How Secular Jinnah inspired Systems Part 1: The first book

(If you haven’t seen it already, read the introduction to this mini-series here)

Freedom, represented by feathers, or wingsThe first book I ever started – long before even SJ1 – was fiction. For a long time I had notions about the emotional content, and that it should be an epic. I even developed the characters, and knew that the story would contain a quest for a valuable item, but otherwise there was no solid plot. It refused to come together because it lacked focus. The thing had a beating heart, but no brain. Or maybe it was the other way round.

Justice, represented by scales

Scales, representing justice, were originally going to appear on the cover of 'Systems'

Whilst I said to friends that I was writing a novel, my only published writing was in the form of a few literary columns, and some Urdu-to-English translations of articles. Then suddenly in 2004 through my translation work, I happened to uncover what would later be called the ‘Munir quote’. This was the start of Secular Jinnah (2005), and my journey learning about the Pakistan idea. Funnily enough I didn’t even like politics (and still don’t!), but as I soon discovered, the Pakistan story was more than just political history. It wasn’t just another redrawing of the world map. It had a higher, noble idea at its core that truly resonated with me. I will explain why in the next post.


In mid-2005, I was finishing the final draft of SJ1 and putting in a few appendices. The book was short and didn’t explain anything about Pakistan’s founding history in much detail, but it had discussed the universal principles of the Quran that inspired so many Muslims during the Pakistan movement and which they expected to see become a reality in their new state. For the second appendix item I wanted to create a short list of these principles, about a page long, of the universal human rights that are also mentioned in the Quran. But I wanted to stick to basic principles, i.e. the ideals, in part because this is what the Quran itself does, and also because Jinnah had placed emphasis on the same basic ideals.

So I got thinking about human rights.

  • Freedom of conscience or religion
  • Freedom of speech
  • Equality before the law
  • Right to a fair trial
  • Equality of the sexes

Seed of an idea… And so on. But I soon realised that most of these items could be grouped together by their corresponding ideal. The first two of the above list could be grouped together under the ideal value ‘freedom’, and the latter three under ‘justice’. I also recall thinking that many (if not most) of these and similar principles could be classified both under freedom and justice. In fact these two seemingly separate ideals are ultimately united, but I hadn’t recognised this yet. Nor did I know that this was the germ of the idea for what would later become the Cohesive Ethics Theorem.

And how many ideals were there? Try as I might, I could only think of two: justice and freedom.

Next: Pt 2: Libredux … Pt 3: The missing principle  Pt 4 (final): Reversal

Earlier posts in this mini-series: Introduction




  1. Muhammad Rafi says:

    Prof. Muhammad Rafi
    Those who believe in the justice system of Islam and its evolving nature for a better society will find the book interesting and thought provoking. Most of the people I have met fail to understand the basis of Pakistan’s creation. This is the result of totally misunderstanding the true nature of Islamic permanent values.
    Saleena’s book is a revolutionary one and will shock those who have pre-conceived ideas about Islam, Jinnah, the Pakistan Movement and an Islamic society. Please read the book with an open mind. I have not read the book, but I will surely read and try to understand how Saleena has presented the concept. The younger generation will surely see the clear sky once their misconceptions about a perfect society are removed. Saleena should be taken seriously, but I have saddened to some extent by the indifference of scholars and critics to her first two books. The self proclaimed intellectuals who believe that they know all about the Pakistan Movement and the vision of Iqbal, fail to realize the true nature of Pakistan’s creation.
    ‘Systems’ appears to be an upsurge of what had been brewing in Saleena’s inner being, a medley of thoughts, ideas and feelings.Modern fiction writers and critics would term it as the technique of free association in an attempt to bring out what she was feeling and thinking in the depths of her mind and heart. A book based on therse ideals cannot be brushed aside as just another novel, rather it should be treated as as most meaningful though most of us have not yet cared to probe into it.The first and second generation of Pakistanis and so called entrepreneurs of art and literature, whose skill seldom matches their ambition, fail to understand that that the readership and audience changes every few years.And it is only the brilliant, fresh, original and thought-provoking that remains.The conspiracy of silence against the genuine and the original writers like Saleena must give way to a true evaluation of her books.
    I am sure that Saleena Baitee’s ‘Systems’ will ultimately find its true position in the world of books.
    Best wishes
    Uncle Rafi

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