The man credited with founding the South Asian nation-state is fondly remembered by those who share his vision. By Alayna Ahmad.
Having spent part of my youth in Pakistan, I remember well the December celebrations surrounding the birthday of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was born to a wealthy family in Sindh, present day Pakistan, on December 25th, 1876. Jinnah was the second of eight children.1 A barrister, politician and eventually the father of Pakistan, Jinnah remains an inspiring force for millions, even 65 years after his death.
Soon after finishing his studies in Karachi, he accepted an apprenticeship in London with Graham’s Shipping and Trading Company in 1892. Upon his arrival in London, however, he decided to give up this opportunity to study law at Lincoln’s Inn instead. He was greatly influenced by 19th-century British liberalism and began thinking about progressive politics and the idea of a democratic nation. Great Britain influenced much more than just his political beliefs: he often dressed in Savile Row suits, a tie and leather shoes,2 and could better articulate his thoughts in English than in Urdu.
During this time, India was shaken by revolts against British rule and support for independence was growing. When Jinnah returned to India in 1896 he dabbled in politics by joining the Indian National Congress, a party that was predominantly made up of Hindus with a Muslim minority. He attempted to maintain peace between Hindus and Muslims, but nevertheless championed the rights of Muslims. In 1913 he joined the Muslim League, becoming party president a few years later. What followed was a life-long, arduous struggle spanning more than three decades to carve a piece of land from India. The resulting nation, Pakistan, means “land of the pure”.
Despite wanting a separate nation for his fellow Muslims, Jinnah never wanted India and Pakistan to become hostile neighbours, nor did he anticipate the souring of relations. Gandhi, a contemporary of Jinnah, locked heads with him over political, social, religious and economic issues. Jinnah supported the creation of Pakistan, which would be a Muslim-majority nation, whereas Gandhi insisted the country should remain an undivided one. Although both Gandhi and Jinnah were political rivals, they held the utmost respect for one another. At the time it was Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, who was less kind and described Jinnah as “an evil genius of the whole thing”.3 Jinnah’s public image remained cold and rigid, but those close to him maintained he was far from frigid.
Jinnah had fallen in love with Rattanbai Petit, who belonged to a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay. The couple married despite resistance from the Muslim and Parsi communities at the time. In 1919 they had a daughter, Dina Jinnah, who was close to her father. Jinnah became extremely busy in politics and dedicated every waking moment to creating a Pakistan that would allow religious freedoms, secularism and religious pluralism. As he spent more and more time away from Rattanbai, she became increasingly reclusive and her health deteriorated. On her 29th birthday, in 1929, she died. Many historians have surmised that she died of a broken heart, unable to bear the suffering of separation from her husband.
When Pakistan was created on August 14th 1947, Jinnah’s daughter Dina remained in India as she had already married Parsi industrialist Neville Wadia. This had broken her father’s heart and the father-daughter relationship became even more estranged. Jinnah missed his wife and daughter dearly, and therefore was grateful to his sister Fatima, who had become a great solace to him.
After the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah was given the honourary title Qaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) and Baba-i-Qaum (Father of the Nation). Thus a man who had no children in the new country he had strived so hard to build, suddenly became a father to millions.
Jinnah’s dream and vision was not to set up an Islamic fundamentalist state but a democratic nation, capable of protecting and maintaining religious freedoms and safeguarding its people from discrimination. In his speech a few days before the creation of Pakistan, he declared:
You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State… As you know, history shows that in England, conditions some time ago were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some states in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class.4
The current reality of Pakistan stands in stark contrast to Jinnah’s vision. Previous leaderships in the country have done much to paint him as a religious man to suit their agendas. Nonetheless, Stanley Wolpert, author of a biography on Jinnah, describes him as a Westernised and liberal man. He writes, “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”
Inspired by his dedication, candour and wit, much of the nation’s youth have taken up the struggle to create the Pakistan envisioned by its founding father
The goal of realising Jinnah’s Pakistan continues. Inspired by his dedication, candour and wit, much of the nation’s youth have taken up the struggle to create the Pakistan envisioned by its founding father. The educated young are aware that Islamist groups in Pakistan have appropriated and distorted Jinnah’s ideology. For many in the nation, however, the trap of indoctrination from their religious leaders remains strong.
The Qaid-i-Azam is my father who fought for my freedoms to practise Islam in Pakistan in a way that speaks to me. He fought for my independence so I would not be treated as a second-class citizen, simultaneously giving me a voice, which he ensured would be heard in a democratic society.
In the words of the late Nelson Mandela in 1995 upon his visit to Karachi, Pakistan: “Ali Jinnah is a constant source of inspiration for all those who are fighting against racial or group discrimination.”5 Despite the present day realities in Pakistan, I remain certain that future generations of Pakistanis will strive to re-create our nation in order to serve justice to its founding father.
1 Akbar S. Ahmed (1997), Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin, available here
2 M J Akbar, ‘Jinnah: Disturbed Spirit’, available here
3 Roderick Matthews (2012), Jinnah vs. Gandhi (Prologue), available here
4 Palash Ghosh, ‘65 years after his death, what is Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s legacy in Pakistan?’, International Business Times, 11 Sep 2013, available here
5 Yasser Latif Hamdani, ‘The Jinnah-Mandela connection’, Daily Times, 9 Dec 2013, available here
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 Inspire issue of Aquila Style magazine. For a superior and interactive reading experience, you can get the entire issue, free of charge, on your iPad or iPhone at the Apple Newsstand, or on your Android tablet or smartphone at Google Play