Inspiration

Exceptional and Inspiring Women in Jinnah’s Life

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in his entire political career remained a staunch supporter of women empowerment and always encouraged the participation of women in politics as well as other fields of life. On every forum, and addressing every rally he stressed on the importance of education for women and how educated women are the pillars of a strong and progressive nation. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a visionary leader who believed in the shaping of future by shattering the contemporary myths that are prevalent in the society. He dreamed of a Muslim welfare state where women have the liberty to progress, prosper and be leaders. The Quaid was among the first and few who vehemently supported active participation of women in all fields of life. In the conservative orthodox milieu, Quaid’s perception of actively leading Muslim women was unique and refreshing. What shaped his perception of modern women was the women of his family who always walked alongside the men of his family.
Being a private person, little is known about Quaid’s private affairs and most of the information is available through Fatima Jinnah’s memoirs from her book “My Brother”. His mother, Mithibai, played a huge role in his formative years shaping his personality and perception. She belonged to a Khoja family residing in India’s Kathiawar region. She married Poonja Jinnah, Quaid’s father, in 1874. Hoping for a better future, the couple moved to Karachi. The life in the metropolitan was challenging for the young couple. From adjusting to the harshness of weather in a modest apartment to managing finances and struggling to establish the business, the couple faced every challenge with aplomb. In her book, Fatima Jinnah describes her mother as a strong influence on her father and how he often consulted her on the matters of urgency. She writes: “Mithibai enjoyed considerable influence over her husband, whose occasional obstinacy melted in the warmth of his young wife’s pleadings.” The couple together had seven children and Muhammad Ali Jinnah being the eldest son was dotted by both parents but particularly by his mother. Fatima Jinnah writes: “My mother was immensely fond of my brother Mohammad Ali. Even after being blessed with six other children, she looked upon Mohammad Ali as her favorite child. From an early age, Mithibai could sense that her son was observant and intelligent.” He read to keep himself aware of the problems people faced and always questioned injustices. Mitthibai sensed that the kindness, wisdom and empathy that the child possessed was unique for a boy of his age. This made Mitthibai’s belief firm in the fact that her son was meant for greater things. According to her, their mother often said: “My Mohammad Ali is going to be a big man; he will be very clever; better than the other boys.” Sensing her son was meant for greater things, she always stressed about his education. Fatima Jinnah also mentions that their mother often advised Jinnah to be regular at schools and attentive during lectures. As challenges of life took a toll on Mittibhai’s health, she desired nothing but to be surrounded by the affection and care of her children and family, especially her eldest son. Yet, when the opportunity arose for Muhammad Ali to travel abroad and study at a prestigious institution in London, she insisted before the reluctant Muhammad Ali to accept it without delay. With heavy heart and teary eyes, the mother and son bid each other farewell. While bidding the him farewell his mother said to him: “My son, I hate to be away from you. But I am sure this visit to England will help you to be a man. This has been my dream all my life ... Mohammad Ali, you are leaving now on a long journey. I have the feeling I will not live to see you come back from England. God will be your Protector. He will make my wish come true. You will be a big man. And I will be proud of you.” Soon after, Mittibhai left this world for the eternal abode. When Poonja Jinnah informed Muhammad Ali of Mithibai’s passing he cried terribly. Mitthibai’s death created a void in Jinnah’s life that remained till the end of his life. Fatima Jinnah, in her book, describes the tremendous impact of their mother’s death on Jinnah, writing: “He wept and sobbed for hours for his departed mother, whom he loved more than anything else in the world. Far away from home, lonely, and having missed being with his mother in her last days, the shock laid him low, overcome by a violent fit of fainting.”
Manbai, Jinnah’s aunt and Poonja Jinnah’s sister, was a mother figure for the Quaid and loved him like her own. In 1887, she visited her brother in Karachi from Bombay. All of children including Jinnah were fond of her. Every night, the children gathered around to be amused by her stories. In the short span of time that she spent in Karachi, she grew attached to Muhammad Ali and requested her brother to take him with her to Bombay for better educational opportunities, and so Jinnah moved to Bombay. After his mother’s death, Jinnah revered his aunt as his own mother and consulted her in all the important matters of life.
At the age of 16, on his mother’s insistence Muhammad Ali married his cousin Emibai, before he left for England. She was shy and used to observe purdah, something on which she and Quaid had different views. Quaid left for higher studies soon after the nuptials. Sometime after the Mithibai’s demise, Emibai passed away too. When he heard of her death, he was shocked and devastated. He did not remarry for the next 25 years.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah was 40 years old when he met Rattanbai (Ruttie). They both had lots of common friends and shared many interests including horses, fine arts and poetry. When they met, both immediately fell in love. Quaid being a Muslim and Rattanbai belonging to an affluent Parsi family, religion besides age was another factor that their love transcended, and they married. The couple was blessed with a girl, Dina Jinnah. However, a few years after the marriage, different approaches to life — Quaid’s life being propelled by the aim of Muslim independence and Ruttie s desire to live life as a fairytale — pushed the couple apart but the flame of love never went out. Quaid being fully engrossed in the contemporary politics of subcontinent and working for Muslim rights, Ruttie felt neglected. She decided to move to England along with her daughter.  Unable to bear the separation from her beloved husband, she fell gravely ill and passed away in 1929. Her love for her husband can be gauged from a letter that she wrote to him couple of months prior to her death. She wrote “Darling, thank you for all you have done. Try and remember me, beloved, as the flower you plucked and not the flower you treaded upon … I have loved you, my darling, as it is given to few men to be loved. I only beseech you that the tragedy which commenced with love should also end with it. Darling, good night and goodbye.”  
Quaid loved his wife greatly and the only time he cried in public was when her coffin was being lowered into the grave. Sharif-al-Mujahid writes: “Jinnah was not able to control his emotions and cried like a child.” After her death, he never remarried.

The deplorable conditions of Muslims and the death of his wife affected Jinnah badly. This pushed Jinnah to drop politics, become a recluse and move to England. The only comfort he found was in the company of the 9-year-old Dina Jinnah. During her parents’ separation she stayed with her mother. Dina Jinnah shared a bond with her father that no other person in his life did. They would have tea together, play games and read Jinnah’s favorite books. Dina was the only person that Jinnah would laugh wholeheartedly with and she enjoyed the special privilege of lovingly teasing her father. Sadly, the bond strained and deteriorated when Dina expressed her desire to marry outside the faith. After her marriage, Quaid and Dina exchanged a few letters where she was always referred by the Quaid as ‘Mrs Wadia’. The last meeting between father and daughter happened in Bombay 1946. She congratulated Jinnah on the birth of Pakistan in the words: “My darling Papa, First of all I must congratulate you — you got Pakistan ... how hard you have worked for it … I do hope you are keeping well.”
Fatima Jinnah, Quaid’s beloved sister, is perhaps the one woman he had by his side for the longest time; she was his reflection in the true sense. Fatima Jinnah was the youngest of all siblings and when their father passed away, Jinnah assumed the role of her guardian and acted as a father. Ms Jinnah immensely loved her brother and held him in high regard. Witnessing his struggles, hardships, rise and fall, and rise again, she accompanied him everywhere and supported him in every decision. Quaid’s perception of a modern confident woman, entitled to all opportunities that were available to men was reflected in his upbringing of Ms Fatima Jinnah. He took special care for her acquisition of education. Jinnah supported her when she decided to stay at a hostel even though their sister Maryam resided in the same city. Her stay at the hostel made her independent and self-reliant. She was in every manner a modern woman, from her opinions to her manners and demeanors. In an era, when Muslim women opted for purdah and stayed at home, she drove her own car. After completing her education Muhammad Ali Jinnah helped and encouraged her to practice dentistry. However, she later she switched to politics. She encouraged women’s education, their participation in politics and worked for the betterment of women in the subcontinent. Ms Fatima Jinnah accompanied her brother everywhere even at the public gatherings. She was her brother’s shadow, his confidante, his advisor. In 1940, she went with Jinnah to the Tribal Areas to plead the Muslim League’s case. At Sibbi Darbar, which was an annual Baloch and Sindhi chiefs gathering, the Quaid asked her to sit beside him, heralding “Muslim women must take their place in history.” Recalling the event Yahya Bakhtiar said: “In those days not even British male politicians encouraged their womenfolk to take a public role as Jinnah did.”
Jinnah being a private person and a recluse had very few close friends, Sarojini Naidu, a congress leader and poetess being one of them. She was prominent in the partition politics and a vehement critic of British policies. She worked for the betterment of Indian women and supported policies for their betterment. Sarojini Naidu was greatly impressed with his intellectual capabilities and literary inclinations. She titled him as the “Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity” for his efforts of Hindu Muslim reconciliation. She described him in the words: “Tall and stately, but thin to the point of emaciation, languid and luxurious of habit, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s attenuated form is a deceptive sheath of a spirit of exceptional vitality and endurance … an intuition quick and tender as a woman’s, a humor gay and winning as a child’s … the obvious sanity and serenity of his worldly wisdom effectually disguise a shy and splendid idealism which is of the very essence of man.”
All of the women that Jinnah was close to helped him shape his perception of a strong woman. Jinnah held all of them in high regard and hoped for the future women of Pakistan to bear the traits of empowered, emancipated and independent women. He wished them not to be participants but take on the leadership roles. He said: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.” HH


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