Afghanistan's Constitution and the Ottoman Empire

Episode 443

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In this episode, Professor Faiz Ahmed recounts the fascinating history of Afghanistan’s first modern constitution, contextualizing it within a broader legal and political history. The constitution was developed by Afghan, Ottoman and Indian and other scholars, at the behest of the country’s monarch, between 1919-1925. After the first world war, Afghanistan was one of few sovereign Muslim countries. This was one factor which drew many scholars and activists to the court of Amanullah Khan — a “Young Afghan,” graduate of an Ottoman institution in Kabul, and a Muslim modernizer. We learn about the role of figures like Queen Soraya, her father Mahmud Tarzi, and myriad scholars and jurists in shaping the constitution. We discuss the nature of the constitution as a living document, which acknowledges its place within an Islamic legal heritage — as well as the fact that the constitution will evolve. Professor Ahmed also reads from one section of the constitution, which determines “Who is an Afghan?,” and shares his translation. We also learn how the history of the constitution is remembered in Afghanistan today.

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Contributor Bios

Faiz Ahmed is Associate Professor of History at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and currently a Senior Fellow at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations at Koç University in Istanbul, Turkey. He specializes in legal and constitutional history in the Ottoman Empire, Middle East, and South Asia, as well as diasporic communities connected to these regions.
Shireen Hamza is a doctoral candidate in the History of Science department at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the history of medical exchange in the medieval Indian Ocean world. She is also the managing editor of the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies.
Huma Gupta is a post-doctoral fellow at New York University–Abu Dhabi. In 2019, she completed her dissertation “The Architecture of Dispossession: Migrant Sarifa Settlements and State-Building in Iraq” at MIT. There, she was in the History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture + Art department and a fellow in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture. She has been an SSRC International Dissertation Research Fellow, Rabb Family fellow, and MIT Presidential fellow.


Episode No. 443
Release Date: 4 January 2020
Recording Location: Boston, MA
Audio editing by Chris Gratien
Music: Soft and Furious; Chad Crouch
Images and bibliography courtesy of Faiz Ahmed


Ottoman map of Iran, Afghanistan, and Baluchistan, 1914-15. Courtesy of Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives, Istanbul, Turkey. 

“A Map of the Countries between Constantinople and Calcutta,” (London: Edward Stanton, 1912). Courtesy of Library of Congress,

BELOW: Proclamation of Qaderi Sufis of Baghdad to Muslims of India and Afghanistan, 1876. Left to right: Arabic original; Urdu translation; Persian translation. Courtesy of Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives, Istanbul, Turkey.

Mausoleum of Şirvanizade Ahmed Hulusi Efendi (d. 1889), Member of the Ottoman Civil Code (Mecelle) Compilation Commission and first Ottoman envoy to Afghanistan. Amasya, Turkey. Photograph by Faiz Ahmed.

Afghan Dervish Lodge (Afgan Kalenderhanesi), Üsküdar, Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph by Faiz Ahmed.

Ottoman cartographer’s sketch of the Indo-Afghan borderlands, 1892. Courtesy of Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives, Istanbul, Turkey. 

The “Iron Amir” of Afghanistan, ʿAbd al-Rahman Khan (r. 1880–1901). Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London. 

Sarrishtih-i Islamiyih-i Rum (The Islamic Administration of the Ottoman Empire), Kabul, 1886-87. Cover. Courtesy of Afghanistan Digital Library, NYU Libraries. 

Kitab-i Jang-i Rum was Rus (The Russo-Ottoman War). Kabul, 1890-91. Cover. Courtesy of Afghanistan Digital Library, NYU Libraries. 

Asas al-Quzat (Primer for Judges), Kabul, 1885-86. Cover. Courtesy of Afghanistan Digital Library, NYU Libraries. 

Asas al-Quzat (Primer for Judges), Kabul, 1885-86. Sample Page. Courtesy of Afghanistan Digital Library, NYU Libraries. 

Turco-Afghan Treaty, 1922

The First Constitution of Afghanistan. Kabul, April 9, 1923. Cover. Courtesy of Afghanistan Digital Library, NYU Libraries. 

The First Constitution of Afghanistan. Kabul, April 9, 1923. Opening Articles Courtesy of Afghanistan Digital Library, NYU Libraries. 
National Archives, Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph by Faiz Ahmed.

Shah Do Shamshira Mosque, Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph by Faiz Ahmed.   
Kabul University August 2019 Afghan Indepedence conference


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Dissertations and Theses

Akbaş, İsmail. “Afgan Kralı Emanullah Han’ın Türkiye Gezisi ve Türk Afgan İlişkileri.” M.A. Thesis, Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi (Izmir), Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsu, 2008.

Hamşioğlu, Oğuz. “Afgan Modernleşmesi ve Türkiye (1880-1933).” Ph.D Dissertation, Hacettepe University (Ankara), Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsu, 2006.

Korkmaz, Özlem. “Turkiye’nin Afganistan’a Olan Yardımları (1920-1960).” M.A. Thesis,
Istanbul University, Edebiyat Fakültesi, 2000.

Musa, Farid Ahamad. “Atatürk Dönemi Türkiye-Afganistan Münâsebetleri ve Afganistan’ın
Modernlesme Çabaları.” M.A. Thesis, Süleyman Demirel University (Isparta), Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, 2004.

Naim, Hakeem. “The Ottoman Empire and Afghanistan: A Record of Failure and Great Power Intrigue.” B.A. Robert and Colleen Haas Scholars Thesis, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, U.C. Berkeley, 2010.

Özmen, Süleyman. “Mahmud Tarzi’nin Hayatı, İnkılapçılığı ve Faaliyetleri.” Ph.D.
Dissertation, Marmara University (Istanbul), Türkiyat Araştırmaları Enstitüsü. 2008.

Tarzi, Amin. “The Judicial State: Evolution and Centralization of the Courts in Afghanistan,1883-1896.” Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, Department of Middle East Studies, 2003.

Tezcanlı, Merve. “Re-thinking Mecelle-i Ahkam-i Adliyye: Legal Transformation in the
Nineteenth Century Ottoman Empire.” M.A. Thesis, Boğaziçi University, Department of History, 2007.


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