by Farzand Ahmed, India Today, November 6, 2006
Saturday, 31 March 2007
Is it the lost tribe of Israel?
The great Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi (1898-1982), an Afridi Pathan from Malihabad and recipient of India's third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan
by Farzand Ahmed, India Today, November 6, 2006
A recent study has traced the origin of Afridi Pathans in a small town of Uttar Pradesh to the biblical 'lost tribes' of Israel. But the Pathans are not ready to accept themselves as Jews.
Malihabad, the small orchard town on the outskirts of Lucknow, will appeal to your senses straightway. While it is renowned for the sweet and fragrant Dussheri mango, the place has given birth to some of the finest Urdu and Persian poetry. And its claim to fame does not end there. The dusty town now stands home to something which can be traced back to biblical times. Among the inhabitants of Malihabad are a clan of tall, fair, well-built people who call themselves Afridi Pathans-warrior and poets. In fact, a huge arch at the entry to the town is dedicated to Bab-e-Goya, a famous warrior and poet. Growing evidence, however, suggests that their ancestry is not Muslim but Israelite and they are not originally from the Afghanistan-Pakistan area but are, in fact, one of the 'lost tribes' of Israel. In Malihabad, in the heart of Uttar Pradesh, they certainly stand out with their unique physical features.
Now a study by one of their own tribe, Navras Jaat Aafreedi, and published recently in the form of an e-book titled The Indian Jewry & The Self-Professed 'Lost Tribes of Israel' in India traces their lineage to one of the 'lost tribes' of Israel. Says Navras, "The main purpose of the research (for a doctorate from Lucknow University) was to trace the Afridi Pathans' ancestry." To make his study credible, he got help from an international research team which included Professor Tudor Parfitt, director of the Centre of Jewish Studies, London University and Dr Yulia Egorova, a linguist and historian from Russia. The team visited Malihabad and collected DNA samples from 50 paternally unrelated Afridi males to confirm their Israelite descent. The researchers looked at Israel's connections with Pathans in the Frontier areas of Pakistan and their links with Afridi Pathans in Uttar Pradesh's Malihabad and Qaimganj (Farrukhabad) as well as with Pathans in Aligarh, Sambhal and Barabanki besides tribes in Kashmir, Manipur and Guntur of Andhra Pradesh.
Historians and scholars like Professor S.N. Sinha, former head of the department of history, Jamia Millia Islamia and Professor V. D. Pandey, head of the department of medieval and modern Indian history, Lucknow University, have found Navras' research a 'landmark' study on the Jews in India and their links to Uttar Pradesh. According to the Bible, there were 12 tribes of Israel. The northern kingdom consisted of 10 tribes who were exiled and subsequently considered 'lost'. Four of 'lost tribes' have been traced in India: the Afridis, the Shinlung in the Northeast, the Yudu in Kashmir and the non-Muslim tribes in Guntur. Historians believe that Afghans were the descendents of Israel - another name of Abraham's grandson Jacob or Yaqub. They came to the region known as North West Frontier and Afghanistan and as they moved onwards they were called Afridan, in Persian meaning 'newly arrived' and thus acquired the title 'Afridi'. Many of the Afridi-Afghans still follow Jewish tradition like Sabbath and circumcision on the eighth day of the birth. There are three major groups of Israelites or Jews in India: Bene Israel, which is the largest group, the Cochini, the smallest group and the Baghdadi. The Pathans of Malihabad and Farrukhabad call themselves Bani Israel, which means Children of Israel. Bani Israel clans are also found in Aligarh and Sambhal in Moradabad.
The Pathan-Afridi settlement in Malihabad dates back to 1202 A.D., when the village of Bakhtiarnagar was founded by Mohammad Bakhtiar Khilji. Most of the Pathans came in around the middle of the 17th century and each migrant clan took possession of villages around Malihabad. However, the greatest wave of migrant Pathans, mainly Afridis, arrived in Malihabad a century later during Ahmad Shah Abdali's five invasions between 1748 and 1761.
Many Israelite-Afridis of Malihabad and Qaimganj rose to eminent positions in the field of warfare, politics, literature and sports. If Dr. Zakir Husain, an Israelite-Pathan, the third President of India and founder of Jamia Millia Islamia University hailed from Farrukhabad, Malihabad prides itself on Nawab Faqueer Mohammad Khan 'Goya', the poet and courtier of Awadh, Josh Malihabadi, the rebel poet who later migrated to Pakistan; Ghaus Mohammad Khan, the tennis player and Anwar Nadeem, stage artist, writer and poet.
There are around 1,200 to 1,300 Pathans in Malihabad and half of them, according to the latest research, are Israelite-Afridis. The study has evoked much excitement among the Afridi Pathans as they are not ready to accept their Jewish identity. Unlike the other tribes who have readily claimed affiliation to the 'lost tribes' of Israel, Afridi Pathans are sceptical about their Jewish status. The reluctance is quite evident as 91-year-old Qavi Kamal Khan, one of the Afridi Pathans of the town, says, "I have heard that we have Israelite lineage but we are not Jew. We are are Afridis." Historians, however, believe that Navras' research may turn out to be a milestone in the genealogical-historical research that takes off in an obscure of Lucknow, re-discovering a link lost in the passage of time. The study, for once, proves that the world is, in fact a global village.