Awan (Urdu: اعوان, Punjabi Gurmukhi ਆਵਾਨ), is a South Asian Zamindar tribe, putatively of Arab origin,[1] living predominantly in northern, central, and western parts of Punjab, Pakistan. The Awans subscribe to the belief that they are the descendants of the fourth Caliph, Ali, and as such, a number adopt the title, Alvi.


There are different theories pertaining to the origin of the Awans:

[edit] Arab origin

Most Awans maintain they are descended from an individual named Qutb Shah, who originally resided in Herat, served in the army of Mahmud of Ghazni, and was a Hashemite descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali (but by a wife other than the Prophet's daughter, Fatimah[2]). As Sir Lepel Henry Griffin states:
"All branches of the tribe are unanimous in stating that they originally came from the neighbourhood of Ghazni to India, and all trace their genealogy to Hasrat Ali the son-in-law of the Prophet. Kutab Shah, who came from Ghazni with Sultan Mahmud, was the common ancestor of the Awans."[3]
It is asserted that Qutb Shah and six of his sons accompanied and assisted Mahmud in his early eleventh century conquests of what today forms parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India. It is claimed that in recognition of their services and valour, Mahmud bestowed upon Qutb Shah and his sons (who, according to tribal traditions, settled primarily in the Salt Range) the title of Awan, meaning "helper".[4]
Tribal history holds that Qutb Shah and his sons married local women who converted to Islam from Hinduism. Qutb Shah’s sons are said to have settled in different regions of the Punjab and to a lesser extent, what now constitutes parts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa; Gauhar Shah or Gorrara, settled near Sakesar, Kalan Shah or Kalgan, settled in Kalabagh, Chauhan colonized the hills close to the Indus, Mohammad Shah or Khokhar, settled by the Chenab, and Tori ‏and Jhajh settled in Tirah.[5] Their descendants not only came to heavily populate these regions, but a number of Awan sub-clans that trace their origins to these six individuals, give their names to various localities such as Golera in Rawalpindi, Khewra in Jhelum, Banjara in Sialkot, Jand in Attock, and Dhudial in Chakwal. Some of Qutb Shah’s sons are supposed to have assumed names that reflected the Hindu heritage of their mothers and the Awan sub-clans that trace their origins to these particular individuals, bear the names of their eponyms.[6]
Amongst those who support the Awan claim to Arab ancestry, are H. A. Rose, Malik Fazal Dad Khan and Sabiha Shaheen. Although Rose was more cautious in assigning an Arab origin to the Awans, he was willing to concede that the tribe may well be Alvi Sayyids, who having sought refuge in Sindh from the Abbasids, allied themselves to Sabuktagin and assisted him in his Indian adventure, for which he bestowed the title of Awan on them (Rose considering it plausible that the name of the Awan tribe was derived from the word 'Ahwan', meaning "helper".[7] And although the Ferozsons Urdu-English Dictionary lists the Awans as a Rajput clan, it does state that the title of the tribe is of Arabic origin, being the plural of the word 'aun', and defining "Awan" as "helpers"[8]).[7] Making reference to W.S. Talbot's assessment of the Awans, Rose also commented:
"But in the best available account of the tribe, the Awans are indeed said to be of Arabian origin and descendants of Qutb Shah."[7]
Malik Fazal Dad Khan supports the traditional account of the Awans' origins, but with some modifications. He considers the Awans to be of Arabian origin and traces their lineage to Ali, but according to him, Abdullah Rasul Mirza was the remote ancestor of the Awans; in the eighth century, he was made a commander of the army of Ghaur by Caliph Haroon-ur-Rasheed, the title of Awan being conferred upon him, and his descendants consequently being called Awans. Sabiha Shaheen (who addressed this issue as part of her MA Thesis) deems this theory tenable. Furthermore, she states that Qutb Shah fled to the Subcontinent along with a small group of people due to Mongol attacks and joined the court of Iltutmish. The majority of his descendants came to refer to themselves as Qutb Shahi Awans[9]

[edit] Indigenous origin

However, there are those who attribute an indigenous origin to the Awan tribe; these include Alexander Cunningham, Harikishan Kaul, and Professor Ahmed Hasan Dani. Cunningham looked upon the Awans as a Rajput clan,[10] whereas Kaul was of the opinion that the tribe was of either Jat or Rajput origin, pointing to the fact that in Sanskrit, the term Awan means "defender" or "protector" and asserting that this title was awarded by surrounding tribes due to the Awans successfully defending their strongholds against aggression.[11] Dani claimed that following the spread of Islam in the region where the Awans predominated, the tribe made a conscious decision to associate itself with a Semitic past, and hence Awans came to refer to themselves as “Qutub Shahis.”[12] Citing Kaul's conclusions, James Wikeley said of the Awans that:
"After the Muhammadan invasions, they seem to have been converted by Syad Kutb Shah, after which the Awans began to call themselves Kutb Shahi, i.e., the followers of Kutb Shah."[13]

[edit] Other theories

Arthur Brandreth believed the Awans to be remnants of Bactrian Greeks.[10]

[edit] History

The Awans have a strong martial tradition[14] and are renowned for their bravery. They were prominent in the armies of the Slave Dynasty and the Khilji dynasty during the Delhi Sultanate period. Awans also held prominent military positions during the Mughal era. According to Denzil Ibbetson, the Awans may well have accompanied the forces of Babur, and the Awans of Jalandhar, who claimed to have shifted from the Salt Range at the behest of one of the early Emperors of Delhi, were particularly notable for being in the imperial service at Delhi.[10]
The Awans were amongst those the British considered to be "martial races"[15] and as such, formed an important part of the British Indian Army, serving with distinction during World Wars I and II. In particular, the Awans formed part of the core Muslim group recruited by the British during the First and Second World Wars.[16] Contemporary historians, namely Professor Ian Talbot,[16] and Professor Tan Tai Yong,[17] have authored works that cite the Awans (amongst other tribes) as being looked upon as a martial race by not only the British, but neighbouring tribes as well.
With reference to the British Raj's recruitment policies in the Punjab, vis-à-vis the British Indian Army, Tan Tai Yong remarks:
"The choice of Muslims was not merely one of physical suitability. As in the case of the Sikhs, recruiting authorities showed a clear bias in favour of the dominant landowning tribes of the region, and recruitment of Punjabi Muslims was limited to those who belonged to tribes of high social standing or reputation - the 'blood proud' and once politically dominant aristocracy of the tract. Consequentially, socially dominant Muslim tribes such as the Gakkhars, Janjuas and Awans, and a few Rajput tribes, concentrated in the Rawalpindi and Jhelum districts in the northern Salt Range tract in the Punjab, accounted for more than ninety per cent of Punjabi Muslim recruits."[17]
The Pakistani military has always heavily recruited Awans and as is consistent with the past, the tribe continues to produce a considerable number of recruits who occupy many of the senior-most ranks of the Pakistani Army. According to Philip Edward Jones:
"The Awan Tribe is perhaps the most heavily recruited tribe for the Pakistan Army."[18]

[edit] Awans: past and present

Awans in general enjoy a respected status in Pakistan. Many have played and continue to play, prominent roles in areas as varied as politics, the armed forces, academia, literature and sport. These include figures such as:
On a rural level, Awans belong to the Zamindar or landowning class.[31]
According to Sir Malcolm Darling, the Awans are the:
"Bravest of soldiers, toughest of cultivators and matchless as tent peggers."[32]
Christophe Jaffrelot states:
"The Awan deserve close attention, because of their historical importance and, above all, because they settled in the west, right up to the edge of Baluchi and Pashtun territory. Legend has it that their origins go back to Imam Ali and his second wife, Hanafiya. Historians describe them as valiant warriors and farmers who imposed their supremacy on the Janjua in part of the Salt Range, and established large colonies all along the Indus to Sind, and a densely populated centre not far from Lahore."[33]
Many Awan families to this day live on and cultivate land, which their ancestors have held for centuries. They often carry titles typical to Punjabis[34] who own tracts of ancestral land such as Malik, Chaudhry and Khan. The modern surname system often results in members of the same family with different surnames, some choosing their position as a surname i.e. Malik or Chaudhry, and some choosing their tribal name of Awan. Though the origins of the Awans may be a matter of some debate, it has long been recognised that the composition of the tribe is wholly Muslim. The most extensive study of the tribe was conducted during the era of the British Raj, and as a result of census data collated during this period, the Awan tribe was invariably classified as being exclusively Muslim. In the opening to his account of the Awan tribe, H. A. Rose stated:
"The Awans are an important tribe, exclusively Muhammadan."[7]
Similarly, John Henry Hutton has said of the Awans:
"They are exclusively Muslim and probably the descendants of some of the earlier Muslim invaders of the tenth century or earlier

Photo gallery

[edit] Geographical distribution

The bulk of the Awan tribe is to be found in the Punjab (Pakistan). Its population is concentrated in the districts of Rawalpindi, Attock, Chakwal, Jhelum, Sargodha, Khushab (particularly the Soon Valley), Mianwali (Awan clans residing here are believed to have been almost the sole occupants of the Mianwali Salt Range Tract for over six hundred years[10]), Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Gujrat, Sialkot, Narowal and Layyah, and is also scattered throughout the rest of Punjab.
Tracts in regions such as Attock, Jhelum and Mianwali are so heavily populated by Awans, that they have long been referred to as Awankari.[36] Pre-Partition, an Awankari existed in Jalandhar and an Awan bara in Hoshiarpur.[37] Awankari is also a dialect of Punjabi.[38] Though these areas are their ancestral homelands and many own farms and other property there, numerous Awans live in the major cities of Pakistan such as Lahore (where a section of the Awan tribe has established a settlement, aptly named Awan Town), Islamabad, and Karachi.
The Awan tribe is also to be found in great numbers in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa,[36] particularly in the Hazara Division, Peshawar valley and the districts of Nowshera, Kohat, Abbottabad, Haripur, Mansehra, Bannu, Swat and Mardan. A smaller portion of the tribe resides in Azad Kashmir, and to a lesser extent is also present in the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. In addition, Awans can also be found in Afghanistan and some parts of India.

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