Fatima Jinnah, More Than Her Brother’s Keeper

Many have tried to sanitize the legacy of the first Pakistani woman to run for president and challenge the country’s military.

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Celebrating his 72nd birthday, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Governor-General of Pakistan, strolls on the lawn of the Government House at Karachi with his sister, Fatima (Getty Images)

Ayesha Le Breton


April 1, 2024

On March 13, 1955, at 6:00 p.m., a seer reportedly invoked the spirit of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. “Any message for your sister in particular?” one seance attendee asked the spirit. “No. Only I wish her a quiet mind and a peaceful bod. She should not mix up with politics. Let her devote herself to the exclusive worship of the Great Lord.” Fortunately, Fatima Jinnah wouldn’t exactly heed her late brother’s advice. 

While records of the seance don’t say who all attended, historians suggest government officials were behind the plan, perhaps hoping to discourage Fatima Jinnah. Undeterred, in September of that year, she took to Radio Pakistan to criticize Pakistan’s leadership. “What measures have been adopted to raise the standard of living of the poor?” she asked. “What plans have been made for the reorganization of the economic system on a more equitable basis?” 

As “Madr-e-Millat,” or “Mother of the Nation,” Fatima Jinnah came tantalizingly close to becoming Pakistan’s first democratically elected President. She was one of the country’s most influential women, but were it not for dictator Ayub Khan, she could have been much more — and Pakistan could have been much different.

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