Islam, Monarchy, and the Nation-State: Religious Authority, Royal Legitimacy, and the Amani-Kemalist Dialectic

By Faiz Ahmed
Submitted to Session P4949 (Networks of Circulation and the Exchange of Ideas in Modern Afghanistan, 2017 Annual Meeting
Afghanistan; Ottoman Empire; Turkey;
19th-21st Centuries; Comparative; Islamic Law; Islamic Thought; Middle East/Near East Studies; Nationalism; Persian;
The aim of this paper is to reconsider the legacy of one of the most daring, polarizing, and arguably misunderstood Afghan rulers in modern history—Shah Amanullah Khan Muhammadzai (r. 1919-1929)—through the lens of a rare source attributed to his reign: a transcript of sermons he delivered in Qandahar in 1925. By providing a microhistory to the Amani period based on this largely unexamined text, I ask: what was Amir Amanullah seeking to accomplish in delivering these khutbehs? What new perspectives can they impart about his style of rule, the social and legal reforms embodied in his reforms, and how the amir framed them to the people of Qandahar at the midpoint of his decade-long reign? Finally, what can they tell us about Amanullah’s model of leadership and rule as compared—and contrasted—to Kemalism?

While the Amani reforms of 1919-1929 have long been attributed to Kemalist mimcry in light of Amanullah’s friendship with the Turkish Republic’s founder, this paper attempts to uncover a neglected feature of Amanullah’s reformist project: how he presented them to his own people. It argues that while Amanullah Khan advocated social change through top-down legal engineering, he was adamant to stress his reforms were a legitimate interpretation of the shari‘a, and specifically within Hanafi jurisprudential perimeters, thereby tackling modern state-building challenges from a purportedly authentic (and certainly nationalized) Afghan juridical corpus. In contrast to developments in Republican Turkey, Amani Afghanistan’s version of a Muslim nation-state and monarchy stressed continuity with predominantly Hanafi religio-legal orthodoxy in the country, rather than blistering rupture.