Ayesha Jalal (Punjabi, Urdu: عائشہ جلال) is a Pakistani-American historian who serves as the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University, and was the recipient of the 1998 MacArthur Fellow.
Born in Lahore, Jalal studied at Wellesley College before moving to Trinity College, Cambridge where she received her doctorate in 1983. She stayed at Cambridge until 1987, working as a fellow of Trinity College and later as a Leverhulme Fellow. She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1985, to work as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and later moved to academy scholar at the Harvard Academy until 1990. In 1999, she joined Tufts University as a tenured professor.
Ayesha Jalal was born in Lahore in Pakistan to Hamid Jalal, a senior Pakistani civil servant, and is the grandniece of the renowned Urdu fiction writer Saadat Hasan Manto. She came to New York City at the age of 14 when her father was posted at the Pakistan Mission to the United Nations.
She obtained her BA, majoring in History and Political Science, from Wellesley College, USA, and her doctorate in history from Trinity College at University of Cambridge, where she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation: 'Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan'.
Ayesha Jalal has been Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge (1980–84), Leverhulme Fellow at the Center of South Asian Studies, Cambridge (1984–87), Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC (1985–86) and Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies(1988–90). She has taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Tufts University, Columbia University, Harvard University and Lahore University of Management Sciences.
She is among the most prominent American academics who writes on the history of South Asia. In her book "The Sole Spokesman" (Cambridge University Press, 1985 and 1994), Jalal gives her perspective of what happened in the years between the 1937 elections and the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, identifying the factors which led to the creation of Pakistan and provides new insights into the nature of the British transfer of power in India. In particular, she focuses on the role of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League, and the main proponent of the Two Nation Theory on which the demand for Pakistan was based. Jinnah claimed to be the sole spokesman of all Indian Muslims, not only in provinces where they were in a majority but also in the provinces where they were in a minority. Yet given the political geography of the subcontinent it was clear that there would always be as many Muslims outside a specifically Muslim state as inside it. This book investigates how Jinnah proposed to resolve the contradiction between assertions of a separate Muslim "nation" and the need for a strategy which could safeguard the interests of all Indian Muslims. It does so by identifying Jinnah's real political aims, the reasons why he was reluctant to bring them into the open, and his success or failure in achieving them.
Jalal's other books include: "The State of Martial Rule: the Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence" (Cambridge University Press, 1990); "Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia: a Comparative and Historical Perspective" (Cambridge University Press 1995); "Modern South Asia: History, Culture and Political Economy", coauthored with Sugata Bose (Routledge 1998); "Self and Sovereignty: the Muslim Individual and the Community of Islam in South Asia since c.1850" (Routledge, 2000) and "Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia" (Harvard University Press, 2008). Her most recent book based on the Lawrence Stone Lectures she gave at the Davis Center at Princeton University is called The Pity of Partition: Manto's Life, Times and Work Across the India Pakistan Divide (Princeton University Press, forthcoming March 2013).
A leading historian of Pakistan as well as South Asia, Prof. Jalal has received numerous awards and acknowledgements including the Prize Fellowship from Trinity College (1980–84), the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1998-2003) and the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, one of Pakistan's highest civilian awards, in 2009.