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“Looking back, it almost seems inconceivable that the decision of a Christian judge to opt for ‘Muslim’ Pakistan in 1947 would have such far-reaching consequences, not just for the country itself, but also for the development of jurisprudence worldwide, but such was the impact of that fateful summer.” These are the words of historian Dr Yaqoob Bangash, describing the unique A.R. Cornelius, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan. Bangash continues that Cornelius was born in Agra in 1903 and that both the paternal and maternal sides of Cornelius’s family converted from Hinduism to Christianity, while his wife, Ione Francis, was also a Christian but from Muslim ancestry. From this mosaic of a family tree, Bangash concludes that, though Cornelius was a Christian, “he had deep connection and understanding of both Hinduism and Islam in South Asia.”

According to a descendant of Cornelius, Aryan D’Rozario, in an interview with historian Aanchal Malhotra, Cornelius was the only member of his family who chose to move to Pakistan after Partition in 1947. He had already established himself in Lahore some years prior. He joined the civil service in 1926 and undertook his first posting in the city. He began his judicial career in 1943 at the Lahore High Court and was elevated to the bench three years later. Cornelius became the fourth and second longest-serving Chief Justice of Pakistan in the years between 1960-1968, before he became the Law Advisor under General Yahya Khan from 1969-1971. As a result of his works, Cornelius was awarded the Hilal-e-Pakistan. His career was not limited to law. He also served as the Chairperson of the Pakistan Cricket Board during its formative years (1949-1953).

“I was impressed to see the engagement and interest among Pakistanis (especially young people) in learning more about his contributions to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. I did not think that a Roman Catholic who reached the pinnacle of his career in Pakistan would survive the Islamisation drive of General Zia-ul-Haq. I am glad to have been proved wrong. Justice Cornelius did not seek or desire fame: but I am glad his memory will be kept alive for future generations of Pakistanis. His work speaks for itself, and I am glad to see a lively debate on his legacy” wrote D’Rozario to the author of this article.

Cornelius was distinct from others because he was a prominent non-Muslim Pakistani who explicitly supported and influenced Islamisation. However, it should be noted here that his desired liberal outcomes of Islamisation certainly did not correspond to those of the autocratic Zia. Lombardi describes how Cornelius embraced hybrid constitutionalism by combining an Islamic constitution, based on Allah’s sovereignty, with the promotion of liberal values, having conceived Islamisation as “lawyer-led” in which liberal lawyers support Islamisation and “establish themselves as legitimate interpreters of Islamic law, and in the process thereby establish fundamental rights principles as principles essential to Islamic law as well.”

Cornelius, in his speech on the ‘Function of Law as a Link Between Nations’ in 1964, gave advice on how the “high principles” of the preamble to the 1962 constitution (the Objectives Resolution) could be achieved, which declared that sovereignty belongs to Allah and that Pakistan was to be “based on Islamic principles of social justice.” If one compares Cornelius’s response to the Objectives Resolution with that of the religious minority members of the Constituent Assembly when it was introduced by Liaquat Ali Khan in March 1949, it becomes evident how unusual Cornelius was for not only supporting Islamisation but constructively helping to make it a reality. He suggested that the Pakistani people would happily live according to the laws of the state once it is clear to them that they are derived “from a true source of Sovereignty,” i.e. Allah’s. It is, therefore, clear why Cornelius allegedly referred to himself as a “Constitutional Muslim.”

Jawwad S. Khawaja, the 23rd Chief Justice of Pakistan, describes in his autobiography the impact that Cornelius had on him personally, as well as through the constitutional history of Pakistan. In “Slaughtered Without a Knife”, Khawaja describes how his “image of a judge was personified by the likes of A.R. Cornelius”, an image he perceived to be best defined through “character” consisting of courage, integrity, fairness and a skill set that makes them an effective judge. In describing his encounters with Cornelius, Khawaja exemplifies Cornelius’ humility, patience, integrity and willingness to advise without ulterior financial motives.

He suggested that the Pakistani people would happily live according to the laws of the state once it is clear to them that they are derived “from a true source of Sovereignty,” i.e. Allah’s. It is, therefore, clear why Cornelius allegedly referred to himself as a “Constitutional Muslim.”

Khawaja describes working with Cornelius, whom he and others endearingly called “Judge Sahib,” as one of the “greatest privileges” of his life, having left “indelible imprints” on his thinking and life. “He was the rudder that kept me from straying from the true path. He was also the measure and living example against which to judge me, even as I fell short of the measure at times.”

Khawaja mentions one case as being one of Cornelius’s greatest contributions to Pakistan’s constitutional law. This was the case of “Federation of Pakistan v. Maulvi Tamizzudin Khan” in 1955, which found that Pakistan still owed allegiance to the British monarchy, and the decision rested on the premise that Pakistan had to “continue to defer to the principles and traditions of the British Parliament, even after achieving independence in 1947.” Cornelius, being the lone dissenting voice as he was on other occasions, affirmed: “the key to the Indian Independence Act, 1947, is the independence of Pakistan, and the purpose of… that Act is to efface the supremacy of the British Parliament.” Khawaja thus referred to the points raised by Cornelius as having significance to this day in “bringing the will of the People to the helm of affairs and relegating the king to the position of mere titular head of the new dominion of Pakistan.”

As is clear from these accounts of Cornelius’s friends, family and respected historians, he led a remarkable life that impacted Pakistan in ways many might not have known about. But his name lives on, most notably through the law firm Cornelius, Lane & Mufti. It was initially called Lane & Mufti when it was established in 1975 by founding partners Lane and Mufti, but the name was changed to Cornelius, Lane & Mufti in 1979 when Cornelius, as well as Khawaja and Hamid Khan, were taken on as the new partners. The firm described Cornelius as having “left behind a wealth of opinions and precedents and the legacy of his deeply honoured name for perpetual use of the firm.” Other examples of his legacy include the Law Library, named after Cornelius at Bahria University, Islamabad, established in 2010.

As articulated by his descendant, Aryan D’Rozario, there was a worry that Cornelius’s legacy would not survive the course of Pakistan’s history because of his Christian faith. But his name remains memorialised by these institutions, as well as on the pages of history books.


This research was graciously directed by Aryan D’Rozario. Current and former partners and associates at Cornelius, Lane & Mufti also provided valuable insights. The following books/articles largely contributed to this research and are an asset for those who want to learn more about A.R. Cornelius: Yaqoob Bangash’s “When Christians were partitioned in the Punjab-II.” Ralph Braibanti’s Cornelius of Pakistan: Catholic Chief Justice of a Muslim State. Asad Ullah Khan and Amna Umar Khan’s Justice A.R. Cornelius: A Constitutionalist. Jawwad S. Khawaja’s Slaughtered without a Knife. Clark Lombardi’s “Chapter 9. Islamic Constitutionalism Beyond Liberalism” in The Political Construction of the State. Aanchal Malhotra’s In the Language of Remembering: The Inheritance of Partition.

Mary Hunter

Mary Hunter is a PhD candidate at the University of St Andrews, researching the Islamisation of Pakistan. She is also a freelance writer on issues relating to Islamophobia, Pakistan and its diaspora in the UK.

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