While it is generally believed that the Pathans are descended from Jews who converted to Islam centuries ago, and there many writings support this, a DNA research project might answer more questions.
The story appeared in the Times of India.
The Pathans, of course, are mainly in Afghanistan and DNA projects there are currently a far-fetched idea. However, there are Pathans in Lucknow, India, and that group will be tested.
Heading the project is an Indian geneticist Shahnaz Ali, who will study the genetic link between the Afridi Pathans in Malihabad near Lucknow and the Jews, who migrated all over Asia.
Ali is based in Haifa at the prestigious Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), the recipient of an Israeli foreign ministry scholarship.
According to Dr. Navras Aafreedi, an Indo-Judaic studies researcher (see below for many more links on his writings), Shahnaz's research would be important if she can establish a genetic link between the Pathans and Jews. It is a traditional belief about the Pathans' origins and "can have interesting ramifications for Muslim-Jewish relations.
The belief was very strong decades ago in the Pathans of Afghanistan and even Emir Abdul Rahman, the former Afghan Shah Amanullah's grandfather, stated in his "History of the Afghans" that the Afghans were of Jewish descent.
Elders of the Afridi Pathans, who call themselves Bani Israel (Children of Israel), recalled many Jewish rituals and customs among the Afridi Pathans, e.g., the lighting of candles on Shabbat, long side locks, shawls resembling tallit, circumcision on the eighth day after birth, and Levirate marriage. Today, of course, it is dangerous and not politically correct to talk about these customs.
Other tribes include Yusufzai tribe (sons of Joseph), Rabbani (sons of Reuben), Levani (sons of Levi), Ashuri (sons of Asher), and others.
Afghani Jews often reported that they had close relationships with members of these tribes who shared their customs and traditions.
Persian writers refer to this history, as the Afghani Jews were of Persian origin, and long ago the borders were open, all part of the same territory. British travelers and officers also wrote about this tradition.
The newspaper article noted that Pathans are believed to be descendants of the tribe of Ephraim, one of the 10 tribes of Israel's northern kingdom exiled by the Assyrians in 721 BCE. Descendants of these lost tribes are supposed to have settled in India between 1202-1761 CE, among them those in Malihabad.
Afghanistan's Pashtun fighters, from where the Taliban draw their strength, are Afridi Pathan descendants.
The Lucknow district was selected because it is the only safe and accessible group today. There is another group at Qayamganj in Farrukhabad - both refer to themselves as Bani Israel. Two more such clans live in aligarh and Sambhal in Moradabad.
In 2006, Aafreedi spoke about his own origins, when he was conducting research at Tel Aviv University, in a Jerusalem Post story:
According to Aafreedi's study, which was published as an e-book, about 650 out of the 1,500 members of the Afridi Pathan clan in Malihabad, India, may possess genetic material shared by nearly 40 percent of Jews worldwide. If confirmed, the findings would support the clan's connection to the tribe of Ephraim, Aafreedi said. A related Indian Pathan group numbering some 800 people was not tested for the project.In that Jerusalem Post story, Michael Freund who today heads Shavei Israel, notes that Persian writers wrote about the tribes' connections, as well as missionaries who arrived with the British. Even former Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi wrote about it in his book, "The Exile and Redeemed," he quoted an Afghani Jew as saying, "According to the tradition current among the [Afghan] Afridis, they are indeed descendants of the Israelites, more particularly the sons of Ephraim."
A fascinating Middle East Facts article (2007) includes this information as it writes about Aafreedi and the Afridi Pathans, lists books, resources and individuals. Another article with more information is here.
Click here to read "Medieval Persian References to the Israelite Origin of the Pashtuns/Pathans," (2008) which includes much genealogical information in medieval writings over hundreds of years. This will be of interest to Jewish genealogists as it recounts tribal traditions of origins and names names.
Aafreedi's blog is here, and to learn more about his e-book, click here.