were most probably Israelites”
“I love Israel, for my forefathers…
were most probably Israelites”
“I love Israel, for my forefathers were most probably Israelites”
…Says Pashtun-historian from India Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi
40 years ago, in triumphant nation of Israel of 1967, in the Jewish community of India occurred an extraordinary event: the President of India Dr. Zakir Hussain made a highly surprising visit to the Ohel David Synagogue of Pune, Maharashtra, which was celebrating its centenary. The significance of the event and the title of the guest were incommensurable and caused a lot of surprise. Why?
Dr. Navras Jaat Aafreedi has his own explanation. Dr. Zakir Hussain, one of the most famous sons of India, honored with the India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, was a member of a Pathan/Pakhtun/Pashtun tribe – the Afridi. And the Afridi tribe is identified with the lost tribe of Ephraim, one of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.
Navras Jaat Aafreedi is an Indian citizen, a representative of the Afridi tribe too, and an historian. He isn’t 30 yet but he has Ph.D. on Medieval & Modern Indian History, and his research topic was: “The Indian Jewry and the Self-Professed ‘Lost Tribes of Israel’ in India”. His book of the same title is the third serious major work ever by a Gentile (non-Jew) on this subject. Now he is doing his Post-Doctoral Research at Tel Aviv University.
"Small minorities and marginal groups in all parts of the world have always interested me", he told me in his interview, "But I was always more interested in Jews than any other group because of their impressive accomplishments and achievements, in spite of their numerical insignificance, and also because Muslims in my home town Lucknow tended to blame Jews for everything evil in the world. My interest in the Jews further deepened when my late uncle once said to me that our roots were Israelite. I was then 12 years old. Right then I decided that I would explore my probable Israelite roots when I get to the doctoral level. There were no Jews in my home town Lucknow. I only met Jews for the first time when I started researching for my Ph.D. But the more I read about Jews the more my admiration grew for them. The Jewish saga is a tale of unprecedented heroism and self-sacrifice; Jews were humiliated and mistreated like no other people in history. That despite this, the Jews rose and returned to their ancient homeland (Israel) after two thousand years, speaks volumes about the character of these tenacious people. I admire Jews as much for their resilience and courage as for their wisdom and scholarship”.
After getting his Ph.D. from Lucknow University in 2005, Navras won scholarships from the Centre for Judaic Studies, Shandong University, China and the Israeli Government. The terms of the Chinese scholarship were more lucrative but Navras chose Tel-Aviv. “It’s only for my love for Israel”, - he explains.
Navras began his research of the connection between Afridi Pathans/Pakhtuns from Malihabad in Lucknow district (state Uttar Pradesh) and the Ephraim tribe. Pakhtuns settled here in the mid XVIII century and they are about 1200 today. It is a drop in the ocean compared to about 45 million Pashtuns of the world. Pathans/Pakhtuns/Pashtuns mainly live in the highlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan and are divided into 60 tribes and 400 clans.
Afridi tribe is one of the largest (about three million) and very martial. They controlled the famous Khyber and the Kohat passes, collected tribute from caravans and became famous for their fearlessness and selflessness in the battles with everyone who tried to conquer Afghanistan: from Mughal troops in the XVI and XVII centuries to Britons in the XIX and Russians in the XX century.
For hundreds of years Afridis have called themselves Bani Israel (Pushto for the Hebrew B'nei Yisrael meaning Children of Israel) and believe that they originated from the Ephraim tribe. Lately, the hatred of Jews in the Islamic world made the young generation of Pashtuns give up their beliefs. But Navras quotes a number of Jewish immigrants from Afghanistan who testify to the prevalence of many Jewish rituals and customs among the Afridi Pathans, e.g., the lighting of candles on Shabbat, keeping long side locks, wearing shawls resembling the tallith, circumcision on the eighth day after birth, and Levirate.
He refers to great Jewish writers like Saadia Ga’on and Moses Ibn Ezra, who mention Afghanistan and the Pathan territories in Pakistan as the home of Jews descended from the lost tribes, and to a number of medieval Arabic and Farsi texts. In the XIX century some British travelers and officers, like Sir Alexander Brunes and J.P.Ferrier, wrote about the Israelite origin of Afghan tribes.
Many Pathans don’t conceal their descent. For example Emir Abdul Rahman, the grandfather of the former Afghan Shah Amanullah, stated expressly in his History of the Afghans that the Afghans were of Israelite descent.
Lately, other and more impressive arguments have been produced by Joshua Benjamin in his book “Mystery of the Lost Tribes”, the second president of Israel Itzhak Ben-Zvi (The Exiled and the Redeemed (1957), Social Anthropologist from Hebrew University Dr. Shalva Weil ("Beyond the Sambatyon: The Myth of the Ten Lost Tribes"), Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail (“The Tribes of Israel”.), ex-Director of Archeology Fida Hasnain from Kashmir and others. According to some Jewish and European explorers from the Middle Ages till present day, Afridi tribe originates from Ephraim, Yusufzai tribe – from Joseph, Rabbani from Reuben, Levani – from Levi, Ashuri - Asher, etc.
Together with Prof. Tudor Parfitt (SOAS, London University) and Dr. Yulia Egorova (Cardiff University) Navras collected DNA samples of 50 paternally unrelated Afridi males of Malihabad and they are now being analyzed at University College London.
Navras sees deep meaning in the fact that the world’s only Muslim who teaches Jewish theology at a western university happens to be an Afridi Pathan. She is Prof. Mehnaz Mona Afridi of the Department of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
And the only Muslim in the world who has initiated a Jewish-Muslim dialogue with Daniel Pearl's father Judea Pearl, happens to be a Pathan, Prof. Akbar S. Ahmad.
And isn't it amazing that he, Navras Jaat Aafreedi, himself was from the very childhood so strongly drawn to Jews, absolutely unfamiliar and alien to him? It can be a peculiar proof too, my interlocutor smiles.
Would the time for repatriation of bellicose and unruly Afridi to Israel ever come? “Not today, and not tomorrow, but it is possible. During his recent trip to London, Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail met two Afridi Pathan families who had fled their country during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They spoke about their desire to embrace Judaism, the faith of their supposed ancestors…” he says.
Alexander Maistrovoy, journalist of newspaper “Novosty nedely”, Israel
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