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

  • Nile Green (a1)

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.

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David Lelyveld , Aligarh's First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978)

Gail Minault , The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982)

Afghānistān kē Tab‘ī, Jughrāfīyā’ī, Tārīkhī aur Tamadunī Hālāt (Lahore: Khādim al-Ta‘līm Stīm Prēs, 1909)

Habībullāh Rafī‘ , Armaghān-e Tamaddun: Tārīkhcha-ye Wurūd-e Wasā’i-e ‘Asrī bih Afghānistān (Peshawar: Siyār Arīk, 1378/1999)

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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