Muhammed Ali Jinnah

By: Victoria Yates


Muhammed Ali Jinnah (born Jinnahbhai) was born on the 25th of December 1876 in Karachi, at the time part of British-controlled India. His father, Jinnahbhai Poonja, was a prosperous merchant and with his wife, Mithibai, went on to have a further six children. The family was raised in the Shi’a Muslim tradition, and spoke various languages at home including Gujarati and English.

Jinnah studied at several schools before, at the age of 16, he passed the matriculation examination for the University of Bombay. Shortly thereafter in 1892 he was offered an apprenticeship with Graham’s Shipping and Trading Company, based in London. This position didn’t last long, with Jinnah leaving his apprenticeship to instead study Law at Lincoln’s Inn. By 19 he was the youngest Indian called to the bar in England. During this time Jinnah began to develop his views on the British occupation, disliking the British arrogance in India and their discriminatory treatment of the Indian people.

Returning to India, Jinnah set up a successful Law firm in Bombay. His reputation was such that he was hired by Bal Gangadhar Tilak to defend him in his sedition trial in 1905. Despite arguing for Tilak’s right to demand self-governance Tilak received a term of imprisonment.  

In 1896 Jinnah joined the Indian National Congress, counselling against outright independence on the grounds that he saw English influence in education, law, and industry to be beneficial.

In 1910 he was appointed to the Imperial Legislative Council which, although without true power, gave Jinnah a platform through which to help push through key legislations relating specifically to Indian and Muslim practice. During the First World War Jinnah supported Britain in the hope that loyalty would be rewarded with freedom when the war ended – but that did not happen.

Jinnah joined the All India Muslim League in 1913, becoming the President three years later. He served as the mediator who brought the League and the Congress together on issues of self-government, uniting against the British on a single front.

His marriage to Rattanbai Petit created huge opposition from her family and the wider Parsi community, a backlash Petit ignored, instead converting to Islam and estranging herself from her family. Around this same time Mahatma Ghandi was coming to prominence. Jinnah disagreed with Ghandi, believing a constitutional struggle to be the only path to independence. Jinnah’s support led him to resign from the Congress in 1920, arguing that Ghandhi’s methodology would lead to a rift between the Hindu and Muslim factions of society.

Jinnah instead focused on the League, putting his weight behind attempting to create constitutional reform. His marriage came under pressure from his increasingly politicized life. The couple separated in 1927, with Petit dying two years later following a serious illness.

The difficulties within the League frustrated Jinnah and he resolved to leave politics and practice law in England, bringing his sister Fatima along. She came to be a vital confidant and carer for Jinnah.  However, this change didn’t last long, Jinnah was convinced to return to the League in 1934 when he set about reorganizing the group. Although the elections showed a viable level of support there were clear areas where the group wasn’t popular with the electorate.

Jinnah attempted to form an alliance with the Congress under a strict set of caveats including that the League be seen as the representative body of Muslims in India. It was an offer Congress rejected, inviting instead that the League merge with Congress. Talks deteriorated and relations between Hindu and Muslim factions grew difficult.

These events led Jinnah to hold that Hindus and Muslims had irreconcilable differences and that, as a result, they should be separated into two separate, independent states. He espoused that a united India would only lead to the marginalization of Muslims and, eventually, civil war.

In Lahore, in 1940, the Pakistan resolution became the group’s main aim, something Congress rejected outright along with several prominent Muslim leaders. From here, the League grew in strength and impact. Supporting the British efforts in WWII, the League began forming provincial governments, and entered central government.  Despite Ghandi’s talks with Jinnah failing, his engagement made Jinnah all the more influential amongst the Muslim community.

A tumultuous time surrounded the 1946 elections, including failed attempts by the British to create a unified state, and then to have the country divided along religious lines. An attempted coalition between the groups broke down, resulting in widespread violence and death within India.  After final negotiations with the British Government, the partition of India and formation of Pakistan was announced on the 14th of August 1947, with Jinnah becoming the first Governor-General of Pakistan.

The early months of Pakistan’s life were spent quelling the violence that had resulted from the split, as well as the large loss of life resulting from the exchange of populations. The population shift incurred its own difficulties with an estimated 15million refugees in both countries. Jinnah was deeply depressed by the violence of the period.

Jinnah’s place at the helm of the new state made him heavily influential in all areas of Pakistan life including the protection of minorities, the creation of colleges, and financial policy.

During the 1940s Jinnah had been privately struggling with tuberculosis and, when combined with the intense workload, his health began to fail in 1948. He eventually died on the 11th of September.

A leader in the truest sense, Jinnah brought intelligence and passion to his work. He was highly influential in the creation of the state infrastructure and social cohesion within the new country of Pakistan.