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Awan (Urdu: اعوان, Punjabi Gurmukhi ਆਵਾਨ), is 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".[1]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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,[4] 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.[5] Brandreth believed the Awans to be remnants of Bactrian Greeks.[6] 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. Although Rose was more cautious in assigning an Arab origin to the Awans, he was willing to concede that the tribe may well be Alvi Sayyids, who having sought refuge in Sindh from the Abbasids, allied themselves to Sabuktagin and assisted him in his Indian adventure, for which he bestowed the title of Awan on them (Rose considering it plausible that the name of the Awan tribe was derived from the word 'Ahwan', meaning "helper".[2] And although the Ferozsons Urdu-English Dictionary lists the Awans as a Rajput clan, it does state that the title of the tribe is of Arabic origin, being the plural of the word 'aun', and defining "Awan" as "helpers"[7]).[2] Making reference to W.S. Talbot's assessment of the Awans, Rose also commented:

'But in the best available account of the tribe, the Awans are indeed said to be of Arabian origin and descendants of Qutb Shah

—From 'A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province


Malik Fazal Dad Khan supports the traditional account of the Awans' origins, but with some modifications. He 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[8] (and most Awans are able to trace their family trees to Qutb Shah).


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.[9] 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.[10]

The Awans were amongst those the British considered to be "martial races" and as such, formed an important part of the British Indian Army, serving with distinction during World Wars I and II. In particular, the Awans formed part of the core Muslim group recruited by the British during the First and Second World Wars.[11] Contemporary historians, namely Professor Ian Talbot,[11][12] and Professor Tai Yong Tan,[13] 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.

With reference to the British Raj's recruitment policies in the Punjab, vis-à-vis the British Indian Army, Tai Yong Tan remarks:

'The choice of Muslims was not merely one of physical suitability. As in the case of the Sikhs, recruiting authorities showed a clear bias in favour of the dominant landowning tribes of the region, and recruitment of Punjabi Muslims was limited to those who belonged to tribes of high social standing or reputation - the 'blood proud' and once politically dominant aristocracy of the tract. Consequentially, socially dominant Muslim tribes such as the Gakkhars, Janjuas and Awans, and a few Rajput tribes, concentrated in the Rawalpindi and Jhelum districts in the northern Salt Range tract in the Punjab, accounted for more than ninety per cent of Punjabi Muslim recruits

—From 'The Garrison State: The Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947


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. According to Philip Edward Jones:

'The Awan Tribe is perhaps the most heavily recruited tribe for the Pakistan Army

—From 'The Pakistan People's Party: Rise To Power


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:

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

According to Sir Malcolm Darling, the Awans are the:

'Bravest of soldiers, toughest of cultivators and matchless as tent peggers

—From 'Wisdom and Waste in the Punjab Village


Christophe Jaffrelot states:

'The Awan deserve close attention, because of their historical importance and, above all, because they settled in the west, right up to the edge of Baluchi and Pashtun territory. Legend has it that their origins go back to Imam Ali and his second wife, Hanafiya. Historians describe them as valiant warriors and farmers who imposed their supremacy on the Janjua in part of the Salt Range, and established large colonies all along the Indus to Sind, and a densely populated centre not far from Lahore

—From 'A History of Pakistan and Its Origins


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 stated:

'The Awans are an important tribe, exclusively Muhammadan

—From '' A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province


Similarly, John Henry Hutton has said of the Awans:

'They are exclusively Muslim and probably the descendants of some of the earlier Muslim invaders of the tenth century or earlier

—From '' Caste in India: Its Nature, Function and Origins


Photo gallery

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,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.

See also

Further reading

  • Tareekh-e-Alvi Awan, Mohabbat Hussain Awan
  • Awan Travels, Dr. Asif Raza Awan
  • Al-Awan Journal
  • The Armies of India, Major A.C. Lovett
  • Punjabi Musalmans (Handbook for the British Indian Army), J.M. Wikeley
  • Encyclopaedia Asiatica: Comprising Indian Subcontinent, Eastern and Southern Asia, E.G. Balfour


  1. ^ Gazetteer of the Jhelum District, 1904 & Punjab Census Report, 1911
  2. ^ a b c d e A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province, H. A. Rose
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Punjab Castes, Sir Denzil Ibbetson
  5. ^ Punjab Census Report, 1911, Harikishan Kaul
  6. ^ Punjab Castes, Sir Denzil Ibbetson
  7. ^ Ferozsons Urdu-English Dictionary
  8. ^ The Golra Family of Hazara, Sabiha Shaheen
  9. ^ Encyclopaedia of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Om Gupta
  10. ^ Punjab Castes, Sir Denzil Ibbetson
  11. ^ a b Khizr Tiwana: The Punjab Unionist Party and the Partition of India, Ian Talbot
  12. ^ Punjab and the Raj, 1849-1947, Ian Talbot
  13. ^ a b The Garrison State: The Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947, Tai Yong Tan
  14. ^ The Pakistan People's Party: Rise To Power, Philip Edward Jones
  15. ^ Wisdom and Waste in the Punjab Village, Malcolm Lyall Darling
  16. ^ A History of Pakistan and Its Origins, Christophe Jaffrelot
  17. ^ Caste in India: Its Nature, Function and Origins, John Henry Hutton


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