Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, History, Brown University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of California / Berkeley
Muslim Modernities and Rule of Law Projects in Afghanistan: The Nizamnama Codes of Shah Amanullah and the Indo-Turkish Juridical Nexus, 1919-1929

The limited historiography on Afghanistan conventionally tributes Shah Amanullah (1919-1929) for laying the foundations of a modern Afghan state though his promulgation of the 1923 Constitution and subsequent Nizamnama law codes. A cursory glance at these reforms has led many observers to describe Amanullah with such labels as “progressive,” “secular”, “ahead of his time”, or even “pro-Western modernizer.” What these readings elide, however, was the reformist king’s resolve that Afghanistan’s constitution and the totality of his reforms fully comply with sacred Islamic law, the Sharia. The premium Amanullah placed on promoting a simultaneously modern and Islamic identity for the Afghan state is evident in the composition of the Nizamnama drafting commission—an eclectic group of Muslim jurists and politicians that included liberal bureaucrats from the palace administration, conservative ulama linked to Deobandi madrasas in India, Pashtun tribal notables, and Turkish legal advisors. The latter included Badri Bey, a former Istanbul police chief who served as the Nizamnama commission’s director. Through archival research in Turkey and India, including declassified government papers on Afghan affairs, private writings of commission members, student records, and newspapers from the popular presses of both countries, this project examines the contours of Young Turk and Indian Muslim influence in the Nizamnama drafting process, and how Turkish officials such as Badri Bey negotiated reforms with traditional ulama and the burgeoning intelligentsia of Kabul. Focusing on emerging legal debates and transformations rather than Amanullah’s “failure” to build a strong state in Afghanistan, a social-intellectual history of the Nizamnama commission presents a rare, non-colonial glimpse into the shared struggles of Turks, Afghans, and Indian Muslims from diverse social and ideological backgrounds to build home-grown (and heterogeneous) visions of the rule of law on their own terms.