We start at the beginning. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, also known to Pakistanis as Quaid-e-Azam (the great leader), in his first address to the constituent assembly of the nascent country, said some words that I can easily call his most well-known. He spoke to a gathering whose job was to write the constitution of Pakistan on 11 August 1947.

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 in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State…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.

Anyone reading this would immediately get a sense of secularism in these words. A promise from the founder, that this land will be a land of equal opportunity, of equal treatment, to all faiths and all castes, as equal citizens. A lofty vision to launch a country with. Any modern reader would be filled with a heart-warming feeling that the founders had such a forward-looking and progressive view of this nation to be. A thousand angels fill the air with uplifting songs as the words are spoken. But was that situation really that rosy?

In December 2013, a columnappeared in a popular Urdu newspaper by a right-wing Islamist columnist and playwright. Orya Maqbool Jaan claimed that these words were never uttered; that the speech never existed! He looked at the 12 August 1947 edition of the newspaper Civil & Military Gazette, which by all accounts was a ‘secular’ newspaper, founded and run by the British. Apart from run of the mill coverage of the event, there was nothing special in it. The famous sentences that were separating Islam and State, that are hyped up so much by the secularists, are nowhere to be found in it. He claims that it was a lie and a hoax perpetrated on the nation. As evidence, he states that in his last speech on 1 July 1948, Jinnah asked the State Bank to formulate policies on Islamic principles. He also cites that no recording of this speech is available. Third, the claim that it was published by the newspaper Dawn on 12 August is incorrect, as its offices in Delhi burned down a few months back. His main source for this assertion is Secular Jinnah & Pakistan: What the Nation Doesn’t Know by the little-known writer Salena Karim, which debunks Jinnah’s secular stance. Sounds like a moon-landing conspiracy.

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