Jinnah, … was wont to describe himself in public as neither a Shia nor a Sunni. His stock answer to a query about his sect was: was Muhammad [pbuh] the Prophet a Shia or a Sunni?
After 1947, Pakistan adopted the position of denying that the population of the country was divided between Shias and Sunnis, among others. The census that followed took account of Muslims and non-Muslims but ignored the sects: it was also an indirect pledge of the state that it would not discriminate on the basis of sect. The founder of the state, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, although himself a Twelver Shia after conversion from the Ismaili sect, was wont to describe himself in public as neither a Shia nor a Sunni. His stock answer to a query about his sect was: was Muhammad the Prophet [pbuh] a Shia or a Sunni? Yet when he died in 1948, it was necessary for his sister Miss Fatima Jinnah to declare him a Shia in order to inherit his property as per Jinnah’s will. (Sunni law partially rejects the will while Shia law does not.) She filed an affidavit, jointly signed with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, at the Sindh High Court, describing Jinnah as ‘Shia Khoja Mohamedan’ and praying that his will may be disposed of under Shia inheritance law. The court accepted the petition. But on 6 February 1968, after Miss Jinnah’s demise the previous year, her sister Shirin Bai, moved an application at the High Court claiming Miss Jinnah’s property under the Shia inheritance law on the ground that the deceased was a Shia.
Given the prestige of Miss Jinnah, she was allowed to dispose of all the property of her brother (as a Sunni she would have title to only one-half) and continued to do so till her death. After her death her sister Shirin Bai arrived in Karachi from Bombay, converted from Ismailism to Twelver Shiism, and laid claim to Jinnah’s property. It is at this point that the rest of Jinnah’s clan, still following the Ismaili faith, decided to challenge the authenticity of Jinnah’s Shia faith. The High Court, which had earlier accepted Miss Jinnah’s petition, now balked at the prospect of declaring the Father of the Nation a Shia. Needless to say, the case is still pending in Karachi. But Miss Jinnah’s conduct showed that she was an observing Shia and took her brother’s conversion to Twelver Shiism seriously. Why had Jinnah converted? It develops that he did it on his secular principle of freedom of religion. According to court’s witness, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Jinnah broke from the Ismaili faith in 1901 after his two sisters, Rehmat Bai and Maryam Bai, were married into Sunni Muslim families. It appears that this happened because the Ismaili community objected to these marriages. It also appears that the conversion to Isna-Ashari (Twelver) Shiism happened in Jinnah’s immediate family, and not in the families of his two paternal uncles, Walji and Nathoo.
The court proceedings bear evidence of the last rites observed by Miss Jinnah immediately after her brother’s death. Witness Syed Anisul Hasnain, a Shia scholar, deposed that he had arranged the ghusl (last bath) of Jinnah on the instructions of Miss Jinnah. He led his namaz-e janaza (funeral prayer) in a room of the GovernorGeneral’s House at which such Shia luminaries as Yusuf Haroon, Hashim Raza and Aftab Hatim Alavi were present, while Liaquat Ali Khan, a Sunni, waited outside the room. After the Shia ritual, the body was handed over to the state, and Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, a breakaway alim of the Deobandi school of thought who supported Jinnah’s Pakistan Movement but had recently apostatised the Shias, led his janaza (funeral) according to the Sunni ritual at the ground where a grand mausoleum was later constructed. Other witnesses confirmed that after the demise of Miss Fatima Jinnah, clam and panja (two Shia symbols) were discovered at Mohatta Palace, her residence.
Witnesses appearing at the Sindh High Court in 1968 to affirm Jinnah’s sect were Mr I.H. Ispahani, a family friend of Jinnah and his honorary secretary in 1936, and Mr Matloobul Hassan Syed, the Quaid’s private secretary from 1940 to 1944. Mr Ispahani revealed that Jinnah had himself told him in 1936 that he and his family had converted to Shiism after his return from England in 1894. He said that Jinnah had married Ruttie Bai, the daughter of a Parsi businessman according to the Shia ritual during which she was represented by a Shia scholar of Bombay, and Jinnah was represented by his Shia friend, Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad. (Raja Sahib was a close friend of Jinnah but differed completely from him in his belief. He was a devout follower of the Twelver Shia faith and ultimately chose to migrate from an independent India to Najaf in Iraq. His friendship with Jinnah has puzzled many. Apparently, the only bond they had was of the Shia faith.) He, however, conceded that Jinnah was opposed in the Bombay elections by a Shia Conference candidate. Ispahani was present when Miss Fatima Jinnah died in Karachi in 1967. He himself arranged the ghusl and janaza for her at Mohatta Palace according to the Shia ritual before handing over the body to the state. Her Sunni namaz-e janaza was held later at the Polo Ground, after which she was buried next to her brother at a spot chosen by Ispahani inside the mausoleum. Ritualistic Shia talgin (last advice to the deceased) was done after her body was lowered into the grave. (Jinnah had arranged for talgin for Ruttie Bai too when she died in 1929).
Fatima Jinnah’s own funeral became something of a theatre of the absurd after her friends had given her a Shia funeral before the state could give her a Sunni one. Field Marshal Ayub Khan writes in his Diaries:
11 July 1967: Major General Rafi, my military secretary, returned from Karachi. He had gone there to represent me at Miss Jinnah’s funeral. He said that sensible people were happy that the government had given her so much recognition, but generally the people behaved very badly. There was an initial namaz-e janaza at her residence in Mohatta Palace in accordance, presumably, with Shia rites. Then there was to be namaz-e janaza for the public in the Polo Ground. There an argument developed whether this should be led by a Shia or a Sunni. Eventually, Badayuni was put forward to lead the prayer. As soon as he uttered the first sentence the crowd broke in the rear. Thereupon he and the rest ran leaving the coffin high and dry. It was with some difficulty that the coffin was put on a vehicle and taken to the compound of the Quaid’s mazar, where she was to be buried. There a large crowd had gathered and demanded to converge on the place of burial. This obviously could not be allowed for lack of space. Thereupon, the students and the goonda elements started pelting stones on the police. They had to resort to lathi charge and tear gas attack. The compound of the mazar was apparently littered with stones, Look at the bestiality and irresponsibility of the people. Even a place like this could not be free of vandalism.
Source: The Friday Times