History of Arabs in Afghanistan

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Mausoleum of an unknown Arab who was martyred during the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan in Kabul.

The history of Arabs in Afghanistan spans over one millennium, from the 11th century Islamic conquest when Arabs arrived with their Islamic mission[1][2] until recently when others from the Arab world arrived to defend fellow Muslims from the Soviet Union followed by NATO forces. Most of the early Arabs gradually lost their Arabic hegemony and ultimately mixed with the local population, though they are still considered a cognizably distinct ethnic group according to the Constitution of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Anthem. Afghans who carry Sayed or Quraishi in their names usually claim Arab ancestry.

First wave[edit]

Names of territories during the Caliphate

At the end of the 7th century, the Umayyad Arabs entered into the area now known as Afghanistan after decisively defeating the Sassanid Empire in Nihawand. Following this colossal defeat, the last Sassanid Emperor, Yazdegerd III, who became a hunted fugitive, fled eastward deep into Central Asia. In pursuing Yazdegerd, the route the Arabs selected to enter the area was from north-eastern Iran and thereafter into Herat where they stationed a large portion of their army before advancing toward eastern Afghanistan.[2] Some Arabs settled in these new areas and married locals while adopting new customs. Other groups and contingents who elected not to settle gradually pushed eastwards but encountered resistance in areas surrounding Bamiyan.[3] When ultimately arriving at Kabul, the Arabs confronted the Kabul Shahan who had built a long defensive wall around the city. The bloodiest war in Kabul was in Chahardihi area where still tombs of Arabs killed in that war exist in DarulAman area. The most famous Arab character killed in that war was Shah-do Shamshira, whose tomb is located near Kabul river in Asmayee street. One of the most famous Commanders who fought against Arab invaders is known as Mazangi. Mazangi was in command at the battle of Asmayee (Kohi-Sherdarwaza) where Shah-Do Shamshira was killed. There is a number sights where Arab invaders fought in Kabul, but the bloodiest battle after Asmayee was the battle of Alwoden in the area known as Darul Aman today. The historical details of this battle remains largely unknown, though the Arabs were nonetheless subdued in the long term.

In the year 44 (664 AD), the Caliph Moavia Bin Aby Soofian nominated Zeead, the son of Oomya, to the government of Bussora, Seestan, and Khorassan. In the same year also Abdool Ruhman Bin Shimur, another Arab Ameer of distinction, marched from Murv to Kabul, where he made converts of upwards of twelve thousand persons... Saad was recalled in the year 59, and Abdool Ruhman, the son of Zeead, who formerly invaded Kabul, was nominated ruler of Khorassan... Shortly after his arrival in Khorassan, Sulim deputed his brother, Yezeed Bin Zeead, to Seestan. Not long after, Yezeed, having learned that the Prince of Kabul, throwing off his allegiance, had attacked and taken prisoner Aby Oobeyda, the son of Zeead, the late governor of Seestan, he marched with a force to recover that province, but was defeated in a pitched battle. When Sulim heard this news, he sent Tilla Bin Abdoolla, an officer of his court, as envoy to the court of Kabul, to ransom Aby Oobeyda; to obtain which object he paid 500,000 dirhems. Tilla afterwards received the government of Seestan as a reward for his services on this occasion, where, having collected a large force, he subdued Kabul in the short term and Khalid Bin Abdoolla (said by some to be the son of Khalid Bin Wuleed, and by others the son of Aboo Jehl) was nominated to its government.[1]

— Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah, (1560–1620)

Despite the lack of much written accounts, another famous archaeological legacy of this battle remains standing in Kabul, notably the tomb of the Shah-e Do Shamshira (translated into, The leader with the Two Swords in Persian) next to the Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque. The site, located near Kabul's market district, was built near the area where an Arab commander died.

Despite fighting heroically with a sword in each hand, one of the Muslim head commanders fell in battle. It is his memory that is honored by the mosque today. The two-story edifice was built in the 1920s on the order of King Amanullah's mother on the site of one of Kabul's first mosques.

Following the Arab confrontation, the region was made part of Khorasan with its seat of power in Herat in the west. The Arabs later partially relinquished some of their territorial control though reasserted its authority approximately 50 years later in 750 when the Abbasid caliphs replaced the Ummayads.[4] By then, many Arabs increasingly blended with locals as the Arabic identity in the region began to undergo a significant change. Arab contingents settled throughout various parts of present-day Afghanistan including the Wardak, Logar, Kabul, Balkh and in the Sulaiman Mountains. Over time they adopted local customs and languages, some became Persianized while others became Afghanized who followed Pashtunwali.

Khalid being subsequently superseded, became apprehensive of returning to Arabia by the route of Persia, on account of the enemies he had in that country, and equally so of remaining in Kabul, under his successor. He retired, therefore, with his family, and a number of Arab retainers, into the Sooli-many mountains, situated between Mooltan and Pishawur, where he took up his residence, and gave his daughter in marriage to one of the Afghan chiefs, who had become a proselyte to Maho-medism. From this marriage many children were born, among whom were two sons famous in history. The one Lody, the other Soor; who each, subsequently, became head of the tribes which to this day bear their name.[1]

— Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah, (1560–1620)

It was during the reign of the Ya'qub Saffari that Arabic began losing its influence in the region. Nevertheless, the Arabs attempted to re-exert their influence in the area by supporting the Samanid rulers of Balkh who in return, assisted the Abbasid Arabs against the defiant Saffarid dynasty.

Despite maintaining some clothing customs and attire,[5] most of the early Afghan-Arabs (or Arab-Afghans) gradually lost their original tongue of Arabic. This is confirmed in the 15th century work, Baburnama, which notes that the Arabs of Afghanistan have virtually lost the Arabic language and instead speak Persian and Pashto language.[2] Although the exact number of Arab-Afghans remains unknown, mostly due to ambiguous claims of descent, an 18th-century academic estimated that they number at approximately 60,000 families.[2]

Second wave[edit]

After the Bolshevik Revolution, many Sunni Arabs residing in Bukhara and other areas of Central Asia ruled by Russians migrated to Afghanistan where they were better able to practice their religion without fear of religious persecution or discrimination.[6] One estimate indicated that approximately 30,000 Arabs lived in Bukhara during the mid-nineteenth century.[7] The Arabs who entered into Afghanistan during this time still retained some Arabic[8] in contrast to the Afghan Arabs who came during the first wave.

Some Arabs from the second wave intermarried with the local population as they adopted the languages of northern Afghanistan, namely Uzbek, Turkmen, and Persian language.[9] Many settled in Kunduz, Takhar and Sar-e Pol provinces. Currently, while they still view themselves as Arab, all the Arabs from the second wave have, like those from the original wave, lost their language of Arabic, adopting Persian instead.[6]

Although some tribal names, including Qureshi and Shaiboni are still remembered,[10] most of the Arabs view genealogies as unimportant.[11] Many of these Afghan Arabs work in the agricultural industry, often growing cotton and wheat while others raise karakul sheep.[6] According to an academic, the Central Asian Arabs have not had any contact with Middle Eastern Arabs since the time of Tamerlane (circa 1400).[11]

The main body of the Afghan Arabs are found in Shibarghan provinces. Afghan Arabs, however, are presently all Dari-speaking and have been in their collective memories. However, they claim an Arab identity. There are other such Persian-speaking "Arabs" to the east, between Shebergan, Mazar-i Sharif, Kholm and Kunduz living in pockets. Their self-identification as Arabs is largely based on their tribal identity and may in fact point to the 7th and 8th centuries migration to this and other Central Asian locales of many Arab tribes from Arabia in the wake of the Islamic conquests of the region.[12]

Third wave[edit]

During the 1980s Soviet–Afghan War, many Arab Muslims arrived and volunteered to help Afghans fight Soviet Union. Some of these remained after the Soviets withdrew from the country and were granted citizenship. Others intermarried with local Afghans while some arrived with their families to Afghanistan. Kandahar is home to a small Arab cemetery where over 70 graves belong to Arab al-Qaeda functionaries who were killed as a result of the U.S. War on Terror. These Arabs are revered by the Taliban and the Salafist sympathizers as shahid (martyrs).[13]

Regional groups[edit]


Around 900 families live in Khoshal Abad and Yakhdan villages of Dawlat Abad district of the province, the villagers can trace their lineage back to the third caliphate of Uthman, in the 7th century. These families are mainly engaged in agriculture and carpet weaving. Most Arabs in Balkh Province, speak in Arabic as their mother tongue, and Dari as a second language. While some of the older generations had never learned to speak either of Afghanistan's two official languages, Dari and Pashto, many of the younger generation were being taught Dari in school and forgetting their Arabic; about 40 percent can no longer speak Arabic. Many of their customs have been forgotten, or are no longer relevant to a younger generation that identifies more with Afghanistan. Arabs who settled in northern Balkh province are worried that their culture is being wiped out as more people adopt the language and traditions of Afghanistan. Arabs form the smaller minorities in the town and district of Kholm; many identify themselves as ethnic Arabs although no one actually speaks Arabic.[14]


There are about 1,000 families living in Hassanabad of Shebarghan, capital of Jowzjan province, and in Sultan Arigh village of Aqcha district that identify themselves as Arabs.[14][15] None, however, has spoken Arabic in their collective memory, with Dari forming their native language.


There are many Arab families living in the city of Nangarhar, Jalalabad. The majority of the people living in the villages claim to have Arab ethnicity, Either Iraq, Egypt, and any other Arab nation. The majority have had lost their language and speak Dari with Pashto interconnected which has created an accent.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah (1560–1620). "History of the Mohamedan Power in India". Persian Literature in Translation. Packard Humanities Institute. Archived from the original on 2009-02-11. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  2. ^ a b c d Owens, Jonathan (2000). Arabic as a minority language. Walter de Gruyter. p. 181. ISBN 9783110165784. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  3. ^ Culture and Customs of Afghanistan By Hafizullah Emadi, pg.27
  4. ^ Afghanistan In A Nutshell By Amanda Roraback, pg. 9
  5. ^ Arabic As a Minority Language By Jonathan Owens, pg. 182
  6. ^ a b c "Arab". Library of Congress Country Studies on Afghanistan. Library of Congress. 1997. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  7. ^ An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires By James Stuart Olson, pg. 38
  8. ^ Arabic As a Minority Language By Jonathan Owens, pg. 183
  9. ^ Arabic As a Minority Language By Jonathan Owens, pg. 184
  10. ^ Islamic peoples of the Soviet Union, by Shirin Akiner, pg. 367
  11. ^ a b Luke Griffin (January 14, 2002). "Ethnicity and Tribe". Illinois Institute of Technology. Paul V. Galvin Library. Archived from the original on December 8, 2006. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  12. ^ Barfield (1982), p. ?
  13. ^ Dawood Azami (January 17, 2008). "Kandahar's cemetery of 'miracles'". BBC Pashto service. BBC News. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  14. ^ a b Zabiullah Ehsas (March 9, 2011). "Arabs in Balkh fear language, culture is dying". Pajhwok Afghan News. Retrieved 2015-09-01.
  15. ^ Bakhtar News