Arab countries well before Israel was founded made the issue of a safe haven for them all the more pressing.

Because of the political dominance of European Jews in the founding of the State of Israel, the misconception was created of a domino effect, in which European Jewish refugees displaced indigenous Arabs in the course of creating a Jewish state. In fact, around a million Jews had to flee Arab countries in which they faced horrific violence, disenfranchisement and expropriation of both land and liquid assets. The land taken from Jews who had lived in neighboring Arab countries vastly exceeded the land mass of the State of Israel. In addition, much of the land populated and built up by Jews in Israel had been sparsely populated or purchased in a legal manner from prior owners.

There would seem to be a lot in common between Pakistan and Israel.  Both Pakistani Muslims and Israeli Jews established modern nations because of well founded fears of living as a minority in their country. Both countries had  de facto population exchanges, with that of Pakistan and India exponentially more  costly in human life than that of Israel and its Arab neighbours.

The State of Israel was established in 1948, a few months before the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah  on September 11, 1948. What were Jinnah’s thoughts on the establishment of a Jewish homeland? On October 12, 1945, Jinnah said as follows.

“Every man and woman of the Muslim world will die before Jewry seizes Jerusalem. I hope the Jews will not succeed in their nefarious designs and I wish Britain and America should keep their hand off and then I will see how the Jews conquer Jerusalem. The Jews, over half a million, have already been accommodated in Jerusalem against the wishes of the people. May I know which other country has accommodated them? If domination and exploitation are carried now, there will be no peace and end of wars”. 

Over the course of his entire life, there is no quote from Jinnah that deviates from a complete rejection of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Despite the many parallels between India and Pakistan on the one hand and Israel and its Arab neighbours on the other, Jinnah seems to have been blinded by the prejudices and misconceptions of his day concerning a Jewish state in the Middle East. Had he been well informed on Middle East matters, he would have realised that Jews in Arab countries endured a precarious existence under Arab rule.

According to the Arab view, “Palestine” is simply a part of a greater Arab speaking Middle East. On a map of the Middle East in 1947, Jews were scattered throughout Arab speaking countries. In Greece and Turkey in 1923, as well as Europe and its German population in 1945, there were population exchanges that were traumatic and brutal, as was the population exchange during the partition of British India in 1947. The Greeks and the Turks, it should be noted, were geographically intertwined before they were brutally separated from each other in 1923.  Surely Muhammad Ali Jinnah was aware of the violence directed not only against European Jews but against Arab Jews living (according to Arab cartography) the greater Arab world. How was shuffling Jews and Muslims around the greater Arab world any different or more objectionable than the massive shuffle that occurred between India and Pakistan in 1947?

In retrospect, it seems that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, although he was trained as a lawyer did not see the parallels between Indian Partition and the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Jinnah was a Shia Muslim in a country with a Sunni majority. His second and most lasting marriage was to a Zoroastrian woman. Despite his cosmopolitan background, he was still subject to the prejudices that dominated his generation and those that followed it.

Despite his vehement opposition to the founding of a Jewish state, Muhammad Ali Jinnah followed the same logic in founding Pakistan as Israel’s founders did in founding the State of Israel. He felt that Muslims could not get a fair deal unless British India was partitioned into Hindu majority and Muslim majority homelands which closely mirrored the sentiments of Arab Jews living in Arab countries in the 1940’s.

The legal and political principles that Jinnah cited as a founding father of Pakistan make it a conceptual twin of the State of Israel, a notion that many Pakistanis would no doubt find repugnant.

In addition to the British law that Jinnah studied, and the Islamic law and tradition with which he gained familiarity growing up, there is a part of Hebrew scripture with implications in this discussion that stand along side promises made by the Almighty to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob of a homeland for the Jewish people. The verse reads in English as follows. Deuteronomy 25:14-15.

 Thou shalt not have in thy house diverse measures, a great and a small.  A perfect and just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have; that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.


Even people who subscribe to other faiths will find a universal resonance to these words of Hebrew scripture, which are also part of the Christian biblical canon and recognised as a text from a holy book within Muslim tradition.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, despite having established  international precedents that are very relevant to the legitimacy of Israel, followed the practice of a majority of Muslims in  keeping and using two sets of weights and measures. Pakistan and the Middle East would be a far more peaceful place if the principles set forth by Jinnah were followed in actual practice. Muhammad Ali Jinnah is a man who spoke wise words in guiding his country, even if he did not always listen to himself.


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