History revised

Contrary to popular belief, Karachi's Wazir Mansion was probably not Jinnah's birthplace

There are contradictory claims about Mohammad Ali Jinnah's date and place of birth.

Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, like all major personalities in history, is a contradictory figure. Many, with different ideological backgrounds and motivations, claim him.

While these claims are an outcome of political and social vicissitudes, one would expect that at least there would be consensus over Jinnah’s year, date and city of birth. But it’s not so simple.

Several contradictory claims, almost each one with documentary evidence, have been made about Jinnah’s date and place of birth. Ghulam Ali Allana, a friend and biographer of Jinnah’s, mentions several different dates in Jinnah’s biography, Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah: The Story of a Nation.

Written originally in English, the book was translated into Urdu by renowned poet Rais Amrohvi. Both versions have been published by Ferozsons.

Records show different dates

On page 19 of the Urdu version, Allana cites an enrolment register at Sindh Madressatul Islam in Karachi, which states that Jinnah was enrolled into the school on July 4, 1887. The records state his name as Mohammad Ali Jinnah Bhoy and city of birth as Karachi. His date of birth is not mentioned. Other entries are as follows: Age: 14 years; Sect: Khoja; Previous qualification: 4th standard Gujrati; Fee waived or to be paid: will be paid.

A second entry with the serial number 178 indicates that Jinnah was re-enrolled into Sindh Madressatul Islam on September 23, 1887. This time, his date of birth is October 20, 1875, and his previous qualifications are: First standard Anjuman-e-Islam Bombay.

A third entry made on February 9, 1891 carries these details: Name: Mohammad Ali Jinnah Bhoy; Birthplace: Karachi; Date of Birth: October 20, 1875; Sect: Khoja; Previous qualification: 4th standard; Fee waived or to be paid: Paid.

The last two entries in the school records raise questions about December 25, 1876 being Jinnah’s official birthday. But, there is a lot more tenable evidence to support the official claim than the ones made by Allana’s in his biography of Jinnah.

For example, Sarojini Naidu, who was the first author to publish a Jinnah biography, Mohammad Ali Jinnah an Ambassador of Unity: His Speeches & Writings 1912-1917, has provided proof that December 25 is indeed Jinnah’s birthday. She cited Jinnah’s passport. At the same time, however, the document contradicts 1876 being his actual year of birth; according to Jinnah’s passport, his year of birth was 1875.

Controversies around his city of birth

Now to his city of birth, which also has twists and turns. Researcher and journalist Mazhar Laghari told me that most people in Sindh believe that Jinnah, as well as his grandfather Jinnah Bhoy Poonja, was actually born in Jhirk, Thatta, which at that time was an administrative part of Karachi.

Textbooks published by the Sindhi Adabi Board in 1950s and 60s mentioned Jhirk as Jinnah’s place of birth. Written by Dr Omar Bin Abdul Aziz, these books were taught at primary schools in Sindh.

Here is an excerpt from a textbook for Class 7 students:

“Sindh’s proud son was born around three-quarters of a century ago in a village near Jhirk. His father was a poor trader. No one could have imagined that one day he would be ranked among the greatest people of the world. After completing his preliminary education, he passed his matriculation exams from Sindh Madressatul Islam.

Later, he got a loan of Rs 3,000 from Seth Noor Mohammad Laalan and went to England to become a barrister. English civilisation and education deeply influenced his life. After returning from England, he landed in Bombay, where he started to practice as a lawyer and earned great fame.

Here, under the influence of veteran Dadabhai Naoroji, he actively participated in political affairs. First, he joined Congress, but when he realised that the Hindu-dominated Congress would never promote Muslim interests, he parted ways with the Congress and founded the Muslim League. Valiant men like Maulana Mohammad Ali Jouhar also joined it, but Jinnah outgrew everyone, owing much to his great moral character and resilience.”

The issue of Jinnah’s birthplace surfaced during the time of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who formed a fact-finding committee which visited Jhirk to collect evidence such as school registry lists.

However, some of the Jhirk elders believe that the records had been taken away in 1967 by the Commissioner Hyderabad Masroor Ahsan, who was President Ayub’s and Nawab of Kalabagh’s blue-eyed boy. As divisional commissioner, he wielded more power than today’s provincial governor. Ahsan belonged to the Urdu-speaking community and some of the events during his tenure betrayed his alleged prejudice towards Sindhis, their culture, language, and history.

It was during Ayub’s era that Sindhi language was banned as medium of instruction in schools and universities. In this backdrop, it is easy to understand why Ahsan was accused of destroying the records about Jinnah’s “real” birthplace: he wanted to deprive Sindhis of the honour that Jinnah was born in one of their towns.

No evidence of birthplace in Sindh

Myths aside, there is no proof that Jinnah was born in Jhirk. The town was well organised and all of the shops were registered and paid annual taxes. Its administrative records do not mention the names of Jinnah’s father and/or grandfather.

There is no documentary evidence to suggest that the Jinnah family lived in Jhirk when Mohammad Ali Jinnah was born. When Karachi was hit by the plague in around 1890, the family moved to a property owned by the Agha Khan in the modern-day Defence area of Karachi.

During these years they might have gone to Jhirk for a brief period, but it is too remote a possibility. And anyway, Jinnah would have been 16 by then.

Official documents show that Jinnah’s father lived in a rented house in Karachi from 1872 to 1880. It is difficult to believe that a man who lived in a metropolis would move to Jhirk, a town with few health facilities, at a time when his wife was about to give birth. There is no rationale for such relocation.

Yet, this does not prevent some from believing that Jinnah was born in a small Sindhi town. Former Minister of Culture in Sindh Sassui Palijo maintains that research conducted in 1990 proves that Jinnah was in fact born in Jhirk.

Wazir Mansion didn’t exist at time of birth

But if you’re thinking that the mystery has been resolved, you’re wrong. After hearing all these stories, I wanted to figure out the case once and for all. I contacted renowned historian and archaeologist Kaleem Lashari, who came up with a new revelation.

It is widely believed that Jinnah was born at the Wazir Mansion in Karachi, but the truth is that the mansion was not even built at the time of his birth.

Jinnah’s exact birthplace is a house located close to the plot where the Wazir Mansion stands today.

According to Lashari, Fatima Jinnah told the commissioner of Karachi that the Wazir Mansion was their family house and that she was born and spent her childhood there. The government appropriated the house and compensated the owner Wazir Ali Alauddin by giving him another property.

At the same time, people took Wazir Mansion to be Jinnah’s birthplace as well, without ever inquiring if he was actually born there. They thought that if Fatima Jinnah was born at the mansion, Jinnah, too, must have been born in the same house.

Two houses and a double-storey building stood on the plot where the mansion would later be built in 1880, at least four to five years after Jinnah’s birth. Another small double-storey building and two houses stood on the adjoining plot. Both plots were bought by a man named Omar from the municipality in an auction.

The houses that stood on the land which would later be taken up by the Wazir Mansion was occupied by the owner of these houses. The double-storey house on the adjacent plot was being rented by Jinnah’s father and grandfather. Today, an apartment building named Ali Manzal stands there.

By the time the Wazir Mansion was built, both the plots belonged to Jinnah’s father.

Jinnah’s father and uncles began construction on this land and the Wazir Mansion was built by their company Jeevna Bhai Natha Bhai & Co. But the building had to be auctioned off since the company incurred huge losses in the process. In 1890, the mansion was sold for Rs 18,500.

The documents available with the sub-registrar show that the six-storey Ali Manzal, adjacent to the Wazir Mansion, stands at the exact same place where Jinnah’s father and grandfather lived in a small rented house around the same period of time when Jinnah was born.

This lends credibility to Lashari’s account that Jinnah was not born in Wazir Mansion but where Ali Manzal stands today.

I have visited the Wazir Mansion, which has been declared a national heritage and is dubbed Quaid-e-Azam’s birthplace. A memorial tablet in one of the rooms reads: “Mohammad Ali Jinnah was born in this room.”

No doubt, the property was constructed and owned by the Jinnah family, but to say that it is also the place of birth of the country’s founder might not be the most accurate statement.

This article was translated by Arif Anjum from the original published in Urdu.

This article first appeared on Dawn.

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