The History of Afghanistan: Fayẕ Muḥammad Kātib Hazārah’s Sirāj al-Tawārīkh

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Translation, introduction, notes and index for volumes 1–2 by Robert D. McChesney, B.A. 1967, Ph.D. 1973. Translation and notes for volume 3–4 by McChesney and Mehdi Muhammad Khorrami.

The Sirāj al-tawārīkh is the most important history of Afghanistan ever written. It was commissioned as an official national history by the Afghan prince, later amir, Habib Allah Khan (reigned 1901-1919). The author, Fayz Muhammad Khan, better known as “Katib” (The Writer), was a scribe at the royal court. For more than twenty years, he had full access to government archives and oral sources and thus presents an unparalleled picture of the country from its founding in 1747 until the end of the nineteenth century. The roots of much of the fabric of Afghanistan’s society today—tribe and state relations, the rule of law, gender issues, and the economy—are elegantly and minutely detailed in this immense work. This set comprises the complete volumes 1-4 (in 11 parts) of the Sirāj al-tawārīkh

Volume One (The Saduzaʾi Era) contains a geographical sketch of Afghanistan and its political history from 1747-1843. It is based on written sources, European and Afghan, which are carefully detailed at the beginning of the volume, and the recollections of a few illustrious elderly oral informants. 

Volume Two (The Muhammadzaʾi Era) covers the period 1843–1880 and is based mainly on Persian texts and oral sources. It is particularly noteworthy for its insight into the resistance to the British during the Second Afghan War (1879-1880) and on the early career and rise of Habib Allah Khan’s father, ʿAbd al-Rahman Khan (reigned 1880-1901), to whose reign the third volume is mainly devoted. 

Volume Three is a documentary history of the period and contains verbatim transcripts of some 400 decrees and letters originating at the court as well as petitions received. It is an essential primary source for the economic and social history of the country, being packed with data on currency, prices, taxation, trading organizations, and the amir’s evolving economic and fiscal policies. It also has detailed descriptions of social groupings, including non-Muslims; family life—gender and sexual relations; and in particular, the always difficult and often violent relations between Shiʿis and Sunnis. 

Volume Four was written in final form in the mid-1920s and relates to the period 1896-1919. Unlike the earlier three volumes, it was not subject to official oversight. As a consequence, it is much more candid about life and politics in Afghanistan than the previous volumes.

Number of Volumes
4 volumes in 11 parts
Leiden and Boston
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