Was Jinnah a saint or sinner?

Lord Mountbatten called Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, a vain, evil genius. A new film attempts to rehabilitate him as a tolerant secularist and as the model for a modern Muslim leader.

In the end the sex was a bit of a disappointment. We had been promised, in advance press reports, that we would see Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, revealed as a bisexual and that we would witness new details of the steamy affair between Mountbatten's wife, Edwina, and the first prime minister of India, Pandit Nehru.

Of all that, more later. In the event there was something far more interesting about Jinnah, the new film by the director Jamil Dehlavi and the academic Akbar Ahmed, which was such a sell-out when it was premiered earlier this month at the London Film Festival, that a second screening has been organised next week before it goes on general release.

For it asks a question which is not historical but very much of our time: who speaks for Islam? And it posits the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as the exemplar of a tolerant, open, democratic style of Muslim leadership - in contrast to the archetypes of the mad mullah and the military dictator which dominate our contemporary view of the religion of Mohammed.

The film is Pakistan's answer to what it saw as the travesty of their great founder hero as he was portrayed in Richard Attenborough's movie Gandhi. Not that Jinnah has been universally acclaimed in Pakistan. A bitter and vitriolic campaign has been launched against the film there with the nation's biggest English-language paper carrying a front- page condemnation because of the actor chosen to play the great national hero - Christopher Lee. (The piece was accompanied by an old Hammer horror pic of Lee as Dracula, complete with fanged teeth.) And this came on top of the row about a white actor blacking up for the role which had blown up earlier when Jeremy Irons was mooted for the part.

Such was the furore that the man who has inspired and produced the film, the Cambridge don and Islamic scholar Akbar Ahmed, was forced to chair a press conference in Karachi flanked by historians and former government ministers to defend the project from all sides. It had achieved the unenviable distinction of being attacked in India as Pakistani propaganda and in Jinnah's home country as both a Hindu and a Zionist plot.

Rewriting history is, of course, always contentious. And viewing the past merely as a lens through which to endorse our view of the present is the fallacy which the great historian Herbert Butterfield warned against in The Whig Interpretation Of History. Yet Professor Ahmed felt he had no alternative after the portrait of his hero in Attenborough's film. In Gandhi Jinnah is portrayed as a glowering sulking villain - intransigent, power-hungry and impervious to the dangers of breaking up British India and the million deaths which ensued at the partition of the subcontinent.

The slander, in Akbar Ahmed's eyes, goes well beyond the cinema. Lord Mountbatten - while publicly claiming he was entirely impartial between Jinnah's Pakistan and Nehru's India - privately called the Muslim leader everything from vain and megalomaniacal to an evil genius, a lunatic, a psychotic case and "a bastard". By contrast Ahmed's film - and the book, TV documentary and Pakistani comic-book which are also part of the rehabilitation project - sees Jinnah as a complex and sensitive figure whose political views evolved and altered significantly during his lifetime (going from a pan-religious Indian nationalist to a Muslim separatist) in response to the events which were forced upon him by the British, Nehru and the man he describes as "wily old Gandhi".

"Jinnah has always been seen as a blackguard - but, in fact, he was unimpeachable in his integrity," Ahmed said. His research included the first published interviews with Jinnah's daughter and private secretary. They revealed that the Pakistani leader knew about the affair between Nehru and Edwina. "He was given four love letters from Nehru to Edwina by a Hindu rival to Nehru. The rival was confident that Jinnah would publish them in a newspaper. But instead Jinnah said gutter politics was not his style and that he'd rather not have an independent Pakistan if it meant resorting to that."

Tussling with this welter of historical detail clearly threw up a number of dilemmas for Ahmed. There will be many who feel that he took the pusillanimous options in his attempt to come up with Pakistan's answer to Braveheart. The sex between Edwina and Nehru is hinted at in the gentlest of ways. Louis Mountbatten's sexual ambiguity - or at least his lack of jealousy at his wife's relationship with the Indian leader - remains enigmatic. And scenes which revealed Jinnah to be (in contravention of Muslim law) a whisky-drinker, albeit in moderation, were cut.

The result is a curiously dated, endearingly innocent Fifties style of film, full of unmuddled decency and heroic virtue. But there is more behind the hagiography than the mere desire to ensure that the film is not banned as indecent in Muslim countries. For Jinnah stands for a way of being an Islamic leader which has fallen from the lexicon of contemporary politics.

Pakistanis, Ahmed insists, need to be reminded of the tough-minded, secularist pluralist who created their nation. More than that, Jinnah offers an example to the wider Muslim world. "Here is a man who wants to balance tradition and modernity, who is speaking as a Muslim but also as a man who says that Islam is tolerant," said Ahmed. "Jinnah is a modern Muslim leader who believes in human rights, minority rights and women's rights and who - in a nation now tainted by corruption - was a man of total integrity, taking only one rupee a month as his pay."

Yet the Jinnah model has now almost faded from view. Many Pakistanis under the age of 30 have never even heard of him. "Their idea of an Islamic leader is a military dictator like Saddam, or the `mad mullah' model of Afghanistan or Iran," he said. "Many people have latterly been taught to regard Jinnah as a secular figure but he spent his life fighting for a kind of Islam which showed respect for law, for the rights of women and of minorities - things which the Prophet Mohammed himself insisted upon."

In one sense this is familiar territory for Akbar Ahmed. During the Rushdie crisis he spent many hours mediating between the positions of fundamentalists in the Muslim and libertarian camps, explaining that Rushdie was guilty of needless blasphemy - for which he should atone - but unequivocally condemning the fatwa which condemned the author to death.

In many parts of the world today Islam, or a particular interpretation of it, has rushed into the vacuum in which angry, alienated young Muslims exist. "It gives them a sense of pride, identity and strength - and the notion that they have the ability to shake the most powerful nation on earth with a few bombs," Ahmed said. In countries where the state is strong the result is military dictatorship; where the state is weak the result is mullah-led theocracy.

"The Jinnah model is much more ambiguous, yet if it is not kept before the eyes of young Muslims then they will turn to a Gaddafi or Khomeini figure," he said.

Either that or they will descend into the morass of myopia, corruption and caprice which he says characterises modern-day Pakistan. Over the past two decades the state Jinnah founded has undergone successive periods of martial law, abortive military coups and states of emergency - in which only one president has completed his term, prime ministers have been dismissed eight times, one prime minister was assassinated, one executed, and eight parliaments have been prematurely dissolved.

Jinnah would be horrified at the distortion which has grown from his ideal of a secular state, Akbar Ahmed insists. "Now, more than ever, Muslims need to be reminded that there is another way."

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?