Awan (Pakistan)

Awan (Pakistan)

Awan ( _ur. اعوان, Punjabi Gurmukhi ਆਵਾਨ), a South Asian Zamindar tribe, putatively of Arab origin, living predominantly in western and central parts of Punjab, Pakistan. The Awans subscribe to the belief that they are the descendants of the fourth Caliph, Ali (though the bulk of those belonging to the tribe are not Shias), and as such, a number adopt the title, "Alvi" – particularly those who migrated from East Punjab to Pakistan - although not all of those who refer to themselves as Alvi are Awans.


Most Awans maintain (and have always maintained) they are descended from an individual named Qutb Shah, a ruler of Herat and a general in the army of Mahmud of Ghazni, who himself 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).

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". ["Gazetteer of the Jhelum District, 1904" & "Punjab Census Report, 1911"]

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 the North West Frontier Province; 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. 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 and Jand in Attock. Some of Qutub 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. ["Census Report for the Punjab, 1892", Sir Edward Maclagan, " Census Report for the Punjab, 1883", Sir Denzil Ibbetson, "Gazetteer of the Jhelum District, 1904" & "Punjab Census Report, 1911"]

Differing theories

Other theories have been adduced by the Awans regarding their origins, but most of these hypotheses also point to the tribe being descended from Qutb Shah, who entered the Indian Subcontinent as part of a military campaign (and traced his bloodline to Ali).

However, there are those who dispute that the Awans are of Arab origin; these include Alexander Cunningham, Harikishan Kaul and Arthur Brandreth. Cunningham looked upon the Awans as a Rajput clan, 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. Brandreth believed the Awans to be remnants of Bactrian Greeks. It should be noted that these theories were partly founded on grounds of phonetics, geographical considerations and observational coincidences, and remain conjecture having never been corroborated by the Awan tribe or neighbouring clans.

Conversely, there are also those who support the Awan claim to Arab ancestry. Amongst such names are those of H. A. Rose, Malik Fazal Dad Khan and Sabiha Shaheen. According to Rose not only are the Awans of Arabian origin, he also accepted that they are indeed the descendants of Qutb Shah. Tracing their lineage to Ali, in Rose's view, the Awans were Alvi Sayyids who assisted Sabuktageen in his Indian adventure, for which he bestowed the title of "Awan" on them, meaning "assistant". Malik Fazal Dad Khan has supported this theory but with some modifications. He also 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 (and most Awans are able to trace their family trees to Qutb Shah).

The findings of the geneticist, S. Dorning, suggest that the Awans are ethnically distinct from Jats and Rajputs, thus negating theories that propose the Awan tribe originated from Jat or Rajput groups.


The Awans have a strong martial tradition 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. ["Punjab Castes", Sir Denzil Ibbetson] 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. In the early nineteenth century, one of the most powerful men in Delhi was Malik Durrab Khan Awan.

The Awans were amongst those the British considered to be "martial races" (a designation created by officials of British India to describe "races" - peoples - that were thought to be naturally warlike and aggressive in battle and to possess qualities such as courage, loyalty, self-sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness and fighting tenacity and to be hard-working and adept at military strategy. The British recruited heavily from these "martial races" for service in the colonial army ["A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province", H. A. Rose] ) and as such, formed an important part of the British Indian Army, serving with distinction during World Wars I and II. Awans formed part of the core Muslim group recruited by the British during the First and Second World Wars. ["Khizr Tiwana: The Punjab Unionist Party and the Partition of India", Ian Talbot] Contemporary historians, namely Professor Ian Talbot and Professor Tan Tai Yong, 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.

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. ["Al-Awan Journal"]

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, Malik Amir Mohammad Khan (the Nawab of Kalabagh, Governor of West Pakistan, 1960-66), Air Marshal Nur Khan (Commander in Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, 1965-69, Governor of West Pakistan, 1969-70), Malik Meraj Khalid (Prime Minister of Pakistan (caretaker), Speaker of National Assembly, Chief Minister of Punjab, Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture, Rector of the International Islamic University Islamabad), Malik Zahoor Ahmad (former Minister of Information at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C., political analyst specialising in the Middle East and South Asia, and CNN commentator), General Akhtar Hussain Malik (recipient of the Hilal-i-Jurat, Pakistan’s second highest military award), General Abdul Ali Malik (recipient of the Hilal-i-Jurat), Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed (Recipient of the Nishan-e-Haider, Pakistan's highest military award), Naik Shahamad Khan (Recipient of the British Victoria Cross, Recipient of the Russian Cross of St. George; Shahamad Khan is one of three men in history to win the VC and Bar, and the only one to win both in WW1), Lance Naik Sher Shah (VC) Awan (Recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest recognition for valour “in the face of the enemy” that was awarded to British Empire personnel), Maulana Ameer Mohammad Akram Awan (famed Sufi, Shaikh of the Naqshbandia Owaisiah Order, mufassir, philosopher and reformist, Dean of the Siqarah Education System, and head of a welfare organisation, the Al-Falah Foundation), Sultan Bahu (Sufi poet-saint. Founded the Sarwari Qadiri Sufi order), Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi (renowned author, poet and journalist. Founded, published and edited the prestigious literary journal "Funoon", served as Secretary of the Progressive Writers Movement and was a recipient of the President’s Pride of Performance, the Pakistan Academy of Letters Lifetime Achievement award, as well as one of the country’s highest civilian honours, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz for Literature), Wasif Ali Wasif (eminent Sufi author and poet), Saeed Khan (well-known Urdu poet and Australian politician), Shoaib Malik (international cricketer, current captain of the Pakistani cricket team), Saleem Malik (former international cricketer, and former captain of the Pakistani cricket team), and Mohammad Akram (former international cricketer).

On a rural level, Awans are respected as members of the Zamindar or landowning class.

In the "Cyclopaedia of India and of eastern and southern Asia in 1858", it is said of the Awans that:

According to Sir Malcolm Darling, the Awans are the:

Christophe Jaffrelot states:

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 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 clan/tribe/family 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 states:

Similarly, John Henry Hutton has said of the Awans:

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 tribes residing here are believed to have been the sole occupants of the Mianwali Salt Range for nearly six hundred years), Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Gujrat, Sialkot, Narowal, and Layyah and is also scattered throughout the rest of Punjab.

Tracts in regions such as Jhelum and Mianwali are so heavily populated by Awans that they have long been referred to as "Awankari". Pre-Partition, an Awankari existed in Jalandhar and an Awan bara in Hoshiarpur. Awankari is also a dialect of Punjabi. 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 the North West Frontier Province, particularly in the Hazara Division, Peshawar valley and the districts of Nowshera, Kohat, Abbottabad, Haripur, Mansehra, Bannu and Swat. A smaller portion of the tribe resides in Azad Kashmir in Mirpur(sungot,khari sharif and Andrah Kalan of Islamgarh) 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.


*"The Garrison State: Military Government and Society in Colonial Punjab 1849-1947", Tan Tai Yong
*"The Armies of India", Major A.C. Lovett
*"Punjabi Musalmans (Handbook for the British Indian Army)", J.M. Wikeley
*"Ferozsons Urdu-English Dictionary"
*"Awan Travels", Dr. Asif Raza Awan
*"Encyclopaedia Asiatica: Comprising Indian Subcontinent, Eastern and Southern Asia", E.G. Balfour
*"Wisdom and Waste in the Punjab Village", Malcolm Lyall Darling
*"Caste in India: Its Nature, Function and Origins", John Henry Hutton
*"A History of Pakistan and Its Origins", Christophe Jaffrelot Castes and Tribes of the Punjab

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