There were many Afghans among the Muslims from India who came here
Stabroek News
October 15, 2001

Dear Editor,

Little is known about the Afghan Muslims of Guyana, in fact, some may be amazed to learn that Afghans made their way to Guyana among the Indian Muslims. Many people of Afghan origin (Pathan) also migrated to Suriname. When Indian indentured labourers began arriving in Guyana in 1838, Pathans were already settled all over northern India. The modern districts of Bareilly, Muradabad and Badaun had strong Afghan Township where over 9,000 Afghans settled. Some Pathans migrated from Rohilkhand. Bareilly was a ruined city crowded with unemployed, restless Rohilla Pathans. Most importantly, after the Anglo/ Afghan Wars, the British drew the Durand Line (border) between British India and Afghanistan which sliced through Afghan territory.

Part of Afghanistan where the Pashtun dominate went to India. It must be said also that during the 1880's revolution against the British which started in Meerut, the British rounded up the "trouble makers" and sent them to the "kalla-paanie". A lot of Thakkurs and Pushtuns (Pathans) were flushed out to Guyana and Suriname.

Many cities in Uttar Pradesh were experiencing economic stagnation and poverty. Naturally, this led to heavy migration overseas. Immigration records indicate that the majority of Muslims who migrated to Guyana and Suriname came from the urban centres of Uttar Pradesh: Agra, Ahllahbad, Bahraich, Fyzabad, Gonda, Gorakpur, Ghazipur, Kanpur, Lucknow, Muradabad, Rae- Bareilly, Rampur, and Sultanpur. Small batches also came from Karachi in Sind, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi in the Punjab, Hyderabad, in the Deccan, Srinagar in Kashmir, and Peshawar and Mardan in the Northwest Frontier (Afghan areas).

Immigration certificates reveal major details of Muslim migrants. Their origins such as districts and villages, colour, height, and caste are all indicated. Under caste Muslims are identified by religion: Musulman, Mosulman, Musalman, Syed, Sheik Musulman, Mahomedaan, Pathan, Pattian, and Musulman (Pathan). Pathan is a common term for Pashtuns.

Religion and clan identified many Muslims. From looking at their district of origin, one can tell of their ethnicity; whether they were Sindis, Biharis, Punjabi, Pathans or Kashmiri. The physical profile of the immigrant on his/her Immigration Certificate also helps in recognizing ethnicity. There are enormous spelling mistakes on the Immigration Certificates. Musulman, the Urdu word for Muslim is spelled many different ways and sometimes Muslims were wrongly referred to as Mahomedaan. Peshawar is spelled Peshaur and Nowsherra is Nachera, among many others. Pathan is spelled many different ways.

Clearly we see Afghans (Pathan) clan among the indentured immigrants.

Immigration Certificates clearly indicate under the category of "caste" Pathans, "Musulman Pathan" Pattan or Pattian. The fact that there were Pathan settlements in northern India and the demarcation of the Afghan/Indian border (Durand Line) brought Afghan territory into British India, explain this migration. Immigration Certificates further substantiate this. Pathans migrated from northern India, Peshawar, Nowsherra, and Mardan from the Northwest Frontier as well as Kashmir. The NWFP is now part of Pakistan which borders Afghanistan. From northern India, Pathans came from Dholpur in Rajasthan. From Uttar Pradesh, they migrated from Agra, Rae- Bareilly, Lucknow, Rohtak, Janhora, Jounpore, Gonda, Shahjahanpur, Barabanki, Delhi, among other cities in this province. Pathans also migrated from Multan, Rawalpindi and Lahore in the Punjab, and of course from Peshawar and Mardan in the NWFP. Again the spelling of districts, towns and villages varies.

(See Immigration Certi-ficates at:

Afghans and the Queenstown Masjid

An Afghan with a typical Afghan name, Gool (Gul) Mohammad Khan who was an indentured servant took "the initiative" to build the Queenstown Jama Masjid. "The first Imaam of the Masjid was reported to have been Gool Mohammad Khan." Gool Mohammad Khan after serving his indentureship returned to India. It is also reported that another Muslim bearing the name Jilani was the first Imaam. "The Jamaat comprised Mus-lims from India and Afgha-nistan; the latter apparently arrived in this country via India" (Centennial: 9).

The Rose Hall Uprising

The Rose Hall Sugar workers strike of 1913 saw Muslims resistant to indentureship. This is nothing new, the Pathans have resisted the British in India and some were sent to Guyana and Suriname. Some Muslims who challenged the British bore the last name Khan, a typical Pathan (Afghan) name. Moula Bux, Jahangir Khan and Dildar Khan fit the profile of Pathan heritage. Three other Muslims were also involved Chotey (Young) Khan, Aladi, and Amirbaksh. According to Mangru in his text, Indenture and Abolition, "Moula Bux was nicknamed 'munshiji' (scribe or writer) was formerly an office worker in a jute factory in India" (86). Dildar Khan according to Mangru was recruited in Kanpur, India.

Not all Khans are Pathans

The Pathans have played an important role in the history of their region. From their community came Muslim rulers, administrators, and soldiers. While many of them have moved out of the highlands in search of an easier life in the plains, their mountainous homeland continues to be their citadel of strength and freedom. Thus a great number of Pathans migrated to India, but with the division of the subcontinent in 1947 most Pathans are now in areas controlled by Pakistan.

A well known Indian Muslim community is Pathan. The Pathans are Muslims who arrived from Afghanistan. They normally have their surname as Khan. Regardless of how far the Pathans travel "Puktunwali" is kept. The Pathans in India still have an image of being brave, honest and righteous. Some Indians who converted to Islam adopted the surname Khan and they claim that they are Pathans, which is not always true, but a considerable amount of them live in northern India. Guyanese are very familiar with some Indians of Pathan heritage: Feroz Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Amjad Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Aamir Khan, and Salman Khan, among many others. Pathans claim many interesting stories of their origin.

Like some of the Khans of India, not all the Khans of Guyana are Pathans. The true Khans of the Pathan race are obvious because of their unique character and phenotype. In trying to research this subject, many Guyanese Muslims have discussed with me their Pathan heritage. Their recollections are vague but not farfetched. However, there are Pathans not bearing the last name Khan who made it to the shores of Guyana and Suriname. One family traced their great grandfather to the Pakistan/Afghan border. In fact, this family had artifacts of this family member, by using his Pathan shalwar Kameez; thus they were able to trace the village from where he migrated.

How can you trace this heritage

Getting access to immigration records in the archives of Guyana is difficult if not impossible. Explanation is that the records are very fragile, yet no one is willing to invest the money to microfilm these important documents and have them available on line. With the help of the Dutch, this was achieved in Suriname. Thus, the writer was able to access the Immigration Certificates of indentured migrants to Suriname. Since the immigration patterns from British India to Guyana and Suriname were the same, I was able to substantiate my thesis of Pathan migration to the region. Hopefully, I will have access to the records in Guyana soon. But all of us can rest assured that Afghan Muslims came to the shores of Guyana and Suriname and contributed greatly.

If one has access to his/her ancestor's immigration records it won't be difficult to ascertain if they were Pathans. The last name Khan is a major clue, but not always so, for many have also adopted this title. Pathans also bear other last names besides Khan. Besides vital statistics, the Immigration Certificate indicates district of origin as well as the police station and the place where the immigrant was dropped off prior to the port of Calcutta.

Phenotype can also help in distinguishing the Pathans, but not always the case. The fact that Muslims under the category of caste are identified as "Mosalman", "Musal-man" or Mohammedan, etc also makes it harder. Hence, not all Pathans were categorized as "Pathan" on immigration records. However many of them under the category of caste identified themselves as Pathans. This naturally leaves no doubt of their ethnicity. Another important clue that will help in identifying them as Pathans is the district in which they originated, but this in my opinion will work only if they were from Peshawar, Mardan or Nowsherra which are districts in the North West Frontier Province (also known as the Afghan areas).

Yours faithfully,

R. Chickrie