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The ethnonym Afghan (Persian/Pashto: افغان) has been used historically to refers to members of the Pashtuns. However, since the second half of the twentieth century, the term "Afghan" is also used to refer to any native or inhabitant of Afghanistan, including those outside of the Pashtun ethnic group.
Some modern scholars suggest that the word "Afghan" is derived from the words awajan/apajan in Avestan and ava-Han/apa-Han in Sanskrit, which means "killing, striking, throwing and resisting, or defending." Under the Sasanians, and possibly the Parthian Empire, the word was used to refer to men of a certain Persian sect.
The earliest mention of the name Afghan (Abgân) is by Shapur I of the Sassanid Empire during the 3rd century CE, In the 4th century the word "Afghans/Afghana" (αβγανανο) as a reference to a particular people is mentioned in the Bactrian documents found in Northern Afghanistan.
In the past, several scholars sought a connection with “horse,” Skt.aśva-, Av.aspa-, i.e., the Aśvaka or Aśvakayana. According to linguist Johnny Cheung, however, it would be extremely difficult to reconcile these names with the word Afghan.
The etymological view supported by numerous noted scholars is that the name Afghan evidently derives from Sanskrit Aśvakan, q.v. the Assakenoi of Arrian. This view was propounded by scholars like Christian Lassen, J. W. McCrindle, M. V. de Saint Martin, and É. Reclus,
The Indian epic Mahabharata speaks about Kambojas among the finest horsemen, and ancient Pali texts describe their lands as the land of horses. Kambojas spoke Avestan language and followed Zoroastrianism. Some scholars believe Zoroastrianism originated in the land of Kambojas.
Hiven Tsiang, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim visiting the Afghanistan area several times between 630 and 644 CE, speaks about the native tribes inhabiting the region. According to scholars such as V. Minorsky, W.K. Frazier Tyler and M.C. Gillet, the word Afghan has appeared in the 982 Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam, where a reference is made to a village.
"Saul, a pleasant village on a mountain. In it live Afghans".
Saul was probably located near Gardez, in the Paktia province of Afghanistan. Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam also speaks of a king in "Ninhar" (Nangarhar), who shows a public display of conversion to Islam, even though he has over 30 wives, which are described as Muslim, Afghan, and pagan or Hindu wives. Some of these names were used as geographical terms. For example, "Hindu" has been used historically as a geographical term to describe someone who was native from the general region known as Hindustan or the land of the Indus river.
Al-Utbi, the Ghaznavid chronicler, in his Tarikh-i Yamini records that many Afghans and Khiljis (possibly the modern Ghilji) who lived between Laghman and Peshawar enlisted in the army of Sabuktigin after Jayapala was defeated.
"The Afghans and Khiljis who resided among the mountains having taken the oath of allegiance to Subooktugeen, many of them were enlisted in his army, after which he returned in triumph to Ghizny."
Al-Utbi further states that Afghans and Ghiljis made a part of Mahmud Ghaznavi's army and were sent on his expedition to Tocharistan, while on another occasion Mahmud Ghaznavi attacked and punished a group of opposing Afghans, as also corroborated by Abulfazl Beyhaqi. In the 11th century, Afghans are mentioned in Al-Biruni's Tarikh-ul Hind ("History of the Indus"), which describes groups of rebellious Afghans in the tribal lands west of the Indus River in what is today Pakistan. It is recorded that Afghans were also enrolled in the Ghurid Kingdom (1148–1215). By the beginning of the Khilji dynasty in 1290, Afghans have been well known in northern India. Ibn Battuta, a famous Moroccan traveler, visiting Afghanistan following the era of the Khilji dynasty in 1333 writes.
"We travelled on to Kabul, formerly a vast town, the site of which is now occupied by Afghans. They hold mountains and defiles and possess considerable strength, and are mostly highwaymen. Their principal mountain is called Kuh Sulayman. It is told that the prophet Sulayman [Solomon] ascended this mountain and having looked out over India, which was then covered with darkness, returned without entering it."— Ibn Battuta, 1333
"He [Khalid bin Abdullah son of Khalid bin Walid] retired, therefore, with his family, and a number of Arab retainers, into the Sulaiman Mountains, situated between Multan and Peshawar, where he took up his residence, and gave his daughter in marriage to one of the Afghan chiefs, who had become a proselyte to Mahomedism. From this marriage many children were born, among whom were two sons famous in history. The one Lodhi, the other Sur; who each, subsequently, became head of the tribes which to this day bear their name. I have read in the Mutla-ul-Anwar, a work written by a respectable author, and which I procured at Burhanpur, a town of Khandesh in the Deccan, that the Afghans are Copts of the race of the Pharaohs; and that when the prophet Moses got the better of that infidel who was overwhelmed in the Red Sea, many of the Copts became converts to the Jewish faith; but others, stubborn and self-willed, refusing to embrace the true faith, leaving their country, came to India, and eventually settled in the Sulimany mountains, where they bore the name of Afghans."— Ferishta, 1560-1620
The last part of the name -stān is a Persian suffix for "place of", the Pashto translation of which is stogna prominent in many languages of Asia. The name Afghanistan is mentioned in writing by the 16th century Mughal rulers Babur and his descendants, referring to the territory between Khorasan, Kabulistan, and the Indus River, which was inhabited by tribes of Afghans.
"The road from Khorasān leads by way of Kandahār. It is a straight level road, and does not go through any hill-passes... In the country of Kābul there are many and various tribes. Its valleys and plains are inhabited by Tūrks, Aimāks, and Arabs. In the city and the greater part of the villages, the population consists of Tājiks*(Sarts). Many other of the villages and districts are occupied by Pashāis, Parāchis, Tājiks, Berekis, and Afghans... In the hill-country to the north-east lies Kaferistān, such as Kattor and Gebrek. To the south is Afghānistān."— Babur, 1525
The name "Afghanistan" is also mentioned many times in the writings of the 16th-century historian, ferishta, and many others.
"The men of Kábul and Khilj also went home; and whenever they were questioned about the Musulmáns of the Kohistán (the mountains), and how matters stood there, they said, "Don't call it Kohistán, but Afghánistán; for there is nothing there but Afgháns and disturbances." Thus it is clear that for this reason the people of the country call their home in their own language Afghánistán, and themselves Afgháns. The people of India call them Patán; however the reason for this is not known. But it occurs to me, that when, under the rule of Muhammadan sovereigns, Musulmáns first came to the city of Patná, and dwelt there, the people of India (for that reason) called them Patáns—but God knows!"— Ferishta, 1560-1620
"The country now known as Afghanistan has borne that name only since the middle of the 18th century, when the supremacy of the Afghan race became assured: previously various districts bore distinct apellations, however the country was not a definite political unit, and its component parts were not bound together by any identity of race or language. The earlier meaning of the word was simply "the land of the Afghans", a limited territory which did not include many parts of the present state but did comprise large districts now either independent or within the boundary of British India (Pakistan)."
Historical and obsolete suggestionsEdit
There are a number of other hypotheses suggested for the name historically, all of them obsolete.
- The "Maḫzan-e Afġān" by Nimat Allah al-Harawi, written in 1612 at the Mughal court, traces the name Afghan to an eponymous ancestor, an Afghana, identified as a grandson of Saul. Afghana was supposedly a son of Irmia (Jeremia), who was in turn a son of Saul (Talut). Afghana was orphaned at a young age, and brought up by David. When Solomon became king, Afghana was promoted as the commander-in-chief of the army. Neither Afghana nor Jeremia son of Saul figure in the Hebrew Bible. Some four centuries after Afghana, in the 6th century BCE, Bakhtunnasar, or Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babil, attacked the Kingdom of Judah and exiled the descendants of Afghana, some of whom went to the mountains of Ghor in present-day Afghanistan and some to the neighborhood of Mecca in Arabia. Until the time of Muhammad, the deported Children of Israel of the east continually increased in number in the countries around Ghor which included Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni and made wars with the infidels around them. Khalid bin Walid is said to belong to the tribe of descendants of Afghana in the neighborhood of Mecca, although actually he was from the tribe of Quraysh. After conversion to Islam, Khalid invited his kinsmen, the Children of Israel of Ghor, to Islam. A deputation led by Qais proceeded to Medina to meet Muhammad and embraced Islam. Muhammad lavished blessings on them, and gave the name Abdur Rashid to Qais, who returned to Ghor successfully to propagate Islam. Qais had three sons, Sarban, Bettan and Ghourghusht, who are progenitors of the various Pashtun tribes.
- Samuel G. Benjamin (1887) derived the name Afghan from a term for 'wailing', which the Persians are said to have contemptuously used for their plaintive eastern neighbors.
- H. W. Bellew, in his 1891 An Inquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan, believes that the name Afghan comes from Alban which derives from the Latin term albus, meaning "white", or "mountain", as mountains are often white-capped with snow (cf. Alps); used by Armenians as Alvan or Alwan, which refers to mountaineers, and in the case of transliterated Armenian characters, would be pronounced as Aghvan or Aghwan. To the Persians, this would further be altered to Aoghan, Avghan, and Afghan as a reference to the eastern highlanders or "mountaineers".
- Michanovsky suggests the name Afghan derives from Sanskrit Avagana, which in turn derives from the ancient Sumerian word for Badakhshan - Ab-bar-Gan, or "high country".
- Scholars such as Yu Gankovsky have attempted to link "Afghan" to an Uzbek word "Avagan" said to mean "original".
- "Biases and controversies around the word "Afghan"". Retrieved 18 January 2022.
- "AFGHAN | Definition of AFGHAN by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of AFGHAN". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on 27 May 2021. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
- Fikrat & Umar 2008.
- Noelle-Karimi, Christine; Conrad J. Schetter; Reinhard Schlagintweit (2002). Afghanistan -a country without a state?. University of Michigan, United States: IKO. p. 18. ISBN 3-88939-628-3. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
The earliest mention of the name 'Afghan' (Abgan) is to be found in a Sasanid inscription from the 3rd century, and it appears in India in the form of 'Avagana'...
- Balogh, Dániel (12 March 2020). Hunnic Peoples in Central and South Asia: Sources for their Origin and History. Barkhuis. p. 144. ISBN 978-94-93194-01-4.
[ To Ormuzd Bunukan , ... greetings and homage from ... ) , Pithe ( sot ] ang ( ? ) of Parpaz ( under ) [ the glorious ) yabghu of [ Heph ] thal , the chief ... of the Afghans
- Sims-Williams, Nicholas (2000). Bactrian documents from northern Afghanistan. Oxford: The Nour Foundation in association with Azimuth Editions and Oxford University Press. ISBN 1-874780-92-7.
- Arrian writes them Assakenoi. Strabo also calls them Assakanoi, but Curtius calls them Assacani.
- Indische Alterthumskunde, Vol I, fn 6; also Vol II, p 129, et al.
- "The name Afghan has evidently been derived from Asvakan, the Assakenoi of Arrian... " (Megasthenes and Arrian, p 180. See also: Alexander's Invasion of India, p 38; J. W. McCrindle).
- Etude Sur la Geog Grecque & c, pp 39-47, M. V. de Saint Martin.
- The Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1891, p 83, Élisée Reclus - Geography.
- "Even the name Afghan is Aryan being derived from Asvakayana, an important clan of the Asvakas or horsemen who must have derived this title from their handling of celebrated breeds of horses" (See: Imprints of Indian Thought and Culture abroad, p 124, Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan).
- cf: "Their name (Afghan) means "cavalier" being derived from the Sanskrit, Asva, or Asvaka, a horse, and shows that their country must have been noted in ancient times, as it is at the present day, for its superior breed of horses. Asvaka was an important tribe settled north to Kabul river, which offered a gallant resistance but ineffectual resistance to the arms of Alexander "(Ref: Scottish Geographical Magazine, 1999, p 275, Royal Scottish Geographical Society).
- "Afghans are Assakani of the Greeks; this word being the Sanskrit Ashvaka meaning 'horsemen' " (Ref: Sva, 1915, p 113, Christopher Molesworth Birdwood).
- Cf: "The name represents Sanskrit Asvaka in the sense of a cavalier, and this reappears scarcely modified in the Assakani or Assakeni of the historians of the expedition of Alexander" (Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological..by Henry Yule, AD Burnell).
- See few more references on Asvaka = Afghan: The Numismatic Chronicle, 1893, p 100, Royal Numismatic Society (Great Britain); Awq, 1983, p 5, Giorgio Vercellin; Der Islam, 1960, p 58, Carl Heinrich Becker, Maymūn ibn al-Qāsim Tabarānī; Journal of Indian History: Golden Jubilee Volume, 1973, p 470, Trivandrum, India (City), University of Kerala. Dept. of History; Literary History of Ancient India in Relation to Its Racial and Linguistic Affiliations, 1970, p 17, Chandra Chakraberty; Stile der Portugiesischen lyrik im 20 jahrhundert, p 124, Winfried Kreutzen.; See: Works, 1865, p 164, Dr H. H. Wilson; The Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1891, p 83; Chants populaires des Afghans, 1880, p clxiv, James Darmesteter; Nouvelle geographie universelle v. 9, 1884, p.59, Elisée Reclus; Alexander the Great, 2004, p.318, Lewis Vance Cummings (Biography & Autobiography); Nouveau dictionnaire de géographie universelle contenant 1o La géographie physique ... 2o La .., 1879, Louis Rousselet, Louis Vivien de Saint-Martin; An Ethnic Interpretation of Pauranika Personages, 1971, p 34, Chandra Chakraberty; Revue internationale, 1803, p 803; Journal of Indian History: Golden Jubilee Volume, 1973, p 470, Trivandrum, India (City). University of Kerala. Dept. of History; Edinburgh University Publications, 1969, p 113, University of Edinburgh; Shi jie jian wen, 1930, p 68 by Shi jie zhi shi chu ban she. Cf also: Advanced History of Medieval India, 1983, p 31, Dr J. L. Mehta; Asian Relations, 1948, p 301, Asian Relations Organization ("Distributed in the United States by: Institute of Pacific Relations, New York."); Scottish Geographical Magazine, 1892, p 275, Royal Scottish Geographical Society - Geography; The geographical dictionary of ancient and mediaeval India, 1971, p 87, Nundo Lal Dey; Nag Sen of Milind Paṅhö, 1996, p 64, P. K. Kaul - Social Science; The Sultanate of Delhi, 1959, p 30, Ashirbadi Lal Srivastava; Journal of Indian History, 1965, p 354, University of Kerala Dept. of History, University of Allahabad Dept. of Modern Indian History, University of Travancore - India; Mémoires sur les contrées occidentales, 1858, p 313, fn 3, Stanislas Julien Xuanzang - Buddhism.
- Journal of American Oriental society, 1889, p 257, American Oriental Society; Mahabharata 10.18.13.
- Kambojo assa.nam ayata.nam i.e Kamboja the birthplace of horse......(|| Samangalavilasini, Vol I, p 124||).
- Aruppa-Niddesa of Visuddhimagga by Buddhaghosa describes the Kamboja land as the base of horses (10/28)
- In the Anushasnaparava section of Mahabharata, the Kambojas are specifically designated as Ashava.yuddha.kushalah (expert cavalrymen).
- tatha Yavana Kamboja Mathuram.abhitash cha ye |
- ete 'ashava.yuddha.kushalahdasinatyasi charminah. || 5 ||.
- Jataka, Vol VI, pp 208, 210 (trans Fausboll); The Jataka, VI, p 110, (Trans. E. B. Cowell) + Videvati XIV.5-6 + Herodotus (I.140); Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1912, p 256, Dr Grierson; Das Volk Der Kamboja bei Yaska, First Series of Avesta, Pahlavi and Ancient Persian Studies in honour of the late Shams-ul-ulama Dastur Peshotanji Behramji Sanjana, Strassberg & Leipzig, 1904, pp 213 ff, Dr Ernst Kuhn
- *Dr V. S. Agarwala writes: "As shown in the Jataka and Avestic literature, the Kamboja was the center of ancient Iranian civilization as is evidenced by the peculiar customs of the country " (Ref: The Kamboja Janapada, January 1964, Purana, Vol VI, No 1, p 229; Jataka edited by Fausboll, Vol VI, p 210.)
- Dr Michael Witzel: "The Kambojas, located somewhere in east Afghanistan, spoke Iranian language and followed Zoroastrian habits of killing lower animals." (Early Eastern Iran and the Atharvaveda, Persica-9, 1980, fn 81, p 114; Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, Vol. 7 (2001), issue 3 (May 25), Art. 9).
- Dr D. C. Sircar: "The Kambojas were of Iranian extractions .. they were settled in Afghanistan region in Uttarapatha. Their numbers were occasionally swelled by new migrants from Iran, especially during age of Achaemenians." (Purana, Vol. V, No. 2, July 1963, p 256, Dr D. C. Sircar).
- Willem Vogelsang: "The name Kamboja was commonly applied in Indian sources to the Iranian population of the borderlands i.e Afghanistan." (The Afghans (Peoples of Asia), 2001, p 127).
- Dr R. Thapar: "The Kambojas were a tribe of the Iranians " (History of India, Vol. I, 1997, p 276).
- E. Benveniste: "The Kambojas ... were known in Indian traditions as a foreign people, with peculiar customs, ... raised celebrated horses, spoke - as the Nirukata (II,2.8) tells us - a language with Iranian words in it ... and had, according to Buddhist Jataka (VI.206, 27-30), a certain religious practice - the killing of insects, moths, snakes and worms - which we may recognize as Mazdean from the passages in Mazdean books like the Videvati (XIV.5-6) as well as from the remark of Herodotus (I.140) about the Persian religion " (Journal Asiatique, CCXLVI 1958, I, pp 47-48, E. Benveniste).
- Cf: "Zoroastrian religion had probably originated in Kamboja-land (Bacteria-Badakshan)....and the Kambojas spoke Avestan language" (Ref: Bharatiya Itihaas Ki Rup Rekha, p 229-231, Jaychandra Vidyalankar; Bhartrya Itihaas ki Mimansa, p 229-301, J. C. Vidyalankar; Ancient Kamboja, People and the Country, 1981, p 217, 221, J. L. Kamboj).
- Dawn News, The cradle of Pathan culture
- Vogelsang, Willem (2002). The Afghans. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 18. ISBN 0-631-19841-5. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- "AMEER NASIR-OOD-DEEN SUBOOKTUGEEN". Ferishta, History of the Rise of Mohammedan Power in India, Volume 1: Section 15. Packard Humanities Institute. Archived from the original on 14 May 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2012.
- R. Khanam, Encyclopaedic ethnography of Middle-East and Central Asia: P-Z, Volume 3 - Page 18
- A Glossary Of The Tribes And Castes Of The Punjab And North-West Frontier Province Vol. 3 By H.A. Rose, Denzil Ibbetson Sir Published by Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 1997, Page 211, ISBN 81-85297-70-3, ISBN 978-81-85297-70-5
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- History Of The Mohamedan Power In India Archived 2009-02-11 at the Wayback Machine by Muhammad Qāsim Hindū Šāh Astarābādī Firištah, The Packard Humanities Institute Persian Texts in Translation.
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- Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah (1560–1620). "The History of India, Volume 6, chpt. 200, Translation of the Introduction to Firishta's History (p.8)". Sir H. M. Elliot. London: Packard Humanities Institute. Archived from the original on 26 July 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
- M. Longworth Dames, G. Morgenstierne, R. Ghirshman, "Afghānistān", in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Online Edition
- Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor (1987). E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936. Vol. 2. BRILL. p. 146. ISBN 90-04-09796-1. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
- Olaf Caroe, The Pathans: 550 BC - AD 1957, Link
- Persia, p 142, Samuel G. Benjamin.
- John Charles Griffiths, Afghanistan, pg 13
- Gary W. Bowersox, Bonita E, Gemstones of Afghanistan, pg 27
- Gankovsky, Yu. V., et al. "A History of Afghanistan." Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982. 8vo. Cloth. 359 p. USD 22.50
- Biases and Controversies around the word "Afghan"
- Fikrat, Mohammad Asef; Umar, Suheyl (2008). "Afghan". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica Online. Brill Online. ISSN 1875-9831.
- Kieffer, Ch. M. (1983). "Afghan". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica, Volume I/5: Adat–Afghanistan. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 481. ISBN 978-0-71009-094-2.