Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2014

Faiz Ahmed

Assistant Professor of History, Brown University

An ‘Islamic’ Rule of Law in Afghanistan? The Case of the Nizamnama Reforms of Amir Amanullah Khan, 1919-1926

In August 1919, a newly crowned king in Afghanistan named Amanullah Khan (1892-1960) launched an ambitious reform program with the goals of reordering his kingdom into a constitutional monarchy. In this paper, I show that the Nizamnama codes of Shah Amanullah constituted one of the twentieth century’s premier examples of Islamic legal modernism in power, based on a careful study of three integral features of the Nizamnama codification project in particular. First, I turn to the major sources of law consulted by the drafters and cited in the texts themselves—primarily canonical treatises of the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence. Second, the premium Shah Amanullah placed on promoting a “modern Muslim” vision of society and “Sharia-compliant” identity for the Afghan state is evident in the composition of Shah Amanullah’s cabinet and the Nizamnama drafting commission itself.  Both bodies comprised an eclectic and multinational group of Muslim professionals and jurists not only from Afghanistan’s two largest cities, Kabul and Qandahar, but as far as Istanbul, Damascus, Baghdad, and Lahore.  Finally, the paper focuses on one of the only extant documents attributed to the pen of Shah Amanullah—four Friday sermons he delivered in the southern city of Qandahar, Afghanistan in 1925.  Here I show that as Shah Amanullah sought to propel dramatic top-down social change in Afghanistan through law, he was at pains to stress his reforms were a legitimate interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence in light of modern conditions, all the while hoisting the modernist and populist banner of an “Islamic rule of law” in Afghanistan.

Faiz Ahmed (Ph.D., UC Berkeley; J.D., UC Hastings College of Law) is assistant professor of history at Brown University.  A specialist in the “sociolegal” history of the modern Middle East, Ahmed’s primary research explores the individuals and institutions inspiring Islamic legal modernism, especially the production of constitutional charters, civil law codes, and “rule of law” ideology in the late Ottoman empire, Qajar Iran, and Afghanistan. Trained as a lawyer and social historian, his current work focuses on transborder exchanges among Islamic scholars (ʿulamaʾ) and constitutional movements during the long nineteenth century.