Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier, by T. L. Pennell

I am reading a fascinating description of life as a Christian missionary doctor in Afghanistan by T.L. Pennell in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s.  There are some wonderful photos, such as this one, and I excerpt Pennell’s description of the Mullahs and the religious “ghazi”:

The Bazaar in Peshawur City

The Bazaar in Peshawur City

One cannot overestimate the religious influences emanating from a place like Karbogha. Numbers of religious students are attracted there by the fame of the Mullah even from distant places on both sides of the border, and the offerings of the faithful enable the Mullah to give a free-handed hospitality to one and all, and in Afghanistan there is no quicker road to influence than the ability to do this. It was a tradition in the villages round that when the Mullah daily prepared his saucepans of rice and cakes of unleavened bread in his kitchens, the amount was always found to be sufficient for the pilgrims of that day, even though hundreds might come in before night, unexpected and unprepared for. 

After imbibing not only his theological teaching, but his religious and political ideals, these students are scattered far and wide from Kabul to Peshawur, and from Zwat to Waziristan, where they become his staunch adherents against rival Mullahs or against a materialistic Government. The more fanatical of these Mullahs do not hesitate to incite their pupils to acts of religious fanaticism, or ghaza, as it is called. The ghazi is a man who has taken an oath to kill some non-Muhammadan, preferably a European, as representing the ruling race; but, failing that, a Hindu or a Sikh is a lawful object of his fanaticism. The Mullah instils into him the idea that if in so doing he loses his own life, he goes at once to Paradise, and enjoys the special delights of the houris and the gardens which are set apart for religious martyrs. When such a disciple has been worked up to the requisite degree of religious excitement, he is usually further fortified by copious draughts of bhang, or Indian hemp, which produces a kind of intoxication in which one sees everything red, and the bullet and the bayonet have no longer any terror for him. Not a year passes on the frontier but some young officer falls a victim to one of these ghazi fanatics. Probably the ghazi has never seen him before in his life, and can have no grudge against him as a man; but he is a “dog and a heretic,” and his death a sure road to Paradise.

About Barbara Dillon Hillas

Mother of global nomads; wife of diplomat; peripatetic lawyer; annotator of foreign service life, rule of law, culture, travel, & whatever strikes my fancy.
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