Mother of a nation: Fatima Jinnah 50 years

Mother of a Nation: Fatima Jinnah

by Sahar Ibrahim

“Let us sink all our differences and stand united together under the same banner under which we truly achieved Pakistan and let us demonstrate once again that we can, united, face all dangers in the cause of glory of Pakistan, the glory that the Quaid-i-Azam envisaged for Pakistan.”
(Fatima Jinnah in a message to the Nation on Eid ul-Adha, 1965)

Best known and loved for the support she showed her brother during the Pakistan movement – it is easy to forget how Fatima Jinnah showed women as being equal to men. Professor Sharif al Mujahid writes in his article, an enduring legacy, Dawn, July, 2003,

“People do not realize that just by accompanying Jinnah wherever he went during the 1940s, Fatima Jinnah was teaching Muslim women to stand shoulder to shoulder with men during the freedom struggle. Numerous pictures of the period show Fatima Jinnah walking alongside Jinnah and not behind him. The message was loud and clear and it was one both brother and sister wished to convey to the nation.”

Fatima Jinnah has always been an example of true female Pakistani spirit. That, along with the belief in her convictions and her defiance of Ayub Khan in 1965 when she ran for president, makes her such an inspiring figure. Even though she lost to him she was victorious in another way. By opposing him, she set an example for all daughters of Pakistan – courage in the face of adversity is something we must all channel and embrace, as scary as that may seem. Her exemplary spirit and defiance is something we all need to bolster in the current climate of Pakistan.

Born in British India in Karachi on July 31st in 1893 to Poonja Jinnahbhai and Mithibai Jinnahbhai, one of seven children, she was closest to Muhammad Ali Jinnah who became her guardian in 1901 when their father died. They remained close until his death in 1948 on September 11th. Fatima Jinnah lived with her brother until his marriage to Rattanbai Petit in 1918 and returned to him after Petit’s death. Jinnah held his sister in the highest esteem and called her a “ray of light” and had it not been for her, his anxiety and health would have been much worse. It is said that as soon as he came home he would go to her.

Fatima Jinnah showed excellence early in her life when she joined Bandra Convent in Bombay in 1902. In 1919 she was admitted to the University of Calcutta, which was a remarkable achievement given the competitive nature of the university. She attended the Dr. R. Ahmed Dental College and after graduating went on to open a dental clinic in Bombay in 1923. When her sister-in-law Petit died in February 1929, she closed the clinic and moved in with her beloved brother, an event that earmarked the beginning of a companionship that would ensure she would go on and become a force to be reckoned with in the Pakistan movement.

Fatima Jinnah was given the name Mother of the Nation in honour of the valour she showed during the Pakistan movement. In March 1940 she attended the Lahore session of the Muslim League and was convinced that the Hindus intended to subjugate and dominate the Muslims completely. It was largely due to her initiative that the All India Muslim Women Students’ Federation was established in February 1941 in Delhi.

During the transfer of power in 1947 she truly was an inspiration to women and played a vital part in settling refugees into the new state of Pakistan. When the All India Muslim League was being set up, she was taken on board as a member of the Working Committee of the Bombay Provincial Muslim League, and remained so until 1947. Fatima Jinnah went on to create the Women’s Relief Committee, which later led to the All Pakistan Women’s Association.

In 1965 Fatima Jinnah ran as a presidential candidate for the Combined Opposition Party. It is said that the image of her making her way through the cities of Pakistan during her campaign was both moving and unique. She openly defied Ayub Khan, declaring that he was a dictator and that his negotiations with India over the Indus Water dispute meant he had surrendered the river to India. Most of the press would agree she gained so much public favour that had direct elections been allowed to ensue Fatima Jinnah would almost certainly have won.

She died just two years later on July 8th 1967 of cardiac failure in Karachi, though there is some debate as to whether this really was the cause of her death. One Karachi police official alleged that she had been found beheaded and later Quaid-i-Azam’s nephew, Akbar Pirbhai, suggested she had been murdered by Ayub Khan’s supporters. Whether the rumours are true or not, the day marked a huge loss for Pakistani women and for the nation itself.

The younger sister to the founder of Pakistan. emerged as a woman in her own right, integral to the Pakistani movement. She was never afraid, presented herself on a par with her brother and eventually went onto become a leader herself.

What is inspiring about Fatima Jinnah is that she never gave up in the face of adversity or tyranny. Nor did she ever lose sight of Pakistan or of her unwavering belief in her brother’s vision for the country even after his death. In her addresses to the country it is clear she did not want her brother’s vision for Pakistan to end with him. So she continued to be an active figure in the nation’s political life. Her work for the welfare of the people of Pakistan, which continued until her death in 1967, is a testimony to her commitment to the nation. What she symbolises for women now is how important we are to our country. I leave you with a quotation from the Mother of our Nation, taken from a speech made in the year of her death, which has never been more potent for us than now:

“The immediate task before you is to face the problem and bring the country back on the right path with the bugles of Quaid-i-Azam’s message. March forward under the banner of star and the crescent with unity in your ranks, faith in your mission and discipline. Fulfill your mission and a great sublime future awaits your enthusiasm and action. Remember: ‘cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.’”

The writer is a journalist based in the UK.