Pakistan-Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin

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Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin, by Akbar S. Ahmed. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. xxix + 258 pages. Refs. to p. 267. Index to p. 274. $19.95.

Reviewed by Craig Baxter

Akbar Ahmed, a member of the civil service of Pakistan, has built his academic reputation on his excellent studies of the Pukhtuns (or Pathans) of the northwest frontier region of Pakistan.' He has also written on Islam to explain certain aspects of that religion to non-Muslims.2 In this book, he departs from his former subjects to portray as a modern Muslim hero Muhammad `Ali Jinnah, the qa'id-i-a'zam (great leader) of the Muslim movement in India for a separate homeland for the Muslims-Pakistan. Ahmed seems to have become obsessed with Jinnah and, especially, with the lack of recognition the leader had received outside the sub-continent. This book is only part of his work to make Jinnah better known and understood. Ahmed is also executive producer of a projected feature film on Jinnah's life. The hope of those involved in the production is that it will approach the enormous success of Attenborough's Gandhi, and correct the errors in that film that have been noted by Ahmed and many others, including this reviewer.

It is unlikely, however, that the film Jinnah will be a corrective if it is based on the book under review. The effort here is less than satisfactory. Ahmed suggests that he does not wish to produce a hagiography, but he does so in this adulatory study of Jinnah. To raise Jinnah to the status of a 20th-century Salah al-Din (Saladin), the author had to play down the role of other actors in the drama that led eventually to the partition of India. The main villains in Ahmed's book are Louis Mountbatten, the viceroy, and his wife Edwina. Many pages are devoted to the relationship (whatever it was) between Edwina and Jawaharlal Nehru, suggesting that this relationship was used by Nehru to ensure that Mountbatten's decisions would favor India and go against Pakistan. Mahatma Gandhi is less maligned, although his slogan of Ram Rajya, rule according to a golden age in Hindu mythology, is condemned as being aimed to treat non-Hindus as second-class citizens. Ahmed also condemns Hindu nationalist organizations, particularly the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which, according to him, are the cause of the plight of the Muslims who have remained in India. Although the book was completed before the present government of India, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was installed, that party was also criticized. …