How Fatima Jinnah Became Madar-e-Millat

How Fatima Jinnah Became Madar-e-Millat
Generally, in popular discussions, if someone asks the question to different strata of society as to who Fatima Jinnah was, a majority would reply that she was the sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and was known as Madar-e-Millat. After that, there is a considerable chance that silence will prevail. Is this enough to know about one of the founders of Pakistan? Probably no! Being the sister of Quaid-e-Azam is just one aspect of her life. In the 21st century, Pakistani society is having a discourse on the role and empowerment of women. So, it is a time to unfold various dimensions of Ms Jinnah's life.

Fatima Jinnah was born on 31 July 1893. She was the youngest among eight brothers and sisters. After her early education, she went to Bandara Convent in 1902 for further studies. In 1919, she got admission to Dr Ahmed's Dental College at the University of Calcutta and completed her dentistry degree in 1923. By the same year, she set up a dental clinic in Bombay.

It was a time when the literacy rate among Muslims was meagre, and the rate of women's education was equal to zero. During that era, Ms Jinnah set a precedent by becoming a dentist and independently running a clinic. In 1929, Ruttie Jinnah, her sister-in-law, passed away. It was a great setback for Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In this challenging time, she fully supported her brother. During Jinnah's self-exile in the 1930s, he stayed in England. When Jinnah returned to India and started organising the Muslim League, Fatima's companionship with her brother entered a new phase. In 1937 she first attended the All India Muslim League's meeting at Lucknow with her brother, the Quaid-e-Azam. She accompanied him everywhere and felt the necessity of bringing Muslim women into the political affairs of the Muslim nation.

Ms Jinnah attended various women's organisations, from the Girl Guide movement to mass agitation. Her efforts promoted women's education, health, political work and social activities. She would organise various committees but never accepted any office herself. She lived with her brother for about 28 years.

After the partition of 1947, the rehabilitation of refugees was a Herculean task. She would visit various camps with her brother to talk to the women and encourage them to fight the ordeals they were facing. In time, Ms Jinnah established a fund for refugees. Further, she visited Anjuman Hayat-ul-Islam on September 1949, and gave her message to the orphanage.

She was an active member of the flood relief committee, in Dhaka, East Pakistan. Ms Jinnah donated to the National Tuberculosis Association of Pakistan. She devoted herself to the cause of the establishment of Women Industrial Homes and Institutions, waging war against illiteracy, and establishing polytechnic Institutes so that the girls of Pakistan could learn to work for self-development on a self-help basis. She inaugurated the Muslim Women Industrial Home in Karachi in February 1948. She visited Muslim Ladies Technical and Industrial Institute, Karachi, in 1949; the Muslim Women Industrial Home, Karachi, in 1951; Salika Sewing Institute, Karachi, in 1952; Muslim Ladies Technical Institute, Nanakwala, in 1953 and Industrial Home started by Bantwa Memon Khidmat Committee.

Iskander Mizra imposed martial law in 1958, and later on, Ayub Khan took over power. Ms Jinnah initially appears to have supported him, as Salahuddin Khan in his work Speeches, Messages and Statements of Madar-i-Milllat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah (1948-1967 quotes: “the exit of Major General Iskander Mirza from the political scene has brought a general sense of the relief to the people of Pakistan.”

The presidential elections were held on 2 January 1965. There was broad consensus among the writers, journalists, historians and political analysts that Ayub Khan rigged the election. It was an open secret that Fatima Jinnah would have won if the election had been fair. But Fatima Jinnah lost: she got 28,691 votes to Ayub Khan's 49,951 BD votes. Syeda Abida Hussain, in her autobiography Power Failure: The Political Odyssey of a Pakistani Woman, wrote about the misuse of authority by the district administration by putting her father Abid Hussain Shah in prison. Shah was a staunch supporter of Fatima Jinnah but due to personal relations with the Governor Amir Muhammad Khan, he was released soon. Further, Abida Hussain adds that Jhang was one district of Punjab from where Ms Jinnah had won the elections. Fatima Jinnah opted to stand on the right side of history by opposing dictatorship and supporting democracy and the rule of law.

But in time she came to lead the opposition to his rule.

In the presidential election of 1965, she was the only candidate who stood against the dictator bravely and emerged as the consensus candidate of the Combined Opposition Parties (COP) which united Left and Right, including orthodox religious figures and also political leaders like Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Khair Bakhsh Marri, Shiekh Mujibur Rehman, Abd al-Malik, Khawja Muhammad Muhammad Sardar, Sayyid Abul A'la al-Maududi, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Mahmood Ali Qasuri and Khawaja Muhammad Rafique.

Dr M Rafique Afzal, in his book Political Parties in Pakistan 1958-1969, mentions that Ayub supported the Jamiat al-Mashaikh and Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP) for their stance that it was unlawful for a woman to be a head of state. From a holistic perspective, political pundits saw the elections of 1965 as the victory of Ayub Khan and the defeat of Pakistan's federation. It also increased the gulf between East and West Pakistan and later became one of the potent reasons behind the dismemberment of Pakistan.

On 9 July 1967, Fatima Jinnah died at Mohatta Palace, Karachi. Her sudden death raised rumours regarding the cause of death. The official statement was that it was a natural death due to cardiac failure. However, the ladies who ritually washed the dead body said thatit was not a natural death.

Besides the controversy about her death, it is more important to understand Fatima Jinnah's vision of Pakistan and Pakistani women. She was firm, clear-headed and convinced that education and economic empowerment in an indigenous context are necessary for Pakistan as a country to progress.

Unfortunately, in 2023 we are lagging far behind her vision. The textbooks of Pakistan Studies do not have enough space to pen down a detailed account of Fatima Jinnah that focuses on her political life. The founders of the country were firm about women's respect and dignity, but we as a society, country, state and government still struggle to ensure fundamental rights.