School of Global Studies

The Afterlives of Urban Muslim Asia: Alternative Imaginaries of Society and Polity

In the context of upheaval in Muslim Asia, studies of the region's urban centres and migrant communities can offer critical insights into identities that transcend sectarian and national identity and enable greater sensitivity in heritage preservation.

Yet, it is widely accepted that conflict and large-scale migrations over the past century, of minorities and Muslims, has led to 'decosmopolitanisation'. This project will provide new empirical data and analysis of Muslim Asia's legacy of cosmopolitan urban living in the context of migration and conflict. Its empirical focus is on four cities: Herat, Kabul, Aleppo, and Bukhara. It will explore the experiences of ethno-religious minorities and the extent to which legacies of cosmopolitan urban life remain a vital aspect of the cities' Muslim populations. We anticipate that by doing so the project will enable greater sensitivity in urban heritage policy and have a transformative effect on public perceptions about Muslim Asia.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Sussex (School of Global Studies and the Sussex Asia Centre), the University of Copenhagen (Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies), and the University of Cambridge (Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies). The project’s partner in Afghanistan is the Afghanistan Institute of Strategic Studies.

This project commenced in January 2022 and it is funded by a grant from the AHRC.

.AHRC

About the project

While it is widely accepted that conflict and large-scale migrations over the past century, of minorities and Muslims, has led to 'decosmopolitanisation' of Muslim Asia’s cities, we have also seen that interreligious relations actually persist, but often unrecognised, in older and newer diasporic contexts, and in appeals to a shared urban heritage. The historic presence of ethno-religious minorities in Muslim Asia’s urban centres is also a source of intellectual activity, political debate, and cultural imagination in the region. Influential actors–merchants, intellectuals, artists, and politicians - advance geographical imaginaries that contest both modern conceptions of the secular nation-state as well as sectarianised notions of culture and polity. The cultural basis for such imaginaries is often to be found in historical and cultural imaginings of Asia’s cities which have been ‘branded’ by national and international actors as ‘cultural heritage’ sites. This comparative research programme proposes to analyse the ways in which both everyday living and projects of the imagination invoke urban imaginaries, and the extent to which these transcend (or reinforce) religious, sectarian, national and ethnic boundaries. It will deliver a novel approach to the significance of urban heritage to politics and culture in Muslim Asia, challenge one-dimensional understandings of Muslim-non-Muslim relationships, and respond to an urgent need for younger generations of the diasporas understudy to have access to material relating to their backgrounds.

Objectives
  1. Instead of focusing on the declining diversity of Muslim Asia’s urban centres, we will investigate their afterlives. By deploying the term ‘afterlives’ we seek to bring attention to the ongoing significance of the cultural legacies of urban centres in places elsewhere and amongst communities whose ‘names’ identify them with past residence in particular cities. The project will seek to document variation in the degree to which the selected urban centres continues to be a powerful source of identity and ask what accounts for such variation.

  2. A second focus will be the cultural, geographic, and political imaginaries in which the selected cities play a role today. This aspect of the project will necessitate an ethnographic engagement with the cities' Muslim majority populations. This aspect of the project will necessitate an ethnographic engagement with key categories of actors – merchants, intellectuals, artists, and politicians – active in the promotion of discourses of urban heritage, and also with a broad range of architectural, textual, visual, poetic, culinary and literary genres, some of which have been formally identified as constituting ‘intangible heritage’.

  3. By focusing on lived practices and activities in the present-day, the project will go beyond the tendency evident in much scholarship on emigrant minority communities to dwell on the centrality of nostalgia and memory to their collective and individual identities. It will seek, instead, to understand the transmission of habits and modes of urban living to new locales and their ongoing circulation in historic urban centres themselves. In particular, we will focus in diaspora communities on the ability to make connections across boundaries as an especially powerful aspect of the legacy of cosmopolitan living in Muslim Asia’s urban centres.
The cities

Afterlives will focus on the persistence or avoidance of interreligious relations between Muslims and non-Muslims and the modes by which these either elicit or invoke shared urban sensibilities. The project will achieve these aims by means of a comparative programme of research on the after lives of four carefully selected urban centres in Muslim Asia: Kabul and Herat (Afghanistan), Aleppo (Syria) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan).

Each of these urban centres have historically been home to sizeable communities of ethno-religious minorities, including Jews, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus. Each of these centres has also witnessed large-scale migration of ethno-religious minorities over the past century - this process, though, has occurred at different time scales and in relationship to contrasting political processes that have been regional, national, and global in their scope. In terms of being the focus for attempts to restore and maintain their tangible and intangible heritage, these cities occupy different points along a spectrum. In the period before the current conflict, Aleppo’s residents witnessed multiple waves of urban heritage activity. Since 2002, Kabul and Herat have seen limited projects of urban heritage restoration – especially by the Aga Khan Foundation - that focus on historic buildings. By contrast, Bukhara has been the site of long-term and often intrusive forms of tangible and intangible heritage renewal and preservation over several decades; most recently in the context of ‘Silk Road’ tourism. 

Kabul and Herat: Afghanistan

Afghanistan was home to substantial communities of Hindus, Sikhs and Jews throughout much of the twentieth century. These communities played a central role in the historic trade in commodities between South and Central Asia and remained an important aspect of Afghanistan’s economy during the twentieth century. Most of the country’s Jews had emigrated to Israel and the USA by 1952. The onset of civil war in 1992 resulted in the emigration of most Hindus and Sikhs. Communities established themselves in Hamburg and Long Island (especially Hindus) and London, Birmingham and Amsterdam (Sikhs), and New York, Tel Aviv and Bangkok (Jews). Few Hindu and Sikh families remain in Afghanistan; ongoing residency is uncertain, especially given new provision in India for religious-based naturalisation.

Bukhara: Uzbekistan

The Emirate of Bukhara was home to a substantial Jewish community identifying themselves as ‘Bukharan’ and speaking a Judaeo-Persian language. In the years following the Bolshevik revolution, many Jewish and Muslim merchant families from the region emigrated –many moved to Afghanistan, others travelled to Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula, and the Russian Empire. Many Jews who had arrived in Afghanistan from Soviet Central Asia left for India, Israel, and the USA. Bukhara’s Muslim exiled communities settled in Afghanistan; wealthier families relocated in the 1970s to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States. In the 1980s, a wave of Bukharan Jews migrated to New York and Vienna.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, further Bukharan Jews migrated to Israel and New York. In the 2000s, the ‘Bukharan’ presence in New York was bolstered by substantial labour migration into the city of Muslims (especially from Samarqand).  Bukharan Jews and Muslims are now well-established in New York and New Jersey.

Aleppo: Syria

The late 19th century witnessed a largely economic migration of the Jews of greater Syria, mainly to Egypt, Europe and the Americas. By the turn of the century, Aleppo was home to around 7,000 Jews. The majority worked in commercial occupations; the wealthiest, engaged in international trade, were connected to diasporic networks in Marseilles, London, Paris, Vienna, Milan, and Manchester. Many of humbler origins left Aleppo after 1909 to escape conscription into Ottoman armies, most heading to the Americas. Some migrated to Palestine for religious and ideological reasons. The establishment of Israel in 1948, and the conflict between Arab nationalism and Zionism, led to further migration. The second half of the twentieth century saw a succession of tightening and easing of restrictions on the ability of Aleppine Jews to travel beyond Syria’s national borders; a major relaxation of restrictions in 1992 led to the emigration of the great majority of the 4,000 Jews left in Aleppo. Today, the Aleppine Jewish community in New York is one of the largest diasporic settlements, numbering between 20,000 and 40,000. Many initially continued the trades they had practiced in Syria, forming a merchant diaspora.

Methodology

We will assess the range of ways in which the urban centres under investigation have and have not maintained significance as sites of identity, visitation and heritage tourism, investment and political engagement. Our twin focus will be on the cities’ dispersed populations and those actively involved in the production and dissemination of knowledge about them. Afterlives will thus conduct research on the persistence or avoidance of interreligious relations between Muslims and non-Muslims and the modes by which these either elicit or invoke shared urban sensibilities. We will conduct ethnographic fieldwork amongst migrant minority and Muslim communities in London, Manchester, Bangkok, New York, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Vienna, and in the selected cities themselves (in Bukhara, Herat and Kabul; conditions in Aleppo do not currently allow for fieldwork).

1) The project will generate empirical data on temporal and geographic dispersal from the selected cities. We will map flows of people through space and time by conducting textual and visual research.

2) The project will investigate how projects of imagination – such as notions of Aleppines being the heirs of a unique 'Eastern Spirit' and the idea that Herat in Khorasan was an inclusive cultural realm – are produced and sustained, and explore how they transcend and reinforce religious, sectarian, national and ethnic boundaries. To do so we will investigate emergent configurations of culture, history, identity and geography in Muslim Asia by exploring the significance of relationships and exchanges between Muslim and ethno-religious minorities to imagination in the region today.  We will identify and interview in-depth key actors involved in the active production of imaginaries (intellectuals, musicians, chefs, poets, as well as local, national and diaspora-oriented politicians and activists). We will record the genres (visual, literary, musical, culinary) in which such imaginations are generated and sustained.  We will explore the implication of architectural reconstruction on such imaginaries by way of visits to key sites, and interviews with relevant heritage specialists, local and national policy-makers, activists, pilgrims/tourists, and custodians.

3) Given declining levels of religious diversity in urban centres, it is widely assumed that Silk Road-era commercial relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim merchants are no longer of relevance. Yet our recent fieldwork has shown that Muslim and Sikh traders from Afghanistan interacted from 1980s onwards in London and Moscow, while Aleppine Jews in New York bought cloth from Muslim suppliers in Aleppo. To explore such interreligious commercial relationships in detail we will carry out in-depth ethnographic work with diasporic merchants in key trading sites - markets, shops and warehouses - and explore documentary and archival material in the form of biographies and auto-biographies of merchants, company records, and oral history interviews.

4) To research the ‘doing’ of connectivity, and, more generally, the role played tacit modes of acting across lines of difference in sustaining cultural and religious sensibilities of urban living this project will focus on specific practices (e.g. of financial entrustment, institution building), rituals (both religious and secular), expressions of sociality (e.g. of neighbourhood life and community commensality), and topographies (e.g. of cemeteries, sacred sites, and market-places). We will gather this material in order to analyse the role these practices have played in facilitating and constraining the cultivation of legacies of collective urban living over time and space in migrant contexts and communities.

People

Team Members:

Professor Magnus Marsden (University of Sussex, Anthropology)

Magnus Marsden is the project’s Principal Investigator. He will conduct research on the afterlives of Kabul and Herat, focusing especially on the trajectories of these cities’ Sikh, Hindu and Jewish populations.

Dr Paul Anderson (University Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies; Assistant Director, HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies, Cambridge University)

Paul Anderson will conduct research on Aleppo, exploring the significance of the city for the identities of its diasporic communities.

Dr Vera Skvirskaja (Associate Professor Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen).

Vera Skrviskaja’s work will concern Bukhara, focusing especially on the relationships between Bukharan Muslims and Jews and the ways in which these are shaped by their relationship to the city.

International Advisory Board:

Professor Shah Mahmoud Hanifi (History, James Madison University)

Professor Thomas Loy (Institute of Iranian Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)

Professor Jonathon Shannon (Anthropology, Hunter College).

Newsletter

The first edition of the Afterlives Newsletter is now available

The second edition of the Afterlives Newsletter is now available

Relevant publications 

Relevant publications by project members:

Magnus Marsden published an article titled "How central Asian Jews and Muslims worked together in London’s 20th-century fur and carpet trade" in The Conversation

Magnus Marsden published a paper titled "Adjusting scales: Jewish trading networks in and beyond Afghanistan, 1950-present-day". History and Anthropology, 1-20, 2023

Magnus Marsden, 2023, published a paper on "Intellectual exchanges in Muslim Asia: Intersections of history and geography". In Copeman, J. Et al. An Anthropology of Intellectual Exchange: Interactions, Transactions and Ethics in Asia and Beyond. New York: Berghahn

Magnus Marsden, 2023, has an article published on the transformations of Afghanistan's commercial networks in the 9/11 legacies project -  Islamist Radicalism in the Balkans (911legacies.com)

Magus Marsden and Vera Skvirskaja, 2023, produce an article for Zentralasien-Analysen

Magnus Marsden, 2023, wrote a blog post published on the FifteenEightyFour website, by Cambridge University Press

Vera Skvirskaja, 2023, published an article in The Bukharian Times, titled ‘Samarkand’s Secret Recipe: Jewish Shashlik'

Magnus Marsden, 2022, published a chapter in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History (Oxford University Press). The chapter is called 'Global Mobile Afghanistan c. 1900–Present'

Magnus Marsden, 2022, has an article published titled 'Beyond State-Centrism, Towards Acknowledging Relationality: Understanding Afghanistan from an Inter-Asian Perspective,' it appears in Ethnoscripts, Vol. 24, Issue 1

Magnus Marsden and Vera Skvirskaja, 2022, publish an article addressing the connections between the refugee crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan and advocated for better recognition of these in the development of refugee policy.

Magnus Marsden published an article (Farsi) on Afghanistan’s Jewish history for Nowruz Radio.

Marsden, Magnus. 2021. Beyond The Silk Roads: Trade, Mobility and Geopolitics across Eurasia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marsden, Magnus. 2020. ‘The alternative histories of Muslim Asia’s urban centres: De-cosmopolitanisation and beyond’. Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies 38(1):8-31.

Marsden, Magnus. 2018. ‘Beyond Bukhara: Trade, identity and interregional exchange across Asia’. History and Anthropology 29(sup1):S84-S100.

Magnus Marsden (2018) Islamic cosmopolitanism out of Muslim Asia: Hindu–Muslim business co-operation between Odessa and Yiwu, History and Anthropology, 29:1, 121-139,

Anderson, Paul. Forthcoming. Civic Contestations: Merchants, Markets and Urban Order in Pre-Conflict Syria. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Anderson, Paul. 2020. Not a Silk Road: trading networks between China and the Middle East as a dynamic interaction of competing Eurasian geographies. Global Networks20(4), pp.708-724.

Anderson, Paul. 2018. “Aleppo in Asia: Mercantile Networks between Syria, China and (Post-) Soviet Eurasia since 1970”. History and Anthropology 29: S67-S83.

Caroline Humphrey, Magnus Marsden, and Vera Skvirskaja. 2019. Cosmopolitanism in the City: Interaction and Coexistence in Bukhara. In S. Mayaram, The Other Global City, London: Routledge.

News 
    • On the 27 March, Professor Marsden and Dr. Skvirskaja joined colleague Dr. Anderson in Cambridge for the Cambridge Festival, where they took part in a panel discussing the Afterlives of Urban Muslim Asia. The event was held at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. You can find out more about it at https://www.festival.cam.ac.uk/events/afterlives-urban-muslim-asia

 Photo of Dr. Skvirskaja presenting at the panel

    • An article on was published on 'How central Asian Jews and Muslims worked together in London’s 20th-century fur and carpet trade' on the 26 March by Professor Marsden. The article appears in The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/how-central-asian-jews-and-muslims-worked-together-in-londons-20th-century-fur-and-carpet-trade-226283

Image from 'The Conversation' website featuring the article

    • Professor Marsden delivered a seminar at the Cambridge Central Asian Forum seminar series on4 March. His talk was entitled 'Beyond the Jewish Triangle: A Comparative and Connective Analysis of Muslim and Jewish Central Asian Emigres in the Twentieth Century'
    • Professor Marsden gave an online talk on Afghan mobility and refugees at a conference entitled 'The Contemporary Developments in Afghanistan: Implications on Central Asia.' The conference was held on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 and was organised by the Institute of Advanced International Studies, at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent
    • In January, Dr. Anderson conducted a two-week period of fieldwork among Syrian Armenians in Yerevan, Armenia, and conducted 10 life history interviews focusing especially on relations to Islam and Muslims, and economic activities before, during and since the Syrian civil war
    • The project held a one day workshop in collaboration with ADI in Copenhagen. The focus of the workshop was on the concept of 'afterlives' and its relevance to intersecting fields of regional and transregional scholarship. The workshop enabled members of team to bring their work into conversation with  scholars in Denmark and Sweden who are specialists in the study of Palestine, Syria, and the Caucasus
    • On the occasion of the 554th birthday of Guru Nanak, Professor Marsden addressed the Afghan Sikh Khosti community on Monday 27 November 2023 in the Guru Nanak Society of London Trust Gurdwara in Tooting, South London. He discussed the project and also talked about the relevance of the teachings of Guru Nanak for the world today

    • On the 22 November 2023, Dr. Skvirskaja gave a two-hour lecture followed by a Q&A on ‘Post-Soviet coexistence and Bukharan Jews, Uzbekistan’ at Københavns Folkeuniversitet, Folk-University (People’s University), Copenhagen

    • 21 November 2023, Professor Marsden ran a three-hour focused seminar on research outline writing to students from Afghanistan studying at MA and PhD level across the campus. The seminar included students from Global, Education, Law, and Business Schools

    • In November 2023, Dr. Anderson conducted an initial two-week period of fieldwork among Syrian Armenians who have moved to Yerevan, Armenia from Aleppo and from other places in Syria over the last 30 years, and especially since the Syrian civil war. He has been exploring questions of mobility, heritage and identity among Syrian Armenian traders and artisans, and the nature of connections and attachments they have been able to maintain, including with/to Aleppo and Syria

    • On Saturday November 16 2023, Professor Marsden addressed a conference organised by the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities of London. The conference focussed on the importance of recognising the contribution of the young professionals of these communities, especially in the field of public health. His talk focused on the significance of medicine to the history of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs and modes of integrating young people within the community

    • November 4,2023 Professor Marsden delivered the keynote lecture at the "Bringing Afghanistan to Scale Conference" held at Merton College, University of Oxford. The lecture explored the trading networks of Afghan Jews between 1950 and the present day

    • At the end of September 2023, Professor Marsden presented a paper entitled "Intellectual Exchange in Muslim Asia" at a symposium held at Christ's College Cambridge to celebrate the career of Professor Susan Bayly and mark the publication of the book "An Anthropology of Intellectual Exchange: Interactions, Transactions and Ethics in Asia (Berghahn 2023), An Anthropology of Intellectual Exchange: Interactions, Transactions and Ethics in Asia and Beyond | BERGHAHN BOOKS
Award presented to Professor Susan Bayly

Professor Susan Bayly celebrating career and book success

    • In September 2023, alumni of Whittingehame Boys School, Hove, which shut in 1967, met to celebrate and reminisce at a reunion event in Brighton. Professor Marsden and Dr. Anderson joined the former students, along with local journalist Yael Breuer, to meet with and interview alumni. You can read more about the event at ‘Jewish Eton’ bonds are still strong 60 years on - The Jewish Chronicle (thejc.com). Professor Marsden also appeared on The Latest TV, with Ms. Breuer, to discuss the former school - https://vimeo.com/880198306 

    • 9 September 2023, an article by Professor Marsden on the transformations of Afghanistan's commercial networks is published in the 9/11 legacies project - Islamist Radicalism in the Balkans (911legacies.com)
    • Professor Marsden presented his research findings online at a conference 'Sustainable Development in Central Asia" organised by the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Tashkent on September 4 2023

    • In June 2023, Dr. Skvirskaja conducted fieldwork jointly with Moska Nadjib - the project’s photographer - in Vienna, Austria. The main purpose of the trip was to document visually the vibrant social and professional life of the Bukharan Jewish community in the city

    • July 2023, Professor Marsden travelled to Cambridge to present a paper on Afghan Jews. The paper, titled "Adjusting scales: Jewish trading networks in and beyond Afghanistan, 1950-present-day," was published in the December edition of History and Anthropology, 1-20

 

    • June 2023, Dr. Skvirskaja published an article in The Bukharian Times, titled ‘Samarkand’s Secret Recipe: Jewish Shashlik'
      http://bukhariantimes.org/06_15_2023/mobile/index.html

 

    • May 2023, the researchers and Advisory Board met in Cambridge to discuss the progress of the project and future developments 
      Advisory Board Panel

      Advisory Board Panel

 

    • On 2 May, Professor Marsden attended an event held at the Guru Nanak Darbar in Southall to mark the publication of a book on the history of Afghan Sikhs by Dr Tej Khurana  (right image)

Meet-up at the Guru Nanak Darbar in Southall   Dr. Tej Khurana

 

    • May 2023, Dr. Anderson came to Sussex to launch his book "Exchange Ideologies: Commerce, Language and Patriarchy in Pre-conflict Aleppo" (Cornell University Press). The book was published in April '23

People sat at table

    • Professor Marsden attended on 8 February 2023 the launch of the Institute of Advanced International Studies (AIS) at the University of World Economic Diplomacy, University of Tashkent. A Memorandum of Understanding between AIS and the School of Global Studies (University of Susex) was also signed during the course of the event, which was attended by the leadership of UWED and the Deputy Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan
    • January and February 2023, https://www.afghanim.co.il publish an article by Professor Marsden. This is the first of two articles written and published on the website of Afghanistan's Jewry. The article was requested by the website organisers whom Professor Marsden met during research in Israel. The article was translated into Hebrew and is widely read by Afghan Jews living in Israel and in the diaspora. The article arises from meetings which Professor Marsden held with Jews from Afghanistan in Israel and New York, which sparked questions and interest amongst the community about the project   https://www.afghanim.co.il/%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A4-%D7%9E%D7%92%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%A1-%D7%9E%D7%A8%D7%A1%D7%93%D7%9F 
    • Professor Marsden visited the Afghan Islamic Cultural Centre in Neasden, London, on 28 November 2022, and discussed the project's Sims and goals with Imams and mosque officials 

     Cultural Centre Meeting

    • The Afterlives team met in Southall, London on 22 November 2022 to discuss and share their initial research findings with community organisations, including the Afghan EKTA cultural association and Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar MeetupResearch Team Meeting Community MembersSouthall Centre Meetup

    • On 14 October 2022 Magnus Marsden spoke on the occasion of the opening of the offices of Farsi Action Foundation in Uxbridge Opening of Farsi Foundation
    • Dr. Paul Anderson, the Univerity of Cambridge, presented some of his early ethnographic findings on 23 November at the Cambridge Anthropology-Theology Network 

Event Poster

 

    • On 17 November Professor Marsden attended an online event on "Beyond the Silk Roads: Trade, Mobility and Goepolotics across Eurasia" organised by colleagues from the University of World Economy and Diplomacy.

Event Poster

 

    • Professor Marsden joined colleagues at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada on the 2 November 2022 to discuss his research.

Event InformationEvent Poster

    • Professor Marsden addressed a gathering at the Asamai Hindu temple in Southall, London on the 20 September 2022, marking the death of Queen Elizabeth.

    • Professor Marsden spoke on the 9 October 2022 at a panel to mark the book launch of the memoirs of the former Mayor of Kabul, Adbul Karim Misaq (1935-2016).

PanelistsBook Cover

 

 

 

 

    • Ukraine's asylum and immigration policy has been 'relaxed' in practice, and the Afghan diaspora has been able to establish itself and contribute to both the country's economy and the development of Afghanistan. We could learn something from this in Denmark, write Associate Professor Vera Skvirskaja and Professor Magnus Marsden in this opinion piece

    • The Afterlives project team - Professor Marsden (Sussex), Dr Anderson (Cambridge), Dr Skvirskaja (Copenhagen) and Dr Moradian (AISS) launched the project with an online meeting on Friday 4 February, 2022.

    • Professor Marsden gave a talk on 20 February at an event organised by the Farsi Action Foundation on the occasion of the International Mother Language Day. The event was held at the University of West London, Ealing.

    • Professor Marsden published an article exploring the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine for Afghan communities - including families of Sikh and Hindu background - in the country.

      Prof Magnus

   farsi action poster

Blogs

  Whittingehame College

 On the 9th and 10th of September 2023, the ‘old boys’ of Whittingehame College descended at a hotel on Brighton’s seafront from across the world. A Jewish boys’ school located in Brighton and Hove between 1931 and 1958 and in Handcross Park from 1958 until 1967, Whittingehame attracted Jewish students from Britain, Europe and the Muslim-majorities countries of West Asia and the Middle East. In the 1950s, Whittinghame also granted admission to Muslim students. Whittingehame closed in 1967 yet was of continuing significance for its former student body who established a College Old Boy’s Club and organised gatherings in Israel, London and Brighton.

 Jewish boys from Afghanistan and Syria studied at the school in the 1950s, maintaining connections with co-religionists from their countries of origin but also establishing relationships with those from other parts of the world. These relationships would play an important role in their future social and professional lives.

 Jack Abrahams, for example, came to Whittingeheame from Israel in 1957 having moved earlier in the decade from Kabul, Afghanistan. Jack has warm memories of his time at Whittingehame, “We were away from our families’, he remarked, “and so the relationships we established were more than friendship, we became what I refer to as 'brotherly friends' ”. While at Whittingehame, Jack was in contact with others Afghan Jews living in London, including a fur merchant who acted as his guardian.  After leaving Whittingehame in 1962, Jack moved to New York where he established a successful firm that traded with Afghanistan. He later began trading in precious stones with family members and friends dispersed across Asia. Jack now runs a jewellery company in New York’s 47th street that is renowned for its collection of rubies and emeralds.  Besides his professional activities, Jack played a leading role in the establishment of the Anshei Shalom synagogue, the place of worship of New York’s Afghan Jews. He puts his success down to his experiences at Whittingehame. “How did I have the courage to invite members of Congress, the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the US, and the President of the US to an event in New York to commemorate 2600 years of Jewish history in Afghanistan?”, he asked. “My time at Whittingehame is what gave me the strength to do such things”. 

Jack Abrahams & David Khafi, Alumni on the Beach

Alumni Jack Abrahams & David Khafi

 Debo Attar moved to Whittingehame from Milan, though his family had been based in Aleppo, Syria. Debo’s father had traded in textiles in Shanghai and Bombay before moving to Beirut and then Milan. Debo arrived in Whttingehame aged eight, and remembers feeling lonely and abandoned. He left the school after a couple of years, but returned some years later. Having eventually finished his schooling, Debo lived and worked in South and North America, Europe and Asia. Debo told us that Whittingehame had taught him the importance of trust to building personal relationships and conducting business.  

Whittingehame Club Member Holding Jacket

Whittingehame alumni showing off his jacket

 One former pupil who had grown up in Egypt before attending Whittingehame in the 1960s recalled different facets of the school’s approach to ethical formation. Its approach to kosher rules had emphasised, rather than legalistic doctrine, the spirit of non-cruelty to all creatures. The school had also emphasised the principle of anti-racism: he recalled one occasion where a boy who had made a racial slur against a Muslim pupil at the school had been publicly punished at an assembly and also “beaten up” by other Jewish boys at the school. He credited the school with the anti-racism stance he had taken with him into his career, when as a manager he had gone above and beyond organisational requirements in dealing with racism against black colleagues. 

 Spending time with Whittingehame’s Old Boys provide us with a vivid glimpse into the significance of migration for education for the building of multi-national relationships and the formation and stabilisation of transnational networks in the post-War era.

Group Photo of Whittingehame Alumni

Group Photo of Whittingehame Alumni

 

 Abdullah's Family

 Written by Professor Magnus Marsden

  

 In October, I visited the small industrial city of Çerkezköy located about an hour’s drive to the west of Istanbul. Çerkezköy has become the home over the past five years to several hundred families from northern Afghanistan who have emigrated there from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Having visited Jeddah in 2016, I was keen to explore this community’s move to Turkey. Many of Jeddah’s Afghans were the decedents of Muslim families that had fled the Emirate of Bukhara in the 1920s after its incorporation within the Soviet Union.  

  In Çerkezköy, I spent most of my time with a friend from Afghanistan who lives there, Abdullah Kamal. I first met Abdullah in 2012 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where Abdullah ran a watch repair business. Abdullah’s family left Kabul in the early 1980s, thereafter living between Kabul, Dushanbe, and Karachi. In 2016, he and his family moved from Tajikistan to Turkey.  

Street View of Çerkezköy

Çerkezköy Street View

  Abdullah is descended from families who had migrated to Afghanistan from Central Asia in the early twentieth century. Abdullah’s paternal grandfather fled Bukhara for Afghanistan in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution fearing his high status background would put him at risk. Having settled in the city of Mazar-e Sharif, he capitalised on his expertise in horsemanship and worked in the stables of a Buzkashi player, before moving to Kabul where he found employment as a cook. 

  Abdullah’s maternal grandmother also fled Central Asia in the wake of the Soviet revolution. A young girl, her family soon gave her in marriage to a man from her home region who had studied at the Islamic seminary of Deoband in northern India. After her husband’s death, she eventually moved to Kabul, working as a tailor and eventually remarrying. Abdullah’s father, the late Kamaludin Kamal, learned the skills of repairing watches. In the 1970s, he opened a shop of his own in the Pul-e Mahmoud Khan area of Kabul’s old city. In the early 1980s, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Abdullah’s father took the entire family to Karachi.  

  In the decades that followed, the family established watch and telephone repair shops in Karachi, Dushanbe, and, briefly, Kabul. They lived through intense communal violence in Karachi and civil war in Dushanbe. The family once had an opportunity to move to Canada as part of a refugee resettlement scheme. Abdullah’s grandmother refused to leave the land of her birth. She eventually died a refugee from Afghanistan in Tajikistan, a country in whose territory she had been born.  

Abdullah working in a watch shop

Abdullah in a watch shop

  Abdullah married and established his own family. His children were born in Pakistan, Tajikistan, and in Turkey. ‘We have been refugees and moving around for four generations’, he told me. ‘My children have been born in three different countries and now we live in Turkey and will soon by the Grace of God be granted Turkish citizenship’. Abdullah family’s experiences of dispersal over decades have shaped their approach to life: ‘We always stay together’, he remarked to me. ‘The last time members of my family opted to travel alone, they lost contact with their families forever. Even if we have opportunities to go somewhere better on our own, we prefer to remain together at all costs. ’ 

 

Abdullah working in a watch shop

Abdullah at work in a watch shop

 

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Kuche-ma

 Kuche Ma, pg. 1

Kuche Ma, pg. 2

Kuche Ma, pg. 3

Kuche Ma, pg. 4

Kuche Ma, pg. 5

Download a pdf of the Kuche-ma Blog here

Other resources

Radio Nowruz

Afghanistan Institute of Strategic Studies

 Photographs:

Emir of Bukhara's summer house_ KabulThe Emir of Bukhara's summer house, Qala-ye Fatuh, Kabul

Emir of Bukhara grave_ KabulThe tomb of the last Emir of Bukhara, Shuhada-e Salahin cemetery, Kabul

Emir of Bukhara KabulThe grave of Sayyid Mir Muhammad Alim Khan (1880 - 1944), the last Emir of Bukhara in Kabul's Shuhada-e Salahin cemetery

Bagh Babur KabulBagh-e Babur, resting-place of the first Mughal Emperor, Babur (1483 - 1530), Kabul 

     Afghan Sikh congregants at the Guru Nanak Darabar Gurdwara, Southall, London
     Afghan Sikh congregants at the Guru Nanak Darabar Gurdwara, Southall, London
     A Sikh Gurdwara in the Hindu Guzar neighbourhood of Kabul
     A Sikh Gurdwara in the Hindu Guzar neighbourhood of Kabul
     Hindu Temple, Shor Bazaar, Kabul
     Hindu Temple, Shor Bazaar, Kabul
     Plaque at a Gurdwara in Kabul commemorating Sikh and Hindu victims of a terrorist attack in Jalabad, Afghanistan
     Plaque at a Gurdwara in Kabul commemorating Sikh and Hindu victims of a terrorist attack in Jalabad, Afghanistan
     The Yu Aw syngogue, Herat, Afghanistan
     The Yu Aw syngogue, Herat, Afghanistan
     

 

 Photographs:

Emir of Bukhara's summer house_ KabulThe Emir of Bukhara's summer house, Qala-ye Fatuh, Kabul

Emir of Bukhara grave_ KabulThe tomb of the last Emir of Bukhara, Shuhada-e Salahin cemetery, Kabul

Emir of Bukhara KabulThe grave of Sayyid Mir Muhammad Alim Khan (1880 - 1944), the last Emir of Bukhara in Kabul's Shuhada-e Salahin cemetery

Bagh Babur KabulBagh-e Babur, resting-place of the first Mughal Emperor, Babur (1483 - 1530), Kabul 

     Afghan Sikh congregants at the Guru Nanak Darabar Gurdwara, Southall, London
     Afghan Sikh congregants at the Guru Nanak Darabar Gurdwara, Southall, London
     A Sikh Gurdwara in the Hindu Guzar neighbourhood of Kabul
     A Sikh Gurdwara in the Hindu Guzar neighbourhood of Kabul
     Hindu Temple, Shor Bazaar, Kabul
     Hindu Temple, Shor Bazaar, Kabul
     Plaque at a Gurdwara in Kabul commemorating Sikh and Hindu victims of a terrorist attack in Jalabad, Afghanistan
     Plaque at a Gurdwara in Kabul commemorating Sikh and Hindu victims of a terrorist attack in Jalabad, Afghanistan
     The Yu Aw syngogue, Herat, Afghanistan
     The Yu Aw Synagogue, Herat, Afghanistan