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12 December 2017

The Red Kafirs in Chitral: Save Kafirstan heritage

Sheikhan Deh, the last settlement in the reknown Kalash Valley, in the southwestern Chitral, offers centuries-old heritage of the Red Kafirs.  The existing Nouristan province of Afghanistan was known as Kafiristan as it was inhabited by Kafirs, both Siah Posh and Lal Posh--distinguished by their dress and other customs. 
When Islam came to Afghanistan in about 700 AD, indigenous people largely lost their ethnic and cultural identity due to gradual and systematic conversion to Islam. But the Kafirs of Kafirstan resisted and remained pagan until late nineteenth century. 

In 1895, forces of Emir Abdul Rahman invaded the region of Kafiristan and a large number of Kafirs forcefully or otherwise converted to Islam. The region henceforth became Nouristan, the current province of Afghanistan.   
But the Kalasha and the Red Kafirs or Lal Posh of Bashgal Valley of Kafirstan fled across the mountains into Chitral.  Here a large number of Kalasha people have preserved their heritage and their distinctive identity.
The Lal Posh or the Red Kafirs were able to keep their pagan culture only another 3 decades, until 1932.

During the reign of Shujah Ul Mulk, Mehtar of Chitral-- a relatively religious ruler-- the Red Kafirs converted to Islam and henceforth became the Sheikhs. The valley where they inhabited became Sheikhan Deh which means the village of Sheikhs. The Red Kafirs of this valley finally lost their identity and with that perhaps they lost their zeal to preserve their heritage. Due to lack of awareness and the nature of their rugged geographic location, no attention was given to their lives, let alone, their heritage. They are currently living in extreme poverty. Their economic conditions are no better than their pre-pagan era. The majority of the people are uneducated. 
One man, Khalil Ur Rehman, whose grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, also fled from Kafiristan as Red Kafir, is aware of the importance of his historic affiliation with his heritage.  Khalil Ur Rehman was home-schooled by his family and he has awareness and a tremendous interest to preserve the heritage of the Red Kafirs in Chitral. 

He has a good collection of artifacts related to the pagan culture of the Red Kafirs. In his home, he has designated an area for these important historic artifacts. People interested in Lal Posh heritage visit to see his home museum. 
Talking to our reporter, Khalil Ur Rehman, expressed his desire to acquire a separate space for his museum so that he could save his heritage and also researchers, students and visitors can benefit from the collection. 
He appealed to government and non-governmental agencies to help him in preserving the Red Kafirs' heritage. 
Khalil Ur Rehman has also written a book on Kalash, their religion and culture. 

G.H.Farooqui has contributed to this story from Chitral, Pakistan
Photo Credits: 
G.H.Farooqui