William E. B. Sherman
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Photo of Sharbat Gula by Steven McCurry, cover of June 1985 National Geographic
The image to the left is a portrait of a woman named Sharbat Gula who was photographed in 1984 by Steve McCurry and graced the cover of National Geographic in June 1985. It's a stunning photo, but it's also one that has contributed to a particular—and particularly narrow and reductive—American imagination of Afghans and Afghanistan. Or so I argue in a chapter currently in the review process that provides three vignettes of the intersection of Islam and race in Afghanistan.
In addition to discussing McCurry's photo of Sharbat Gula, my chapter also discusses Ni'mat Allah Harawi's story of the Afghans' blessed descent from King Saul and Amir 'Abd al-Rahman's publications on his jihad against the Hazara in the 1880s. These three artifacts or vignettes (the blessed genealogy, the amir's jihad pamphlets, and McCurry's photo) demonstrate two important points. First off, Islam and race are inextricably bound up together in Afghanistan, and we should be wary of attempts to separate them. Secondly, the how of how Islam and race intersect in Afghanistan is deeply shaped by Afghanistan's place in and connections to Mughal, British, Soviet, and American empires.
The chapter will be part of Zain Abdullah's edited Routledge volume on Islam and Race, likely to published in early 2022. I'm more than happy to share my draft, but, as it is still under review, please email me for a copy.