Preferred Citation: Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama'at-i Islami of Pakistan. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1994.

Entering the Political Process, 1947–1958

The Constitution of 1956

The Jama‘at’s experience with martial law in Punjab and its dismay at the ouster of Nazimu’ddin had only increased the party’s dedication to the preservation and promotion of civil liberties. In July 1953 the Jama‘at celebrated “Islamic Constitution Day.” In November of the same year it ordered its workers to join various civil liberties unions across Pakistan, and it contemplated forming a central civil liberties association.[106] The Jama‘at’s Islamic constitution and its civil rights cause were given a boost when the secularist governor-general Ghulam Muhammad, in an attempt to resolve the political stalemate in Karachi, summarily dismissed the Constituent Assembly on October 24, 1954. With no constitution in place, the governor-general was theoretically responsible only to the British Crown. Although Mawdudi was then still in prison and conceivably at the mercy of Ghulam Muhammad’s good will, the party quickly organized demonstrations against the governor-general’s decision and in support of the petition challenging the dismissal filed before the Sind High Court by the speaker of the dismissed assembly, Maulvi Tamizu’ddin, on November 7, 1954.[107] The Sind High Court ruled against the governor-general’s action. Ghulam Muhammad appealed the ruling before the Supreme Court, where Justice Munir reversed the Sind High Court.

The case presented not only a suitable cause célèbre around which to organize and to reinvigorate the languishing religious alliance, but an occasion to challenge both Ghulam Muhammad and Justice Munir. The dismissal of the assembly had also removed the only institutional avenue open to the religious alliance for influencing the constitutional process, which now lay fully in the hands of secularist leaders. The restoration of the assembly was, therefore, a matter of life and death for the Islamic constitution, and yet another proof that the fate of Islam was enmeshed with that of democracy in Pakistan. Under political pressure the government restored the assembly in May 1955. In August both Ghulam Muhammad and Bugra left office, to be replaced by General Iskandar Mirza and Chaudhri Muhammad ‘Ali, respectively. Given the resumption of constitutional debates, the Jama‘at redoubled its efforts on behalf of the Islamic constitution, though rather less zealously. It did not, for instance, put forth candidates to contest the elections to the Constituent Assembly of June 21, 1955. In light of the Munir Report’s debilitating criticisms and the government’s dismissal of the Constituent Assembly, the party now felt that it should avoid issues of substance and concentrate on obtaining any constitution at all. The pious Muslim Leaguer and civil servant Chaudhri Muhammad ‘Ali, whom Mawdudi had known since the 1930s, meanwhile received Mawdudi’s endorsement for the renewed constitution-making process after he relaxed government pressure on the Jama‘at and protected Mawdudi from further harassment. For instance, Muhammad ‘Ali personally intervened on Mawdudi’s behalf when the government had decided to prosecute him once again for his role in the anti-Ahmadi crisis by using a legal technicality.[108] Pressure was brought to bear on the government to arrest Mawdudi and other martial law prisoners. The charges against Mawdudi and his codefendants were officially dropped eight days later.[109]

The government took steps to bring the Jama‘at into the constitution-making process by pushing for greater Islamization.[110] Thirty-four members of the Constituent Assembly signed a declaration at the Jama‘at’s behest in May 1955, pledging to retain in the new constitutional draft the Islamic and democratic provisions adopted by the old constituent assembly. Meanwhile, Sardar ‘Abdu’rrabb Nishtar, president of the Muslim League, and Mahmud Husain, minister of education, pressed to include in the Basic Principles Committee report a recommendation to establish an ulama board to advise the legislature.[111]

On February 29, 1956, the Constituent Assembly formally ratified the draft constitution proposed by Muhammad ‘Ali. It was approved by the governor-general on March 2 and took effect on March 23. The constitution recognized some token demands of the Islamic parties—naming the state the “Islamic Republic” of Pakistan and subjecting all legislative undertakings to the veto of the “repugnancy clause.” This clause (number 205), argued that no laws could be passed that were repugnant to the teachings of the Qur’an and the hadith and that all laws passed to date could be examined in light of the religious authorities and, if need be, repealed. But none of the concessions were substantive ones. The recommendations made by the Board of Ta‘limat-i Islamiyah (Board of Islamic Teachings), the Objectives Resolution, and the reports of the Basic Principles Committee found no place in the constitution. Islam was not declared the official religion of Pakistan, nor was it stipulated that the speaker of the National Assembly, who could become president under special circumstances, must be a Muslim. Furthermore, the constitution of 1956 closely paralleled the India Act of 1935 and, hence, despite its prima facie adherence to the Westminster model, gave broad powers to the president to which the Jama‘at was opposed. The constitution had retained all those features of the earlier interim committee reports which Mawdudi had most vehemently denounced as authoritarian.

Mawdudi and the Jama‘at, however, quickly accepted the constitution as an “Islamic” constitution. The only serious criticism lodged by Mawdudi was to the “preventive detention” clause of the constitution, which given his recent experiences with the heavy-handed policies of the government, was derided as outright authoritarian.[112] This decision was doctrinally suspect but politically prudent. Mawdudi no doubt wanted to support Chaudhri Muhammad ‘Ali and to make the best of a bad situation. Bengali discontent with Karachi’s political intrigues had increased markedly after 1954, when the Muslim League had been routed in East Pakistan’s provincial elections. Pakistan, Mawdudi decided, needed a working constitution, and debating over what it should be could only further divide the country. The political maneuverings of General Mirza, who was no less a threat to the Jama‘at’s interests than Ghulam Muhammad, added to the party’s anxiety. Since October 1954, when Ghulam Muhammad had dismissed the Constituent Assembly and forced Prime Minister Bugra to admit generals Mirza and Ayub Khan into the cabinet, the military had taken a more direct role in managing the affairs of the country. A prolonged constitutional deadlock could only have benefited General Mirza and his allies in the bureaucracy and the armed forces, who were impatient with Pakistani politics and were predisposed to dispense with the entire process. Chaudhri Muhammad ‘Ali, who generally sought to minimize resistance to the constitution, had no doubt been instrumental in helping Mawdudi come to these conclusions.[113] So had the ransacking by the police of the party’s offices eleven days earlier and its promise to continue such harassment.[114]

In addition, unless quickly promulgated, Muhammad ‘Ali’s constitutional draft was likely to be challenged by more secular versions. In 1955 the law minister, Isma‘il Ibrahim Chundrigar, had drafted a constitution with the help of Britain’s parliamentary counsel, Sir John Rowlatt.[115] The “Chundrigar constitution,” as it was dubbed by a British diplomat, did not envision Pakistan as an “Islamic” Republic, and provided for no parliamentary body to determine whether or not legislation was repugnant to Islam. It referred to Islam only twice—when it stipulated the religion required of the president and when it suggested that oaths should be taken in the name of Allah.[116] Chundrigar viewed Islamic legislation as a restriction on the sovereignty of the parliament and wished to do away with it. It is clear that the law minister’s initiative would have been particularly damaging to the Jama‘at’s cause. The party agreed to forego the hope of a constitution to its liking and to accept Muhammad ‘Ali’s formulation.

Soon thereafter, Muhammad ‘Ali’s power began to wane. Mawdudi’s efforts to mobilize support failed, and the architect of Pakistan’s first constitution was removed from office on September 12, 1956. He was replaced by the veteran Bengali politician Husain Shahid Suhrawardi, whose mix of Bengali nationalism and populism did not sit well with West Pakistan’s landed and bureaucratic elite. The Jama‘at did not approve of his secular outlook and populist inclinations. Once Suhrawardi, an ally of Mamdot, had taken over the Jinnah Awami League and secured a base in Punjab, he had moved steadily to the left and toward the Bengali nationalists, forming the United Front to expand his base of support in East Pakistan. Given all this, the Jama‘at was certain to resume its antigovernment agitations. The new government’s interpretation of the constitution would soon provide the necessary pretext.

The constitution of 1956 had left the question of the division of the electorates unresolved. Most West Pakistanis favored categorizing Muslims and non-Muslims as separate electorates. Suhrawardi and the East Pakistan Assembly had already voted in favor of joint electorates.[117] Soon after Suhrawardi took office, the Jama‘at moved to oppose Suhrawardi over the joint electorate issue[118] and launched a campaign which placed the issue at the center of Pakistani politics.[119] The party argued that joint electorates would make a mockery of the state’s claims to be Islamic and open the elections to machinations by the “anti-Pakistan” Hindu voters who were still numerous in East Pakistan. The party found itself in the same camp with many of its erstwhile enemies and rivals—the Muslim League and the Republican party leaders, and the bureaucratic and military elite who opposed Suhrawardi and the Awami League on the electorates issue.[120] The issue was largely symbolic, revealing the continued communalist outlook of the Pakistanis. Before the partition they had fought for separate electorates in India to establish their communal identity and protect the special interests of the Muslim minority. The force of their arguments was still echoing in Pakistan; they still reacted to the issue as if they represented a religious minority. They felt threatened by the Hindu electorate, whom they believed would use the joint electorates to promote Bengali nationalism at the expense of the Islamic, and by implication Pakistani, cause. The Jama‘at was motivated by anti-Hindu sentiments, since Hindus were the main beneficiaries of joint electorates in East Pakistan. The party’s idea of social organization was based on the Muslim/non-Muslim (zimmi) dichotomy and the overriding role of Islam in Pakistan’s politics. In this case the interests of many Pakistani leaders and the religious sensibilities of the Jama‘at had converged. The electorates issue was only the first of many examples of cooperation between the Muslim League and the Jama‘at. For instance, when in March 1958 the prime minister, Malik Firuz Khan Noon, severely criticized Western powers for abandoning Pakistan on Kashmir, and called for Pakistan to steer away from overreliance on the West, none welcomed his initiative more than the Jama‘at.

Hence once Suhrawardi and the Awami League were replaced by a Muslim League government, the Jama‘at found itself markedly closer to the government.[121] Between 1957 and 1958, as the clamor for provincial autonomy among Bengalis came to dominate Pakistani politics, strikes and demands for economic justice grew, and as the hand of General Mirza in steering Pakistan toward military rule became more apparent, the Jama‘at joined in the political process more actively.[122] To counter General Mirza’s growing strength, the government was compelled to woo the Islamic parties. When Prime Minister Noon called an “all-parties conference” in 1958, the Jama‘at was invited to attend,[123] a move the Jama‘at regarded as propitious. The Jama‘at had concluded that the electorates issue, which threatened to destabilize the political order, would be decisive in any future general election. Believing that most Pakistanis shared the party’s enthusiasm for separate electorates, it expected to benefit in the anticipated elections from the anti–joint electorate tide. During a preelection rally in East Pakistan, Mawdudi declared rather cavalierly that “99% of West Pakistan’s population and 80 to 90% of East Pakistani Muslims are against the system of joint electorates.”[124]

On April 28, 1958, the party contested twenty-three seats in the Karachi municipal elections and won nineteen of them. The elections to the ninety-six seats of the city corporation, ninety-one of which were open to Muslims, were closely contested and stirred great popular interest.[125] The elections were used by most parties as a trial run for the general elections to gauge the popularity of the various parties.[126] Although the Karachi electorate was by no means typical of Pakistan as a whole, the Jama‘at’s victory still gave it a considerable boost. The U. S. embassy reported to the secretary of state that the Jama‘at had done surprisingly well in the elections, “the most striking aspect of the election results.”[127] The party had won a large proportion of the seats it had contested, coming second after the Muslim League with sixty-one seats.[128] Taking the results as a sign of greater victories to follow, the Jama‘at began preparing for the national elections, to that end forging an alliance with Chaudhri Muhammad ‘Ali’s newly formed Nizam-i Islam (Islamic Order) party. Preparations ended abruptly when on October 7, 1958, generals Iskandar Mirza and Muhammad Ayub Khan staged a military coup, dismissed the civilian government, and shelved the constitution of 1956.

Entering the Political Process, 1947–1958

Preferred Citation: Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama'at-i Islami of Pakistan. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1994.