Christians of Kabul (new article in Persian)

Afghanistan’s new first lady, Rula Ghani, is a Christian woman from Lebanon. Contrary to the popular belief, she is not the first Christian first lady of Afghanistan. In a new piece for Hasht-e Subh daily in Kabul, I’ve written bout the Christian wife of Amir Mohammad Azam Khan, an Afghan king in the mid-19th century and the small group of Armenian Christians in Kabul who lived there mostly as wine makers. In addition, I have discussed the long tradition of religious tolerance in Afghanistan arguing that the followers of Abrahamic religions have always been living peacefully together in the region and the hateful rhetoric promoted by extremist groups these days is a new phenomenon—at least in South Asia.

The full text is available on Hasht-e Subh’s website and also on the Republic of Silence [both in Persian.]


New article on census politics in Afghanistan

A short article of mine, “Afghanistan’s Demographic Drought,” was recently published in Foreign Policy‘s South Asia Channel. Please click here to read the full text.

Update: the Persian translation of the piece appeared in the daily Etilaat Roz (October 25, 2014) in Kabul. You can read it on their website.

No country for Afghan men: California, 1928

27 F.2d 568 (1928)


No. 12501.

District Court, N. D. California, S. D., at San Francisco.

May 23, 1928.

BOURQUIN, District Judge.

This applicant for citizenship is a typical Afghan and a native of Afghanistan. He is readily distinguishable from “white” persons of this country, and approximates to Hindus. The conclusion is that he is not a white person, nor of African nativity or descent, to whom naturalization in general is limited by section 359, title 8, U. S. C. (8 USCA § 359).

Accordingly his petition is denied. This action is required by the principle of United States v. Thind, 261 U. S. 204, 43 S. Ct. 338, 67 L. Ed. 616, and much of the comment in that case is applicable to this. What ethnologists, anthropologists, and other so-called scientists may speculate and conjecture in respect to races and origins may interest the curious and convince the credulous, but is of no moment in arriving at the intent of Congress in the statute aforesaid.

Decree accordingly.


Al-Biruni (973-1046) on grant proposals


Al-Biruni on Afghan stamp, 1973.

Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1046) was a brilliant medieval man of science born in Khwarazm, Uzbekistan, and died in Ghazni, Afghanistan. Due to the many political turmoils of his time, he had to frequently migrate from city to city and each time, had to persuade princes and emperors to finance his numerous scientific expeditions and experiments, mostly pioneering works in the fields of astronomy and geography.

The way he worked with his sponsors might have been different from how the scientific research works today, but in general, the painful process of grant application has remained the same and a lot of scientists would say a similar thing about today’s funding agencies as the ‘sage’ in the following anecdote, quoted in Al-Biruni’s India, says about the medieval rich:

Once a sage was asked why scholars always flock to the doors of the rich, whilst the rich are not inclined to call at the doors of scholars. “The scholars”, he answered, “are well aware of the use of money, but the rich are ignorant of the nobility of science.”

In June 1974, UNESCO’s Courier magazine published an especial issue on Al-Biruni. The above quote was copied from there (available online).

The Hazara work ethics

Hazara Juwalis (porters) in Kabul / January 30, 2012

Hazara Juwalis (porters) in Kabul / January 30, 2012

Some observations from two foreigners (a US engineer and a British diplomat) working in Afghanistan about the work ethics of the Hazaras:

When the men from the south were gone I called for volunteers among the Hazaras, feeling intuitively that at least we had come among men again instead of children… In the first place, even from two days’ acquaintance with the steady Hazara people, I felt free to leave the pack train in their charge without remaining constantly in sight.

Fox, E. F. (1943). Travels in Afghanistan, 1937-1938. New York: Macmillan. p. 251-252

The Hazaras differ radically from the Afghans, with whom they have been constantly at feud, and retain many of the traits of their Central Asian ancestors.  They are honest, courageous, good-natured, and simple. They make excellent servants, first-rate solders, and cheerful labourers.

Fraser-Tytler, W. K. (1950). Afghanistan: A study of political developments in Central Asia. London: Oxford University Press. p. 57

About non-Hazaras, I have posted some interesting quotes too, click here.

Latest articles

For those of you who can read German, I’m sharing the links to the three articles I have written for Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education (BPB). They were in Persian and then translated into German and published in BPB’s especial dossier on Afghanistan.

1. Zeitgenössische afghanische Kunst [Contemporary Art in Afghanistan]

2. Die Stimme vom Hindukusch: Die traditionelle Musik Afghanistans [The voice of Hindukush: Traditional Music in Afghanistan]

3. Das traditionelle Handwerk Afghanistans [Traditional Craftsmanship in Afghanistan]

I am hoping to expand the one on Afghan contemporary art into an English academic article. But that would require further investigations on Afghan art history since 20th century, on which, the sources are extremely scarce and scattered. In particular, the artists who were/are involved in shaping what we call “Afghan contemporary art”, are not very enthusiastic in sharing information… which is not surprising.

Anyways, I’m off to my #RealWorld problems, enjoy reading German!

“Turkish Fantasy”

Intercontinental’s “Turkish Fantasy” ad in The Kabul Times, 1976

Turkish Fantasy

Presenting the fantastic Turkish “Safak” belly dancer every night except Mondays from Dec. 14th to Dec. 23rd at the Pamir Supper Club. Cover charge Afs. 75.

The Kabul Times (Vol. XV, NO 215, December 12, 1976, p. 3)

Good old days at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, eh!

Siraj al-Tawarikh to be released in English

Apparently this year is the year of Siraj al-Tawarikh, the monumental Afghan history book by Faiz Mohammad Kateb. There are two good news about the book: according to Reza Kateb, a grandson of the author, the English translation of the first three volumes of Siraj is going to be released this year by a publisher in Holland (maybe Brill). The translator, R. D. McChesney, is a retired New York University professor, who has already published the English translation of Tazakkor ul-Inqelab, which is Kateb’s dairy during Bacha-e Saqaw’s 1929 uprising in Kabul.

The other good news is the publication of the forth volume of Siraj in Kabul. This volume, which was long thought to be lost, was acquired by the government from Wasim Amiri, a Kabuli bookseller (for $ 50,000) who bought it from someone he doesn’t want to reveal his name. Now the original manuscript is preserved in the National Achieves in Kabul. The bookseller sold only the manuscript and reserved the rights of its publication. He has recently released it in four massive volumes, which chronicles the reign of Amir Habibulla (1901-1919).

Siraj is not only the best source on Afghanistan’s political history, but on its social and cultural history as well. I believe with Siraj in English, you may have to unread some of the stuff you have already read about Afghanistan. I’ve heard Mr. McChesney has already started to translate the forth volume too.

Mr. McChesney in his introduction to Siraj writes: “without question, the millions of words that Fayz Muhammad wrote to memorialize and bring to future generations a comprehensive picture of the political and socio-religious history of Afghanistan in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries are unparalleled in the written history of Afghanistan. Although he has been called “the modern Bayhaqi,” in reference to the latter’s enormous, though mostly non-extant, thirty-volume history, perhaps Bayhaqi should be thought of as the medieval Fayz Muhammad.”