Frontier of Faith

Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland

June 2007 9781850658542 272pp
Out of print
June 2007 9781849041836 272pp


Sana Haroon examines religious organisation and mobilisation in the North-West Frontier Tribal Areas, a non-administered region on the Indo-Afghan border. The Tribal Areas was defined topographically as a strategic zone of defence for British India, but also determined to be socially distinct and hence left outside the judicial, legislative and social institutions of greater colonial India. Conditions of Tribal Areas autonomy came to emphasise the role and importance of the mullahs operating in the region, and the mullahs jealously protected this administrative alienation. Despite its great distance from the centres of political organisation in India and Afghanistan, the frontier occasionally functioned as a military organisation ground for both Indian and Afghan anti-colonial activists until independence and partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Thereafter the Tribal Areas maintained status as an administratively and socially autonomous region in both the Afghan and Pakistani national imaginations and cartographic descriptions. The regional mullas continued to contribute to armed mobilisations of national importance in Pakistan and in Afghanistan over the next half century, in return for which nationalist actors supported the mullahs and their personal interest in regional autonomy. This was the hinterland of successive, contradictory jihads in support of Pakhtun ethnicism, anti-colonial nationalism, Pakistani territorialism, religious revivalism, Afghan anti-Soviet resistance, and anti-Americanism. Only the claim to autonomy persisted unchanged and uncompromised, and within that claim the functional role of religious leaders as social moderators and ideological guides was preserved. From outside, patrons recognised and supported that claim, reliant in their own ways on the possibilities the autonomous Tribal Areas and its mullahs afforded.


‘A stimulating mixture of history and anthropology and an ambitious attempt to draw on different disciplines and sources of information to illuminate the history of the tribal territories of the North West Frontier.’ — David Page, author of Prelude to Partition: The Indian Muslims and the Imperial System of Control, 1920-1932

‘Haroon offers a fascinating street-level view of frontier life and politics.’ — Basharat Peer, The Nation


Sana Haroon completed her PhD with the department of South Asian History, at SOAS, in 2004. She held the Past and Present post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, in 2004-5.

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