In February 2013, I visited the famous house built by the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, revered as the Quaid-e-Azam by millions of Pakistanis, on Malabar Hill, Mumbai. Although now kept under lock and key and in a state of neglect, its splendour must have once been considerable. A story has been making the rounds that Jinnah wanted to spend his vacations in his Malabar Hill home after retirement as Governor General of Pakistan. With more than a million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs killed and the biggest migration in history having taken place with anywhere between 14-18 million people crossing the international borders to be in the state where they felt they would be safe, the idea that Jinnah hoped to enjoy his vacations in his darling home left in India, sounds incredible to say the least.
In any event, the Jinnah House on Malabar Hill Road is currently the subject of litigation between at least two sets of Jinnah’s relatives as well as the Indian and Pakistani governments. Jinnah and his daughter Dina were estranged when she married Neville Wadia who belonged to a prominent Parsi family though he converted to Christianity. Under Islamic law, Sunni or Jafari-Shia, a son or daughter who marries a non-Muslim cannot inherit the father’s property, just as parents who remain non-Muslims are disinherited from a share in the property of their deceased Muslim children. It is not clear if by marrying Wadia, Dina Jinnah who became Dina Wadia, left Islam but irrespective of her personal faith, her marriage to a non-Muslim would disqualify her from inheriting her father’s property if mainstream Islamic law is applied to her claims. Some years ago, however, Dina Wadia claimed the right to inherit her father’s house on the grounds that Jinnah was an Ismaili Khoja and not a Sunni or Ithna Ashari Shia. Her contention has been that Khoja-Shias are converts from the Lohana trading caste who follow Hindu customary succession law and according to their praxis, succession rights devolved on her as his daughter. Her lawyer Fali Nariman has cited several precedents of the Indian Supreme Court giving rulings that Khoja-Shias are governed by Hindu customary law in which intestate succession is to the daughter alone.
The fact is that except for his sister Fatima Jinnah, all the brothers and sisters of the founder of Pakistan remained in India at the time of partition. Upon Jinnah’s death, Fatima Jinnah claimed ownership of her brother’s property on the grounds that he had converted to mainstream Ithna Ashari Shiism and was not a follower of the Agha Khan. After Fatima Jinnah’s death, two of her nephews, Mohammed Rajabally Ebrahim and Shakir Mohammed Ebrahim claimed her property. Their contention was that Jinnah had willed the Malabar house to his sister (who is their maternal aunt) Fatima Jinnah, who in turn had bequeathed the property to them. That would entail a share in the residual rights of the bungalow, valued at over Rs 3 billion. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that Jafari-Shia law confers more rights on female heirs such as daughters and sisters in ancestral property than Sunni law, which favours male relatives. Some people in Pakistan have even claimed that Jinnah converted to Sunnism, and I have even seen assertions that he became a follower of the Qadri Sufi order, which is one of the four main Sunni orders with large followings in the Indian subcontinent. Yet again, while in Lahore recently I met another gentleman who claimed that Jinnah had joined the Chishtia Sunni Sufi order and the initiation began more than 40 years before his death. I would not be surprised if similar claims by Deobandis and Ahle Hadith also crop up because both Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and Maulana Daud Ghaznavi were among his close lieutenants at the time of the creation of Pakistan.
Jinnah himself never made public his sectarian affiliation and always maintained that he was only a Muslim. I have gone through his speeches in the well-known collections and selections and have not found him ever speaking about his sectarian affiliation. However, Ithna Ashari Shia publications on the Internet and in print that I have seen claim he did definitely make a break with Ismaili Islam. Several instances are cited as evidence. However, I did not come across any evidence that he had attended a Majlis-e-Aza mourning ceremony. On the other hand, a few times he did participate in Eid-i-Milad-ul-Nabi celebrations, which is typically a Sunni custom. On the whole, most biographers of Jinnah mention his adopting Ithna-Ashari Shiaism as his faith. However, the conversion to Ithna Ashari Shiaism is disputed by his daughter. It is possible that Jinnah simply dissociated himself from Ismailism without formally abjuring that creed. At the bottom of such conflicting claims are economic interests rather than religion. It is not surprising that upon his death people are making all sorts of conflicting claims about his sectarian affiliations.
Finally, the Pakistan government has asserted the right to convert Malabar House into the Pakistani consulate in Mumbai while according to Indian law, since Jinnah migrated to Pakistan he forfeited his Indian citizenship and therefore his property in India belongs to the Indian state. The Mumbai High Court is currently examining the different claims. Jinnah built another house as well. It was for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent and was to be called Pakistan. Claims to ownership of that house have been even more contentious. One-third of the potential Muslim nation was left outside of it in India in 1947. One-third opted out of Pakistan in 1971 to become the separate nation-state of Bangladesh. The one-third who remain in what is now Pakistan have been battling since then over who all are Muslims and thus the rightful heirs to Jinnah’s Pakistan. The few non-Muslims who live in Pakistan are ipso facto disqualified from the category of legitimate heirs to that house and the threat of eviction hangs like the Sword of Damocles over their heads all the time. Jinnah realised this too late and tried to rectify it with his August 11, 1947 speech, but in the wake of the bloody breakup of India, it was quickly forgotten and disowned by his followers.
The writer is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honorary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Book award at the Karachi Literature Festival: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford, 2012; and Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached at: email@example.com