Muhammad Ali Jinnah – The Feminist
Saad S Khan and Sara S Khan’s new publication Ruttie Jinnah: The Woman Who Stood Defiant is aimed at doing justice to Ruttie Jinnah’s legacy. As per the title, the book’s main focus is Ruttie Jinnah. Nonetheless, the information documented on other historical figures, including Muhammad Ali Jinnah is equally interesting and implicitly guides readers to view Jinnah both as a radical and liberal feminist.
Broadly feminism encompasses a range of women’s rights: their wellbeing (particularly their entitlements) and freedoms. By this standard Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a feminist, starting right at his ‘household’ level and beyond. Jinnah’s dealings with his sisters, wife and daughter provide important insights into his feminist preferences. He believed in educating women and equipping them with the means to gain financial and political independence. The authors, Saad and Sara Khan have provided elaborate details on Jinnah’s role in the upbringing and education of his sisters, Fatima and Shirin, and also his unplanned visits to his married sister’s house. Jinnah was a principled and well-organised man. Perhaps these surprise visits were meant to ensure that his sisters were happy and safe in their new homes. With him being the fatherly brother, his sisters were entitled to benefit from modern education and also plan careers, and adopt political standpoints and roles. He advised his married sisters to join Muslim League and actively participate in the freedom movement.
On his marriage, Jinnah gifted Ruttie the South Court House as per the nikah deed worth Rupee 125,000 and paid a dower of Rupee 1000. Jinnah was a self-made, professional man and therefore one has to appreciate that this was literally his hard-earned money. The Petits had divested Ruttie of all property and inheritance upon her marriage to Jinnah who immediately granted property rights to her and then financed all renovations that she wanted. Not only this, Saad and Sara Khan have included details on how Jinnah happily financed Fatima’s dental clinic after she completed her education. Jinnah was a man who believed in investing in women.
Interestingly, one discovers that although Ruttie freely modified Jinnah’s wardrobe (out of her love for him), Jinnah did not introduce any changes in Ruttie’s personality after her conversion to Islam. In fact, Jinnah did not enforce dress codes on any of the women of his household. His sister Fatima had her own peculiar fashion sense that represented her cultural rootedness, as well as her mobility in a given time and space. For example, quite often Fatima opted for short-sleeved shirts but kept her graceful wavy wedge hair under a chiffon veil i.e. dupatta. Dina, his daughter, dressed according to her personal tastes. At her wedding, she styled in an Indian sari but otherwise routinely wore European trousers and skirts.
In terms of his concept of a Muslim marriage, Jinnah appeared to be traditional on three accounts. He loved Ruttie but agreed to marry her only once she accepted Islam and confirmed it to him. Fatima was ahead of her time due to the high quality education and exposure she received, again due to Jinnah alone. Therefore she could not find a suitable Muslim boy to marry as the community was quite underprivileged at the time and only a few were educated. In this regard, Jinnah was more comfortable in having Fatima stay single and diversify her interests by entering the political domain than to host the idea of (what hypothetically stating could have been) an inter-faith marriage for her. And finally, Dina chose to marry a Parsee; a decision that Jinnah disapproved and even vocalized precisely on account that she had not decided on a Muslim man to be her husband. Regardless, Jinnah did not apply double standards and neither was he gender-biased. What he disapproved for himself, he also disapproved for his daughter. Being a Muslim man he accepted a Muslim wife, and he had hoped for his bloodline through Dina to remain in his own Muslim community. Dina’s decision hurt him as a father but ultimately there is evidence that Jinnah left her an inheritance and also during his lifetime met his Parsee grandchildren.
Title: Ruttie Jinnah: The Woman who stood defiant
Authors: Saad S Khan (with Sara S Khan)
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
Publishing Date: Jan 7, 2021
Print length: 320 p
The writer is an interdisciplinary social scientist with a Post Doc from the United Nations, and PhD & MPhil from Cambridge, United Kingdom. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.