The History of Afghanistan Online

Fayż Muḥammad Kātib Hazārah's Sirāj al-tawārīkh

in The History of Afghanistan Collection
The Sirāj al-tawārīkh is the essential text for any scholar wishing to understand Afghanistan’s history. It forms the core text of historical writings from within Afghanistan for the period, 1747-1919. Mystery surrounded the work for decades to how many volumes existed. After the discovery of suppressed parts of the third and missing fourth volumes, Brill can now offer this extended resource, as it was originally envisaged by its author, in an accessible English language translation.

The Sirāj al-tawārīkh is the most important history of Afghanistan ever written. For many decades, Afghanistan’s history had been recounted through records of the experiences and policies of the British in India. And yet the country has a rich historiographic tradition of its own; the work we present here is the pinnacle of Afghanistan’s own writings.

The Sirāj al-tawārīkh was commissioned as an official national history by the Afghan prince, and later amir, Habib Allah Khan (reign 1901-1919). Its author, Fayz Muhammad Khan, better known as “Katib” (The Writer), was a Shiʿi Hazarah of the Muhammad Khwajah clan and scribe at the royal court. For more than twenty years he had full access to government archives and oral sources. His seminal work, the Sirāj al-tawārīkh, offers us an unparalleled picture of the country through his eyes.

The roots of much of the fabric of Afghanistan’s society today— tribe and state relations, the rule of law, gender issues, and the economy—are elegantly and minutely detailed in this preeminent text.

The work is of unparalleled significance to anyone studying the social, political, and economic history of Afghanistan as well as its relations with British India, Qajar Iran, Tsarist Central Asia, and the emirate of Bukhara. The extraordinary level of detail make it a fundamental resource for all scholarship on Afghanistan.

The History of Afghanistan Online is annotated, fully indexed, and includes introductions, twelve appendices, Persian-English and English-Persian glossaries, and a bibliography.

The History of Afghanistan is also available as a set of 11 volumes in print, covering all four volumes of this unique resource on Afghanistan.

Please contact our sales team for more information on prices and licensing.

Add to Cart

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Appendices, Glossaries and Bibliography (Volumes 1–3)

Volume 3, Conclusion and Volume 4

The History of Afghanistan Online – A Brief User Guide

The aim of this guide is to provide a brief explanation of the various features and components of the online version of The History of Afghanistan, as will be published on the reference-works platform.

For the online publication of this work, XML code has been created for its entire text, including preliminary texts such as the introduction, the index, and numerous appendices. Per standard procedures, the XML has been created following the already existing framework of XML code used for various encyclopedias that have already been placed on the reference-works platform.

The print edition of The History of Afghanistan has a number of specific features, such as references to the page numbering of the primary source, footnotes, and varying layouts for verses and quotes. In developing the XML, an attempt was made to preserve these features of the print edition. Where this proved to be difficult, it was necessary to come up with equivalents that are satisfying as far as clarity and usability are concerned.

Structure of the main text

The print edition of The History of Afghanistan is composed of three volumes, the third volume consisting of four parts. The largest portion of each volume/part is made up of running text – that is, chapters of a few pages, sometimes containing separate subchapters, indicated by headings level 1 and level 2, respectively. However, smaller articles occasionally occur on the same primary-source page. Beside the main text, every volume/part also contains preliminaries, such as a title page, table of contents, preface, list of abbreviations, introduction, appendices (one major appendix is again running text!), and indices. All indices, furthermore, will be combined into one and will be browsable.

The running text will be presented online under a “contents” tab, the preliminaries under a separate “prelims” tab. The main text will be presented on the home page divided into three volumes (and one appendix), and each volume/appendix, when clicked upon, will show the same order of chapters as in the print edition. Each chapter will be accessed as a separate article.

At the end of each article, a link to the next article has been added/inserted. Thus, the user will be able to continue reading the main text in much the same way as he/she would read the print edition, without it being necessary to return to the chapter list on the home page and search for the next article/chapter.


Many articles in the print edition contain references, both in the form of footnotes and in the form of the text’s primary-source page numbering.


In the print edition, footnotes have been placed at the bottom of the specific page on which they occur, and are numbered in ascending order throughout the entire volume/part. The online platform, however, creates a separate list of footnotes for every single article and numbers each list anew. Whenever the footnotes of a chapter contain references to other chapters, these are hyperlinked.

Page breaks

The main text of the print edition also contains indicators marking a page break in the primary source, the page number being placed in the outer margin of the page. As the online platform doesn’t allow for text to be placed in the margin of an article, the page numbers corresponding to the primary-source page break will be put in the running text itself. To differentiate the primary-source page numbering from the main text, the primary-source page numbers will be placed between square brackets and shown in bold.

How these primary-source page-break indicators will eventually be linked to the primary source itself (via a split screen?) is to be determined at a later stage.

Also, in order to preserve some idea of the structure of the print edition and to allow users to properly cite the work according to their own preferences, pilcrow signs ( ¶ ) indicating page breaks in the print edition will be inserted. As with primary-source page breaks, the print-edition page breaks will also be placed within the main text, in the exact place where they occur. On mouse-over, a pop-up showing volume and page number will appear.

Page indicators at start of every article

Additional indicators for both the primary-source pages and the print-edition pages will be consistently inserted at the beginning of every article, so as to provide the user with further structure (by placing the original page numbers in bold and between square brackets and by means of the pilcrow sign, respectively).

New articles mostly begin somewhere in the middle of a primary-source page. In some cases, several smaller articles occur on the same primary-source page. In order to clearly distinguish between a “real” primary-source page break and a page indicator for the next article starting on the same primary-source page, the latter will be presented as a “continued” page indicator (i.e. primary source page + “c”). Additional c’s might be added to the primary-source page indicator, depending on the number of “continued” articles preceding it.

Accordingly, the links at the end of every article will also contain these extra c’s when referring to a new article that has a “continued” primary source page indicator at its start.

All interested in the history of Afghanistan, and anyone concerned with modern Afghan society and its roots in tribe and state relations, the rule of law, gender issues, the economy.
R. D. McChesney, Emeritus Professor, New York University, is the author of Waqf in Central Asia (1991), Central Asia: Foundations of Change (1996), Kabul Under Siege (1999), and numerous articles and book chapters. He is also founder and director of the Afghanistan Digital Library.
M. M. Khorrami, Ph.D. 1996, University of Texas, Austin, teaches Persian language and literature at New York University. His research field is contemporary Persian fiction. His publications include, among others,Modern Reflections of Classical Traditions in Persian Fiction (2003).
Volume One (The Saduzaʾi Era) contains a geographical sketch of Afghanistan and its political history from 1747-1843. It is based on written sources, European and Afghan, which are carefully detailed at the beginning of the volume, and the recollections of a few illustrious elderly oral informants.

Volume Two (The Muhammadzaʾi Era) covers the period 1843–1880 and is based mainly on Persian texts and oral sources. It is particularly noteworthy for its insight into the resistance to the British during the Second Afghan War (1879-1880) and on the early career and rise of Habib Allah Khan’s father, ʿAbd al-Rahman Khan (reigned 1880-1901), to whose reign the third volume is mainly devoted.

Volume Three is a documentary history of the period and contains verbatim transcripts of some 400 decrees and letters originating at the court as well as petitions received. It is an essential primary source for the economic and social history of the country, being packed with data on currency, prices, taxation, trading organizations, and the amir’s evolving economic and fiscal policies. It also has detailed descriptions of social groupings, including non-Muslims; family life—gender and sexual relations; and in particular, the always difficult and often violent relations between Shiʿis and Sunnis.

Volume Four was written in final form in the mid-1920s and relates to the period 1896-1919. Unlike the earlier three volumes, it was not subject to official oversight. As a consequence, it is much more candid about life and politics in Afghanistan than the previous volumes.