The Power Of Pen And Sword: How Pir Roshan United Pashtuns Against The Mughal Empire

The Power Of Pen And Sword: How Pir Roshan United Pashtuns Against The Mughal Empire
With the fall of the Lodhi dynasty in 1525, the Pashtuns started suffering numerous abuses from the Mughal Emperors, especially Jalaluddin Akbar (1556-1605). Such torments eventually led to a Pashtun uprising led by Bayazid Roshan. Known as Pir Roshan, Bayazid Roshan was the first mystic among Pashtuns who challenged the Mughal Empire by waging an armed struggle to secure the rights of his oppressed people.

Early life

Bayazid Roshan was born in 1525 in Jalandhar, Punjab to a family of Ormar Pashtuns. The family later migrated to their ancestral homeland of Kaniguram in South Waziristan. Roshan grew up in difficult conditions. He was separated from his mother after his parents divorced, and Roshan was later victim to his stepmother’s maltreatment at home.

Roshan acquired his Islamic studies from his father, Qazi Abdullah, and Mullah Peyanda. With a keen interest in Sufism, Roshan wanted to pledge allegiance to Khwaja Ismail but his father didn't agree with his choice. He wanted to send his son to another mentor for spiritual studies. After rejecting his father’s suggestion, Roshan started practicing on his own  without a teacher. He re-appeared as a self-made Sufi after observing five years of isolation in his home in Chilla.

Roshan came into prominence not only as a Sufi in the area but as an influential writer, poet and an unbowed freedom fighter. Hundreds of thousands of people joined Roshan when he started his spiritual journey. To spread his beliefs, he moved from Kaniguram to the Tirah Valley where he was eagerly followed by people from the Afridis, Bangush and Orakzis tribes.

Although Roshan's philosophy was based on a conservative way of thinking even for its time, it also had quite strong mystical potential.

Pashto writer Zalmy Hiwadmal says in his book ‘Da Pashto Adabiyato Tarekh’ (A History of Pashto Literature) that many people came under Roshan’s influence upon his arrival to Peshawar, but some tribal lords became his rivals and made unsuccessful efforts to thwart his mission.

Pir Roshan led a massive faction of orthodox disciples, most of them peasants and lower-class Pashtuns, called Roshanis. Unlike most mystics who have specific institutions or Khanqahs (where Sufis receive character reformation and spiritual retreat), Roshan was perhaps the only mystic who remained close to the public and never had a Khanqah. In his book ‘Roshana Stori’ (Shining Stars) Afghan scholar Sadiq Rishtin writes that Roshan used to travel to Hindustan and Kandahar for commercial purposes. On one such journey, some miscreants with ties to Beram Khan, then the governor of Kandahar, looted Roshan and sevearl merchants in a trade caravan on their way to Kandahar. Roshan approached Beram Khan seeking justice but the governor didn’t redress their problem. This incident is one of the factors that provoked the Roshanis against the Mughal Empire.

“You were a blended nation with an Empire from Kabul to Delhi but now the Mughals have enslaved you. Get up and throw the chain of slavery from your neck.”


Turning point

The looting of the trade caravan from India was indeed a turning point in Roshan’s life. It is believed that the perpetrators were a handful people from a village on the outskirts of Peshawar. Government authorities raided the entire village killing dozens of innocent people, including women and children, and arrested many more. Seeing this barbarism, Pir Roshan wrote a letter to the Governor of Kabul Mirza Hakim, urging him to handle the responsible authorities with iron fists. Instead of taking action against the criminals, the Governor issued warrants for the immediate arrest of Pir Roshan.

Roshan’s first battle

Roshan moved from Hashnaghar to Toti with a large number of his disciples. Pursuing the Roshanis, the imperial troops finally reached Toti where the first clash between the Roshains and Mughals resulted in the Roshanis’ defeat and Roshan’s arrest at Aghaz Pur. According to one of the Khair-ul-bayan scripts at the Salar Jang Museum in Hyderabad, India, the battle was fought in 1575.  Roshan was shifted to Kabul as a war detainee and imprisoned there. After a month, he appeared in the Kabul court for trial and earned his freedom by representing himself in court.

Roshan’s second battle

Returning to Hashnaghar, Roshan relocated his war sanctuary to Tirah where he  united the Afridi and Orakzi tribes by preaching against Mughal tyranny. In his book ‘Tarekh-e-Murasah,’ Afzal Khan Khattak writes that Pir Roshan ordered many of his followers lacking proper weaponry to cut down tree branches to be used as weapons. They defeated the army of the Mughal Empire in the battle of Choray. Many Mughal troops were killed and injured while the remaining fled.

The conflict of Toor Ragha

After a remarkable victory over the Mughals in Tirah, Roshan once again assembled his followers to achieve total freedom from the Mughal Empire. Roshan delivered a rousing speech to his followers: “You were a blended nation with an Empire from Kabul to Delhi but now the Mughals have enslaved you. Get up and throw the chain of slavery from your neck.”

Undoubtedly, Roshan’s fierce words spurred the people to dispose of the Mughals. In his book ‘Da Pashto Adabaito tarekh,” Pashto historian Abdul Habibi writes that one thousand warriors advanced to Ningarhar. After a short stay in Barho, the Roshanis confronted the Mughal army that had already taken position in Toor Ragha of the Shinwari.  The imperial forces were led by Governor of Peshawar Mohsin Khan.  The bloody battles resulted in a prestigious victory of the Mughals. The Roshanis suffered heavy losses, as well as their leader and spiritual Pir Roshan himself.

Habibi relays two accounts of Roshan’s death in 1585. The first tells that he was seriously wounded on the battlefield and succumbed to his injuries in the same field. The second says that Roshan died from scorching heat in the mountainous area of Shinwari where he remained helpless and was laid to rest in Hashnaghar.

Countering Pir Roshan

To counter Roshan’s hold over the Pashtun tribes who followed him, the Mughal Empire launched a propaganda campaign in which the government used two counterparts, Akhund Darweza and Syed Ali Turmzi, influential Islamic scholars who were loyal to Mughal Empire. Akhund Darweza and his pupils denounced Roshan publicly by calling him ‘Pir-i-tarik’ (mentor of darkness). Darweza wrote many books to falsify Roshan’s beliefs. ‘Mazkhzan-ul-Islam’ is one of Darweza’s noted books, believed to have been specially written in response to Roshan’s book ‘Khair-ul-Bayan.’

Roshan’s contributions to Pashto

Apart from being a formidable warrior, Roshan contributed tremendously to Pashto literature by writing dozens of books, mostly in prose.

Khair-ul-Bayan is viewed as Roshan’s most powerful book written in Pashto, Arabic, Hindi and Persian. With at least forty chapters, the book discusses rational, religious, spiritual and moral principles. According to Pashto scholar Zalmay Hiwadmal, there are two existing manuscripts of Khair-ul-Bayan in India and Germany.

Alphabetical reforms

Although, Pashto alphabetic characters were invented in Emperor Mehmud Ghazvaid’s era (993-1030), Roshan was the first Pashto scholar to develop reforms and put some characters into a new style.

Darwesh Durrani writes in ‘Da Pashtani Zhwand kra wra’ (Deeds and Principles of Pashtun Life) that Pir Roshan contributed much to Pashto literature; before him, there were no specific books written in the language except some poems. Durrani accounts that Roshan’s sword and mystical beliefs couldn’t bring an end to the Pashtuns’ plight, but his words contributed much to his people. Roshan countered the tribalism of the Pashtuns through the mighty pen and book and ultimately brought Pashtuns together through language.


The author teaches literature at Degree College Zhob.