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The Ismailis of Afghanistan: THE SAYEDS OF KAYAN

Kayan is a valley in Soshi districts of Baghalan province, situated in northern Afghanistan, having 27000 sq. km Ismaili fiefdom. The forefathers of these Sayeds mostly resided in this valley, making them known as the Kayani Sayeds. Nothing is known about their origin except that Sayed Nadir Khan writes in Tarikh-i Gharib (Bombay, 1938) that his forefather, Shah Salih came from Iran to Herat and Kandahar. He then proceeded towards Hazarajat and settled at last in the province of Baghalan. Granted that this tradition is genuine, it means that it was most probably the period of Imam Gharib Mirza (d. 1496).

When these Sayeds settled in Afghanistan, the Safavids had captured whole Iran in 1500 A.D. and proclaimed Shiism as state religion. This despotic and bigoted dynasty ordered the merciless slaughter of the Sunnis and Sufis in Iran. Most of them migrated towards Afghanistan. It is however not confirmed whether these Sayeds belonged to these oppressed people or they are really Sayeds from among the Shia Ismailis. They never collected religious dues in Afghanistan nor imposed their headships on religious ground during the early period of their settlement. There was a minor group of Hindu residing in Kabul, who professed Ismailism secretly. They however practiced taqiya and hid themselves in the mantles of the Hindus. The local Ismailis in Afghanistan were the only people to know their faith and link with the Imam. The Afghan Ismailis collected the tithe and delivered to them, who remitted it to the Imam in Iran. According to the narration of Sayed Nadir Khan, "About 120 years ago, our forefathers were under Bairam Diyal and his fathers and they were the Hindus living in Kabul. Their descendants also are in Kabul and our ancestors delivered their oblations to them in Kabul."

The Sayeds of Kayan served the Afghan jamats as local rulers for a long period. The first among them was Sayed Abdul Hadi, who in his advanced age had made a trip of Mahallat from Kabul. Imam Hasan Ali Shah appointed him as the mukhi of Central and Northern parts of Afghanistan. He was the first mukhi in Afghanistan, who administered the offices of dai and khalifa. His son Shah Hussain succeeded him.

Nothing is known about the early life of Shah Hussain or his services as a mukhi. Sayed Nadir Khan is also silent in his Tarikh-i Gharib on the subject. He was however the first among the Afghan jamat to see Imam Hasan Ali Shah at Kandahar in 1842. He died in 1854 and left behind seven sons, two of them were appointed as the mukhi, viz. Sayed Jafar Khan and Sayed Gawhar Khan.

The next who followed was Sayed Jafar Khan, who served as a mukhi for 40 years. He was very influential during the regime of Sher Ali Khan. The tradition has it that once Imam Hasan Ali Shah sent four Arabian horses as a gift to Sher Ali Khan through Sayed Jafar Khan and Mirza Ahmed. Sher Ali Khan kept the horses in Kataghan for breeding. The people of Kataghan still remember the race of the horses as Barnaj and Barata. He died in 1894 and his younger brother, Sayed Gawhar Khan succeeded him.

The tradition has it that Gawhar Khan was appointed by Imam Aga Ali Shah (d. 1885), which seems incorrect, as the death of Sayed Jafar Khan took place in 1894, or nine years after the death of Imam Aga Ali Shah. His followers delivered him the tithe in Kulab, Bukhara. The tenure of his office lasted for four to five years, and died in 1898. His son, Fridun Khan, succeeded him.

Sayed Faridun Khan (1875-1908) executed the office of the mukhi for 10 years and died at the age of 33 years in 1908 at Kulab. He had no male issue. He is noted to have composed some poems and painted few pictures. His younger brother, Sayed Timor Khan, succeeded him.

Sayed Timor Khan was born in 1900 in Kulab, Bukhara. He was about 24 years old during the death of his brother. It was the period of Habibullah Khan (1901-1919), the son of Abdur Rahman (d. 1901) when Sayed Timor Khan succeeded. He presented a petition to the ruler that he could not live in exile, therefore, the amir allowed him to return to his homeland. He however settled with his relatives in Kabul, where his followers flocked and delivered tithe. He was however marked by the government and was exiled to Kandahar, where he remained for two years. Habibullah Khan was killed in 1919 and was succeeded by his son, Amanullah (1919-1929), who issued orders that all the exiled people of his father and grandfather could freely return to their homeland, and also issued a decree of delivery of the properties that had been seized from them. Sayed Timor Khan returned to his native place, Kayan and appointed his younger brother, Sayed Nadir Khan as a mediator between himself and the government for the protection of his dynasty and followers.

In his advanced age, Sayed Timor Khan came in Kabul, and was displeased with his brother and returned to Kayan, where he died in 1924. He had not nominated his successor from among his three sons, Shuja Khan, Hasan Khan and Manuchehr Khan. He had some poetical talents. His Diwan lithographed in Bombay in 1932 by his friends.
Sayed Nadir Khan (1900-1971) had a wide and intensive struggle against his brother’s son, Shuja Khan, who claimed that he was a true heir of his father. Mohammad Hasan from Torkman Hazarajat and some other people from northern areas also supported him. With his spies he had planted in all directions, Sayed Nadir Khan easily inflicted a defeat to Shuja Khan and became an absolute leader of the Ismailis.

General Muhammad Nadir Shah (1929-1933) had also captured Kabul and proclaimed as a king of Afghanistan. Sayed Nadir Khan seized an opportunity and declared his loyalty to General Muhammad Nadir Shah. Sayed Nadir Khan was on very intimate terms with the ruling government of General Mohammad Nadir Shah and his son Mohammad Zahir Shah (1929-1973) and also other ruling classes. His elder son, Sayed Nasir Naderi, secured seats during the two parliamentary elections. He was also elected in the parliament in 1969 as a deputy of parliament. In order to boost his influence, he married to the daughter of a Looy Khan, a very influential Sunni Pushtun chief.

The Ismailis of Shibar, Iraq and Kalu districts, Bamiyan province, Siasang, Behsud and Quli Khish districts, Wardak province and Torkman and Shikhali districts, Parwan province, also called Hazarajat have confined themselves to agriculture and animal husbandry. They were the poorest jamat in the central part of Afghanistan and wandered in search of bread and butter. Since 1946, they gradually drifted towards the city until the end of 1980 and almost 90 percent of them settled in Kabul, while the Ismailis of the northern areas remained in their old nests unmoved. The significant benefit of the emigrants was the education, which they gave to their children.

After enjoying his authority for over 50 years, Sayed Nadir Khan died at the age of 71 years in 1971, and was buried in Kayan. His son Sayed Nasir Naderi assumed his father’s authority.

Sayed Nasir Naderi said to have visited Paris at the end of 1971, and gained an audience of the Imam in presence of Chhotu Lakhani. It was decided to appoint him as an agent of the Imam for two years.


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