Hijrat: The Flight of the Faithful

A British File on the Exodus of Muslim Peasants from North India to Afghanistan in 1920.

Dietrich Reetz

(Arbeitshefte/Forschungsschwerpunkt Moderner Orient, Förderungsgesellschaft Wiss. Neuvorhaben mbH; Nr. 5)

Berlin: Verlag Das Arabische Buch, 1995. ISBN 3-86093-075-3. (Distributor: Klaus-Schwarz-Verlag)

'It was an unexpected sight of some ferocity that astounded all those who witnessed the events of Saturday morning on 14 August 1920. An excited and highly 'truculent' wave of roughly 7,000 people moved from the small frontier town of Landi Kotal to the Khaiber Pass bent on crossing the border from India into Afghanistan against all resistance to fulfill their religious duty of emigration from the Land of the Infidels, the Land of War, Dar-ul-Harb, to the Land of Islam, Dar-ul-Islam, which to them Afghanistan seemed to be. They were chanting religious slogans and hymns to the tune of martial music, some of it Islamic and some profoundly British. 'One large company was played out of British India to the tune of the British Grenadiers, played on an old fife!'

This was the height of the campaign, named Hijrat after its famous precursor led by Muhammad, the Prophet and founder of Islam. The monograph introduces and discusses a file from the British Library, India Office Records Collections, containing 66 telegrams, memos and letters reporting on the campaign. The India Office file is published in facsimile in the annex.

When evaluating these astounding events the monograph argues that this movement should not be treated as a religious campaign only. It attempts to show how it operated on the cross-lines of local political culture of the Frontier Province, of the nationalist movement, embodied in the Khilafat and the non-co-operation campaign, and of the politics of religion.

This is the fifth publication in a series of Arbeitshefte - working manuscripts - published by the Center for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin. The Center emerged from projects of the former Academy of Sciences of erstwhile East Germany. It was attached to the Max-Planck-Society from 1992 till 1995. It is now an inter-university research center under the aegis of the Berlin state government, serving Berlin's three universities. On an interdisciplinary basis, scholars from Eastern and Western Germany work on modern historical and contemporary topics concerning South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.



Center for Modern Oriental Studies, Kirchweg 33, Nicholassee

14129 Berlin, Germany, Tel: +49 +30 80307-0, Fax: +49 +30 80307-210

D. Reetz: Tel: Ext. -116, Email: dreetz@rz.hu-berlin.de