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The Trans-Border Traffic of Afghan Modernism: Afghanistan and the Indian “Urdusphere”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 June 2011

Nile Green*
Department of History, UCLA


In October 1933, two motorcars drove out of Peshawar towards the Khyber Pass carrying a small delegation of Indian Muslims summoned to meet the Afghan ruler Nadir Shah in Kabul. While Nadir Shah had officially invited the travelers to discuss the expansion of the fledgling university founded a year earlier in Kabul, the Indians brought with them a wealth of experience of the wider world and a vision of the leading role within it of Muslim modernists freed of Western dominance. Small as it was, the delegation could hardly have been more distinguished: it comprised Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), the celebrated philosopher and poet; Sir Ross Mas‘ud (1889–1937), the former director of public instruction in Hyderabad and vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University; and Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi (1884–1953), the distinguished biographer and director of the Dar al-Musannifin academy at Azamgarh. The three were traveling to Kabul at the peak of their fame; they were not only famous in individual terms but also represented India's major Muslim movements and institutions of the previous and present generations. Ross Mas‘ud, grandson of the great Muslim modernist Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–1898), had fifteen years earlier been the impresario behind the foundation of Osmania University in the princely state of Hyderabad. A decade earlier, Sulayman Nadwi, the heir of the reformist principal of the North Indian Nadwat al-‘Ulama madrasa Shibli Nu‘mani (1857–1914), had been among the leading figures of the pan-Islamist, Khilafat struggle to save the Ottoman caliphate. And eighteen months earlier, Muhammad Iqbal had represented India's Muslims at the Round Table Conference in London that would shape India's route to independence.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2011

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1 Repr. in Khān, Sar Sayyid Ahmad, Maktūbāt-e Sar Sayyid, Pānīpatī, Shaykh Muhammad Ismā‘īl, ed. (Lahore: Majlis-e Taraqqī-e Adab, 1959), 39127Google Scholar.

2 Nu‘manī, Shiblī, Safarnāma (Lahore: Ghulām ‘Alī, 1961, repr.)Google Scholar.

3 Nadwī, Sayyid Sulaymān, Barīd-e Farang (Karachi: Majlis-e Nashriyāt-e Islām, 1983, repr.)Google Scholar.

4 The travel accounts have been collected in Nawāz, Haq, ed., Siyāhat-e Iqbāl (Lyallpur [Faisalabad]: Kitāb-e Markaz, 1976)Google Scholar; on the European journeys, see 9–142 and 177–92.

5 These reports have been drawn together in the modern account of Jinnah's frontier visits: Jāwīd, ‘Abd al-‘Azīz, Qā’id-e ‘Azam aur Sarhad (Peshawar: Idārah-e Tahqīq wa Tasnīf, 1976)Google Scholar.

6 Green, Nile, “The Afghan Afterlife of Phileas Fogg: Space and Time in the Literature of Afghan Travel,” in Green, Nile and Arbabzadah, Nushin, eds., Afghanistan in Ink: Afghan Literatures between Diaspora and Nation (London: Hurst, forthcoming)Google Scholar.

7 See such foundational works as Adamec, Ludwig W., Afghanistan's Foreign Affairs to the Mid-Twentieth Century: Relations with the USSR, Germany, and Britain (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1974)Google Scholar; Gregorian, Vartan, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880–1946 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969)Google Scholar; Nawid, Senzil K., Religious Response to Social Change in Afghanistan, 1919–29: King Aman-Allah and the Afghan Ulama (Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, 1999)Google Scholar; Poullada, Leon B., Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 1919–1929: King Amanullah's Failure to Modernize a Tribal Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973)Google Scholar; and May Schinasi, , Afghanistan at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century: Nationalism and Journalism in Afghanistan: A Study of Seraj ul-Akhbar (1911–1918) (Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1979)Google Scholar. On late-nineteenth-century Afghan-Ottoman contacts, see Wasti, Syed Tanvir, “Two Muslim Travelogues: To and From Istanbul,” Middle Eastern Studies 27, 3 (1991): 427–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Adamec, Afghanistan's Foreign Affairs; Gregorian, Emergence; Nawid, Religious Response; Poullada, Reform and Rebellion; Rasanayagam, Angelo, Afghanistan: A Modern History (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005)Google Scholar, esp. 17–21; Saikal, Amin, Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006)Google Scholar, chs. 2 and 3; Schinasi, Afghanistan at the Beginning. The most nuanced of the general histories also does not recognize the scale of Indian interactions: see Barfield, Thomas, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 175–83Google Scholar.

9 For overviews, see Hardy, Peter, The Muslims of British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lelyveld, David, Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978)Google Scholar; and Minault, Gail, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982)Google Scholar.

10 Reetz, Dietrich, Hijrat: The Flight of the Faithful: A British File on the Exodus of Muslim Peasants from North India to Afghanistan in 1920 (Berlin: Das Arabische Buch, 1995)Google Scholar.

11 Jules Verne, Siyāhat bar Dawr Dawr-e Kurrah-e Zamīn bih Hashtād Rūz [Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, 1873] (Kabul: Matba‘a-ye ‘Ināyat, 1330/1912); Siyāhat dar Jaww-e Hawā [Robur-le-Conquérant, 1886] (Kabul: Matba‘a-ye ‘Ināyat, 1331/1913); Jazīra-ye Pinhān [L’Île mystérieuse, 1874] (Kabul: Matba‘a-ye ‘Ināyat, 1332/1914); and Bīst Hazār Farsakh Siyāhat dar Zīr-e Bahr [Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, 1869] (Kabul: Matba‘a-ye ‘Ināyat, 1332/1914); all translations by Mahmud Tarzi.

12 ‘Alī, Khāksār Nādir, Al-Habīb, jis-mēn A‘lā-Hazrat Hiz Majestī Amīr Habībullāh Khān kē Sayr ō Siyāhat-e Hindustān kē Wāqa‘āt (Agra: Sādiq Husayn, n.d. [c. 1908]), 68Google Scholar; and al-Qādirī, Mawlānā Zāhid, A‘lā-Hazrat Shāh Amānullāh Khān Ghāzī Tājdār-e Afghānistān kā Safarnāma, 2 vols. (Delhi: Qurēshī Buk Depō, 1928)Google Scholar, vol. 1, 110–11.

13 Khāksār Nādir ‘Alī Al-Habīb; Mawlānā Zāhid al-Qādirī, A‘lā-Hazrat; and Khwāja Hasan Nizāmī Dihlawī and Shāh, Muhammad Nādir, Qadīm ō Jadīd Afghānistān kē Dō Safarnāma, bā Taswīr (Delhi: Mashā’ikh Buk Dīpō, 1933)Google Scholar. The sole Persian account of Amanullah's travels is a modern retrospective collage and not an original source document: see Pōpalzā’ī, ‘Azīz al-Dīn Wakīlī, Safar-hā-ye Ghāzī Amān Allāh Shāh dar Dawāzdah Kishwar-e Āsiyā wa Urūpā, 1306–1307 (Kabul: Sabā Kitābkhāna, 1379s/2001)Google Scholar.

14 Tarzī, Mahmūd, Siyāhatnāma-ye Sih Qit‘a–e Rū-ye Zamīn dar Bīst ō Nō Rūz: Āsiyā, Urūpā, Āfriqā, 3 vols. (Kabul: Matba‘a-ye Mubāraka-ye ‘Ināyat, 1333/1915)Google Scholar.

15 Green, Nile, Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840–1915 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ch. 3.

16 For an important exception, see McChesney, R. D., ed. and trans., Kabul under Siege: Fayz Muhammad's Account of the 1929 Uprising (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1999)Google Scholar.

17 Examples of such Urdu gazetteer and historical texts on Afghanistan include the anonymously authored Afghānistān kē Tab‘ī, Jughrāfīyā’ī, Tārīkhī aur Tamadunī Hālāt (Lahore: Khādim al-Ta‘līm Stīm Prēs, 1909)Google Scholar; and Husayn, Mawlwī Sayyid Muhammad, Nayrang-e Afghān (Lucknow: Matba‘ā-e Shām-e Awadh, 1904)Google Scholar.

18 On Urdu publishing in early-twentieth-century Cairo and Istanbul, see al-Hafnāwī, Jalāl, “‘Islāmī Dunyā’: Misr sē Shā'i‘ Shoda Urdū kā Akhbār,” Khuda Bakhsh Library Journal 110 (1994): 135–46Google Scholar; and Towqēr, Khalīl, “Istanbōl (Torkī) mēn Urdu,” Annual of Urdu Studies 23 (2008): 314–18Google Scholar. On Urdu in South Africa, see Green, Nile, “The Dilemmas of the Pious Biographer: Missionary Islam and the Oceanic Hagiography,” Journal of Religious History 34, 4 (2010): 383–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Sirāj al-Akhbār 1, 10 (Feb. 1912): 9–10. Thanks to Nushin Arbabzadah for this reference.

20 The fullest account of Tarzi's career is Sīstānī, Muhammad ‘Azam, ‘Allāma Mahmūd Tarzī, Shāh Amān Allāh wa Rūhāniyat-e Mutanaffiz (Peshawar: Kitābkhāna-ye Dānish, 2004), 1579Google Scholar.

21 al-Dīn, Sa‘d, Kitāb-e Duwwum-e Farsī (Lahore: Matba‘a-e Islāmiyya, 1329/1911)Google Scholar, Introduction, 3.

22 Sindhī, ‘Ubaydullāh, Sāt Sāl Kābul men, Aktūbar 1915–1922: Ek Tārīkhī Yāddāsht, Sarwar, Muhammad, ed. (Lahore: Sindh Sāgar Akādimī, 1976)Google Scholar, 30–32, 37, 96–102, 126–41. On the wider context, see Dmitriev, G. L., Indian Revolutionaries in Central Asia (Kolkata: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, 2002)Google Scholar.

23 al-Dīn, Hājjī Mīr Shams, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, Mushtamil bar Kawā’if-e Ta‘līmāt (Lahore: Rafīq-e ‘Ām Prēs, 1347/1929)Google Scholar. I am grateful to May Schinasi for providing me with a copy of this rare text.

24 Nizāmī, Khwāja Hasan, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān (Lahore: Ātash Fishān, 2007, repr.)Google Scholar; all subsequent references are to this edition. The text was originally published in journal serial form and in Dihlawī and Shāh, Qadīm ō Jadīd.

25 A short version of the travelogue was first published in volume 10 of the Urdu journal Ma‘ārif (Dec. 1933); and reprinted in Nadwī, Shāh Mu‘īn al-Dīn Ahmad, Hayāt-e Sulaymān: ya‘nī Dāktar ‘Alāma Sayyid Sulaymān Nadwī (rahmatullāh ‘alai-hi) kē Sawānih Hayāt aur ‘Ilmī Kārnāma (Azamgarh: Matba‘a-e Ma‘ārif, 1393/1973), 407–23Google Scholar; and Nawāz, Siyāhat-e Iqbāl, 207–34. Revised in 1944, the complete 140-page travelogue has been republished as: Nadwī, Sayyid Sulaymān, Sayr-e Afghānistān (Lahore: Sang-e Mīl, 2008)Google Scholar. The following discussions draw on this complete edition.

26 Khāksār Nādir ‘Alī, Al-Habīb; and Mawlānā Zāhid al-Qādirī, A‘lā-Hazrat. For further discussion, see Green, “The Afghan Afterlife.”

27 Cf. Hopkins, Ben, The Making of Modern Afghanistan (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

28 Reetz, Hijrat.

29 These are official estimates of numbers, cited in Reetz, Hijrat, 52.

30 Sindhī, Sāt Sāl Kābul men, 37–38, 40.

31 Ibid., 96–102.

32 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 21–23.

33 Ibid., 21.

34 Ibid., 27.

35 Ibid., 21. On these figures, see Adamec, Afghanistan's Foreign Affairs, 124–25, 234–35.

36 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 41–43.

37 Ibid., 42.

38 On the factories, see Hanifi, Shah Mahmoud, Connecting Histories in Afghanistan: Market Relations and State Formation on a Colonial Frontier (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008)Google Scholar, ch. 4. On other imported machinery, see Rafī‘, Habībullāh, Armaghān-e Tamaddun: Tārīkhcha-ye Wurūd-e Wasā’i-e ‘Asrī bih Afghānistān (Peshawar: Siyār Arīk, 1378/1999)Google Scholar. Thanks to James Caron for supplying me with this text.

39 On Kabul's Hindu merchants and older Hindu history, see Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 45–47, 58–59.

40 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 21, 66.

41 Jewett, A. C., An American Engineer in Afghanistan, Bell, Marjorie Jewett, ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1948)Google Scholar, 216.

42 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 34; Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 9–10.

43 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 39.

44 Jewett, An American Engineer, 222; Sindhī, Sāt Sāl Kābul men, 32.

45 Martin, Frank A., Under the Absolute Amir (London: Harper & Brothers, 1907), 234–35Google Scholar.

46 Sindhī, Sāt Sāl Kābul men, 32.

47 Jewett, An American Engineer, 221.

48 Poullada, Leon B., “Afghanistan and the United States: The Crucial Years,” Middle East Journal 35, 2 (1981): 178–90Google Scholar.

49 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 50.

50 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 29–30. See also Qureshi, M. Naeem, “The ‘Ulama of British India and the Hijrat,” Modern Asian Studies 13, 1 (1979): 4159CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 Thanks to Jamil Hanifi on this point. On the imprisonment, see Siddiq, Khaled ‘Charkhi’, From My Memories: Memoirs of Political Imprisonment from Childhood in Afghanistan (Bloomington: Author House, 2001)Google Scholar, 241.

52 Adamec, Afghanistan's Foreign Affairs, 117.

53 Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 59–60.

54 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 31. On the Indian mujahidin movement, see Baha, Lal, “The Activities of the Mujahidin, 1900–1936,” Islamic Studies 18, 2 (1979): 97168Google Scholar.

55 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 34–35; Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 26–32.

56 On Sayf al-Rahman's career in Afghanistan, see Sana Haroon, “At the End of Empire: The Indian Ulama in Afghanistan” (forthcoming). I am grateful to Dr. Haroon for sharing with me her groundbreaking work on this figure.

57 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 34.

58 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 32.

59 Sindhī, Sāt Sāl Kābul men, 39.

60 Jewett, An American Engineer, 112.

61 Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 37.

62 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 49.

63 Ibid., 50.

64 Faruqi, Ziaul Hasan, Dr. Zakir Hussain: Quest for Truth (Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, 1999)Google Scholar, 106.

65 McChesney, Kabul under Siege, 16.

66 I assume this was André Beaudouin, present in Kabul since 1924. See René Dollot, L'Afghanistan (Paris: Payot, 1937), 298.

67 On the German presence in Kabul, see Fleury, Antoine, La Pénétration allemande au Moyen-Orient, 1919–1939: Le cas de la Turquie, de l'Iran, et de l'Afghanistan (Leiden: Brill, 1977)Google Scholar.

68 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 49.

69 Hauner, Milan L., “Afghanistan between the Great Powers, 1938–1945,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 14, 4 (1982): 481–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Robinson, Paul and Dixon, Jay, “Soviet Development Theory and Economic and Technical Assistance to Afghanistan, 1954–1991,” The Historian 73, 3 (2010): 599623CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

70 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 59–61.

71 Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 43–47.

72 Ibid., 79–87, 97–98, 99–100, 104–7.

73 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 37.

74 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 64–66; Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 38–43. The school was also known as the Dar al-‘Ulum-e Islami.

75 Nawid, Religious Response, 62–69.

76 The ruling was outlined in the royal proclamation, Beh Millat-e ‘Azīzam (Kabul, n.d. [1928]), 7.

77 Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 41.

78 Nadwi did not name the authors or full titles, simply referring to Mishkat and Hidāyat, though the identifications seem clear enough. On the Indian situation, see Kugle, Scott, “Framed, Blamed and Renamed: The Recasting of Islamic Jurisprudence in Colonial South Asia,” Modern Asian Studies 35, 2 (2001): 257313CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

79 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 65.

80 Ibid., 66–68.

81 Ibid., 68.

82 On Mas‘ud's role at Osmania, Datla, Kavita, “A Worldly Vernacular: Urdu at Osmania University,” Modern Asian Studies 43, 5 (2009): 1117–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see esp. 1121–25.

83 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 42–43.

84 Ibid., 39–40.

85 For the Afghan sources, see ‘Abd al-Rasūl Rahīn, Tārīkh-e Matbū‘āt-e Afghānistān: Az Shams al-Nahār Jumhūriyat (1863–1973) (Stockholm: Shūrā-ye Farhangī-ye Afghānistān, 2007).

86 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 55.

87 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 68–69.

88 Ibid., 69–70; and Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 55. The Massachusetts-born Daniel Treadwell (1791–1872) was a pioneer of industrialized printing: see Green, Ralph, “Early American Power Printing Presses,” Studies in Bibliography 4 (1951/1952): 143–53Google Scholar. However, Nadwi and Nizami seem to have used his name for the generic type of electrically powered press they saw rather than any particular brand. On the role of imported presses in the beginnings of printing in Iran, see Green, Nile, “Persian Print and the Stanhope Revolution: Industrialization, Evangelicalism and the Birth of Printing in Early Qajar Iran,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 30, 2 (2010): 473–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

89 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 55.

90 Ibid.

91 Fazlı, Mehmed, Resimli Efgan Seyahatı (Istanbul: Matba‘a-e Ahmed Ihsan, 1325/1907)Google Scholar. On late-nineteenth-century Ottoman travelogues to Afghanistan, see Wasti (1991).

92 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 55.

93 Ibid.

94 On the impact of motor transport, see Green, Nile, “The Automotive Roots of Afghan Internationalism: Motorized Transport in Early Twentieth Century Afghanistan,” in Marsden, Magnus and Hopkins, Benjamin, eds., Fragments of the Afghan Frontier (London and New York: Hurst, and Columbia University Press, forthcoming 2011)Google Scholar.

95 On expanding cross-border commerce, see Hanifi, Connecting Histories.

96 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 70.

97 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 55.

98 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 69–70; Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 55.

99 Ibid., 70–73.

100 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 34, 54.

101 Ibid., 36, 38.

102 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 72.

103 Chand, Attar, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan: A Study of Freedom Struggle and Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Delhi: Commonwealth Publishers, 1989), 3240Google Scholar.

104 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 20.

105 Ibid., 56.

106 Ibid., 73.

107 Ibid., 41.

108 Nizāmī, Safarnāma-ye Afghānistān, 51.

109 Jewett, An American Engineer, 25.

110 Kābul (Dec. 1933); Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 43–49.

111 Introduction, in Green and Arbabzadah, Afghanistan in Ink.

112 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 43; Shams al-Dīn, Siyāhat-e Afghānistān, 34.

113 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 78.

114 Ibid., 47–48; also Adamec, Afghanistan's Foreign Affairs, 62.

115 Ibid., 49–50.

116 Ibid., 50–54.

117 Ibid., 54–56.

118 Iqbāl, Muhammad, Maykada-ye Lāhūr: Kulliyāt-e Fārsī-ye ‘Allāma Iqbāl, Baqā’ī, Muhammad, ed. (Tehran: Iqbāl, 1382/2003), 129234Google Scholar, 489–504.

119 Mahmūd Tarzī, Āyā Chī Bāyad Kard (Kabul: Government Press, 1330/1913)Google Scholar.

120 Vahid, Syed Abdul, Glimpses of Iqbal (Karachi: Iqbal Academy, 1974)Google Scholar, 133.

121 Nawāz, Siyāhat-e Iqbāl, 148–49.

122 Nadwī, Sayr-e Afghānistān, 41.

123 Ibid., 41.

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