Sunday, 21 December 2014

Seeking Malihabad's Jewish connect

Yusra Husain, The Times of India, Lucknow, December 21, 2014                                                            LUCKNOW: Straight aquiline noses, fair skin colour, chiselled features and a probable connection with the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel could be an addition to the identity of Afridi Pathans who have been dwelling in various parts of the erstwhile Awadh since centuries. In a quest to trace the lineage of exiled Israeli tribes, Jewish scholars from the far-off land of Israel have been guests to Malihabad over the years. Attracting world attention yet again, Malihabad will host Dr Ari Greenspan and Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky from Israel's Bar Ilan University on Sunday, to assist their quest to understand more about Afridi Pathans' historical connection to Judaism based on their hypothesis.

According to legend, ten of the 12 Israeli tribes had been exiled by Assyrian invaders in 721 BC, some of whom settled in India. Afridi Pathans, the supposed descendants of one such lost tribe came to India between 1202 and 1761 AD, making Uttar Pradesh their home amongst various other regions.

Barely an hour away from Lucknow, Malihabad has been home to as many as 650 families of Afridi Pathans, who take pride in their warrior genetics, but are in fact averse to the idea of bearing Jewish roots, if there be any.

The idea of Afridi Pathans tracing a Jewish ancestry grabbed attention when the Indo-Judaic studies scholar, Navras Jaat Aafreedi started working on the subject in 2002. Emphasising his thesis and claiming the lineage of Afridi Pathans to Ephraim, Navras himself an Afridi Pathan, managed to irate his kindred back then while proposing the idea of bearing Jewish roots to them.

In an email communication with Navras, the two scholars have explained how they "would like to understand the history and meet any elders who might hold or remember traditions linking the Pathans to the Jews." It is believed some of the Jewish traditions bear resemblance to the ones followed by the Afridi Pathans.

In 2002, Professor Tudor Parfitt along with his team from the Centre of Jewish Studies, London University had collected DNA samples from the Malihabadi Afridi Pathans. In 2008, Shahnaz Ali, researching on the subject, blood samples collected from the clan, followed by gathering DNA samples in 2009. Result of the research carried out so far has not been made public, but most of the earlier studies worldwide have refuted such claims of heredity.

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