Truth about Jinnah

August 29, 1997

KATHERINE Frank's review of my book Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin, (THES, August 15) is unfair and inaccurate. For example, she quotes me as condemning Ayesha Jalal's book because it was supervised by a Cambridge historian Anil Seal "who is the son of a Hindu father and British mother". This is incorrect. I was merely quoting a Pakistani historian to show the Pakistani perception of the study of Jinnah while pointing out this was "Pakistan caricature".

The reviewer notes that Ahmed "comes dangerously close to producing a communal work". Yet she fails to point out that I am perhaps the only Pakistani author to acknowledge the moral greatness of Gandhi and pay him tribute - something picked up by several other reviewers (for instance "Akbar Ahmed is generous enough to call for a Pakistani acknowledgement that Gandhi was a 'moral giant' " - Ian Talbot (Times Literary Supplement, August 8).

She says that I have quoted dubious secondary sources. Yet a few paragraphs earlier she notes that I talked to Dina Wadia, Mr Jinnah's only child (which neither Ayesha Jalal nor Stanley Wolpert were able to do).

She says that there are no references to the Quaid-i-Azam Papers in Islamabad but fails to note the several references to them and the author in my discussion of Pakistani scholarship on Mr Jinnah (in chapter one). She talks about the unauthenticated influence of Iqbal on Jinnah's life and yet does not mention the letters that passed between them and the numerous references of Jinnah's speeches in which he acknowledges this influence. She points out "that according to Ahmed, compromising letters between Edwina and Nehru ...". This is not according to me but according to Mr S. S. Pirzada who was secretary to Mr Jinnah.

Attributing stories, prejudices and opinions of others to the author is her technique. As an anthropologist I reflect society and its opinions. I am not responsible for creating them. She sneers at my use of the word hero for Jinnah. I had attempted to show how the Muslims of India who followed Mr Jinnah saw him. This perception was based on interviews conducted by people in the 1970s and 1980s who were young admirers of Mr Jinnah in the 1940s. It was part of their search for a Muslim hero. To them Jinnah indeed was a Saladin. There is no suggestion that Mr Jinnah was putting himself forward as a "Muslim hero".

Akbar Ahmed

Selwyn College, Cambridge

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