Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Jinnah and Mohandas Gandhi in a front porch debate, 1939. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Born: December 25, 1876 in Karachi, British India

Died: September 11, 1948 in Karachi, Pakistan

First Governor-General of Pakistan: August 14, 1947 - September 11, 1948

Succeeded by: Khawaja Nazimuddin

Muhammad Ali Jinnah advocated for independence from the British Raj in India for decades, first in concert with Hindu allies including Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, and later as the Muslim League leader calling for a separate Muslim-majority state.

  After the Partition of India in 1947, Jinnah became the first leader of the new nation of Pakistan.  He is known in Pakistan as Quaid-i Azam, or the "Great Leader."

Early Life:

Muhammad Ali Jinnah was born on December 25, 1876 in Karachi into a wealthy Gujarati merchant family.  His father was called Jihhanbhai Poonja, and his mother's name was Mithibai; they called their second of seven children Mahomedali Jinnahbhai at birth, but later simplified his name.  As a baby he was small and frail, but the child proved a survivor.  Jinnah's parents were members of the Ismaili sect of Shi'a Islam, although he shifted to Twelver beliefs as an adult.

At the age of six, Muhammad went to the Sindh Madrasatul-Islam School.  His merchant father pushed him to excel in mathematics, which the boy detested; he preferred to play cricket outside with the other children.  Four years later, over his mother's objections, the boy moved to the larger city of Bombay and stayed with his aunt, so that he could attend the Gokal Das Tej Primary School.

  Still an indifferent student, he lasted only six months before being sent home to Karachi.  He then got expelled from the Sindh Madrasatul-Islam School for skipping classes.

When Muhammad reached his early teens, his desperate parents sent him to the Christian Missionary Society High School.  Jinnah soon received an offer from one of his father's business contacts for an internship at Graham's Shipping and Trading Co.

in London; at 15, he accepted the offer.  His mother, fearful that she would never see him again, convinced him to take a bride before he left.  In February of 1892, the family arranged for him to marry a 14-year-old girl named Emibai.  Then, with funds to live in London for three years, Muhammad Ali Jinnah left for England.

Jinnah soon gave up the internship at Graham's, to his father's great displeasure, and instead entered Lincoln's Inn at the Inns of Court to learn the law.  He soon adopted western clothing and progressive politics.  After a brief flirtation with the idea of stage acting (which sent his father into a rage), in 1895 Muhammad Ali Jinnah was admitted to the bar in England at the age of just 19.  He was the youngest ever English barrister from India. 

Legal Career and Politics:

Jinnah returned to India, where his mother and his young wife had both died while he was away.  In 1897 he moved from Karachi to Bombay to establish a legal practice, but business was slow for the first few years.  He began to receive public notice in 1907, with his skillful work on the "Caucus Case," concerning vote-rigging.

In December of 1904, Jinnah began his political activities by attending the Indian National Congress's annual meeting in Bombay.

  A moderate, he advocated a united Hindu-Muslim front and gradual moves toward independence, rather than sectarian separation and swift, armed revolt.  In 1909, he was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council as Bombay's Muslim representative.  Jinnah joined the Muslim League in 1913, although he also remained a member of the Congress.  In 1916, he was elected president of the Muslim League.

Meanwhile, in 1918, Muhammad Ali Jinnah married for a second time, to a much younger woman named Rattanbai Petit.  Rattanbai was from a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, but she cut ties with her family, converted from Zoroastrianism to Islam, and married Jinnah.  The couple had a daughter, Dina, the following year.

Jinnah resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council in 1919 to protest Britain's extension of wartime civil liberties restrictions and the Amritsar Massacre at Jalliamwala Bagh.

  His acquaintance, Mohandas Gandhi, called for satyagraha or non-violent non-cooperation against the British; this movement was popular among both Hindu and Muslim Indians.  Jinnah opposed Gandhi's call for law-breaking, but he was shouted down at the 1920 meeting of the Indian National Congress.  He soon resigned from the Congress, devoting himself to the Muslim League instead.

As president of the Muslim League, Jinnah continued to press for full independence for India, but wanted to achieve it through negotiation with Britain and constitutional process, rather than through protests and strikes. As a result, the retiring Viceroy, Lord Reading, offered him a knighthood in 1925, but Jinnah turned it down.  However, his relations with the British chilled considerably in 1928, when an all-British and mostly conservative commission arrived to evaluate the situation in India and recommend policy changes.  Both the Congress and Muslim League leadership were infuriated because Winston Churchill and other Cabinet ministers in charge refused to include any Indians on the Simon Commission, in hopes of protecting Britain's Raj in India.

In 1930, Jinnah returned to Britain to attend a series of Round Table Conferences sponsored by new Labor Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald on the India question.  He remained in London through 1934, practicing law before the Privy Council, where he mainly represented Indian interests.  Different biographers give different interpretations for Jinnah's decision to stay in England at this time.

  It was at this time that he began to suffer from lung disease, so his sister Fatima traveled to England to care for him.

Return to India and Showdown:

In Jinnah's absence, the Muslim League had fallen apart.  Representatives traveled to London to plead with him to return and take up the presidency once more.  Jinnah reluctantly closed his legal practice in London and returned to Bombay at the end of 1934.  In the provincial elections of 1937, though, the disorganized Muslim League did not win a majority of seats even in the Muslim-majority provinces; the Congress took a huge majority, and formed the new government. 

This central parliament in New Delhi was ineffectual, in any case, with no power over national defense, most budgetary decisions, or foreign policy.  The British Viceroy of India had power to dissolve the government and rule by decree at any time.  Jinnah and his Muslim allies found themselves closed out of even this tepid attempt at self-government; the realization that Muslims could be reduced to complete powerlessness in a democracy spurred Jinnah to reconsider the idea of partition.

Jinnah threw himself into recruiting and strengthening the Muslim League, and by by the end of 1939, it had an estimated 3,000,000 members.  At the same time, Hindu nationalists began to call for laws making Hindi the national language, and outlawing the killing of cattle.  With the Congress's overwhelming victory in the 1937 elections, many Hindu activists wanted to assert power over the Muslim minority.

  In reaction, Jinnah began to call for a separate Muslim state in north India, partitioned from the Hindu-majority south.  He also adopted Muslim dress at times in place of his beloved western suits.


In September of 1939, the British Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, announced without even consulting Indian political leaders that India was declaring war on Nazi Germany.  Protests erupted across India.  Linlithgow met with Jinnah and Gandhi, then announced that all talks on Indian independence would be suspended as long as World War II continued.  The Indian National Congress demanded immediate independence in return for supporting the British war effort; when Britain refused, Congress Party legislators and provincial governors resigned en masse, and the Congress urged its supporters not to fight for Britain. 

Jinnah and the Muslim League did not directly oppose the British war effort, although they did not vocally support it, either.  As a result of this relatively more cooperative attitude, the British sought closer ties with the Muslims.  Jinnah pressed this advantage to demand a Two-Nation solution, meaning a separate and independent homeland for Indian Muslims; his former Hindu allies in the Congress Party decried this as insanity.

When the Japanese launched their Southern Offensive in December of 1941, rapidly advancing through Southeast Asia and threatening India, Britain sent Sir Stafford Cripps to try to rally Indian support for the Allied war cause.  Cripps floated an independence compromise under which the individual (Muslim-majority) provinces would have the "local option" of remaining outside independent India's central government, once the war was over and India was free. 

Jinnah did not feel that this went far enough toward the creation of a separate Pakistan; the Congress also did not get its demands met, so all of them rejected the Cripps plan.  Congress and Gandhi responded to the Cripps mission with the "Quit India" campaign, demanding Britain's immediate withdrawal.  The British government jailed Gandhi and other Congress leaders.

When Gandhi was released in 1944, he traveled to Jinnah's home to discuss independence.  Gandhi urged Jinnah to accept province-by-province plebiscites on partition after greater India became independent, but Jinnah stood firm on his demand for an immediate and fully independent Pakistan. 

In June of 1945, Jinnah reiterated his position in a meeting with new Viceroy Viscount Wavell and Indian National Congress leaders at the Simla Conference.  The conference did not produce an agreement.  Jinnah stated, "Pakistan is a matter of life or death for us."  When the Muslim League won 75% of the Muslim vote in the 1946 elections, campaigning only on the issue of Pakistan, Jinnah felt that victory was at hand.  He further clarified in December of that year that Pakistan had to be fully sovereign, and he hoped to add the rich but religiously mixed provinces of Bengal and Punjab to the new nation.

By March of 1947, the weary Congress leadership reluctantly agreed to the Partition of India.  However, they insisted that Bengal and Punjab be divided as best they could be along a roughly sectarian border.  In turn, Jinnah demanded a fully separate Pakistani army, rather than a mutual defense force shared with India.  With these matters planned, if not actually settled, Pakistan became independent on August 14, 1947 and India followed the next day.


As Pakistan's new governor-general, Muhammad Ali Jinnah began by declaring religious toleration in front of the new constituent assembly in Karachi.  "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State."  When the British Viceroy released the map showing the border line, however, millions of people in India and Pakistan erupted into panicked flight and sectarian cleansing.  An estimated 14.5 million people moved across the line, and perhaps a million more were murdered in the chaos.

By October, fighting had also broken out in Kashmir, which did not want to join India or Pakistan.  Jinnah sent Pakistani troops into the disputed fiefdom to protect the Muslim majority residents.  Meanwhile, India dragged its feet on handing over Pakistan's share of the assets left from British India; it did not pay up until January of 1948, leaving Jinnah to form a new nation on a shoestring.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah worked incredibly hard throughout 1947 and 1948, trying to make Pakistan a functional reality on the ground.  His health was failing, though.  By June of 1948, his doctors advised him to move to the mountains where he could breath more easily than in Karachi, so he moved to Quetta.  He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which had troubled him for more than a decade, and also lung cancer, likely caused by his 50-cigarette-per-day smoking habit.

In September, Jinnah realized that he was dying.  On the eleventh, he agreed to fly back to Karachi.  He reached Government House that evening, and died about two hours later.  Both Pakistan and India declared an official day of mourning when he passed away.

Although the Great Leader died just over a year after independence, the nation he founded through obstinance and power of will survived.

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "Muhammad Ali Jinnah." ThoughtCo, Jan. 14, 2016, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2016, January 14). Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "Muhammad Ali Jinnah." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).