South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Bringing up the Bones: The Exhumation of Jamal al-din al-Afghani

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Mahogany, First Floor

The Turkish authorities disinterred the long deceased Jamal al-din al-Afghani in late 1944 in order to widen a road. Through coordinated efforts between the Turkish, British, and Afghani governments, the bones of founder of the Pan-Islamic movement made their way from Istanbul to Kabul, where he was reinterred with honors despite the ire of the Iranian government. Along the journey, crowds in British India met the sealed coffin along its transit by train from the port of Karachi to the Afghan capital.


This paper examines the performance of public mourning as al-Afghani’s body was disinterred, relocated, and reburied. Despite the expansive body of literature on al-Afghani’s life and Pan-Islamism, little attention has been paid to his death and the political significance of his body. Through a close reading of British consular records, India Office files, and contemporary news media coverage, this paper argues that displays of collective grief and devotion served to legitimize Afghanistan’s receipt of al-Afghani’s corpse. Emotional multi-sited acknowledgment by Indian Muslims contributed essential support to the claims made from Kabul and leant justification to the British colonial state for its involvement. 

Kelsey Utne

Cornell University, United States

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