His Life

Ghulam Muhammad family, who belonged to the royal clan of the Mohammadzai (powerful Barakzai sub-tribe ), had since 1818, been established at Qandahar, whose government was shared by Sardar Rahmdil, half brother of Amir Dost Muhammad and Mahmud's grandfather and some of his brothers.

The death of one of them and the disputes arising from it, forced Sardar Rahmdil to flee to Persia in 1855 and left behind a son, Ghulam Muhammad who had long served him as a soldier, for which he had been rewarded with a sword that had been in the family since the time of the Safavids. Sardar Rahmdil left all his property's control to his son and attended him as a family leader and his successor. 

Left alone in Qandahar, Ghulam Muhammad Khan was integrated by Amir Dost Muhammad into the community of state princes and received, as a learned scholar, a yearly salary of one hundred and twenty thousand rupees. He served Dost Muhammad until the latter's death in 1863, at Herat. Amir Dost Muhammad when he took power, was very close to Ghulam Muhammad during his reign.

Then he returned to Kabul, escorting the Crown prince and new Amir, Sher Ali at whose side he later experienced successive periods of favour and disgrace. Sher Ali who was not only a cousin but whose sister was the second wife of Ghulam Muhammad was not altogether happy about his cousin's arrival as he considered him to be Anti-British. The truth is Ghulam Muhammad too, was not fond of Sher Ali. This is reflected in some of his poems and writings which contain sarcastic references to him.

The Muhammadzai Clan, apart from two short intervals, reigned over Afghanistan from Amir Dost Muhammad until Naderi rule,1930. Ghulam Muhammad is a better known figure thanks to an irrefutable source, namely his biography written by Mahmud Tarzi himself as an intruduction to his father's poetical works, published in Karachi during the latter's lifetime.

Aside from family members, accompanying Ghulam Muhammad was his trusted old friend Mullah Mohammad Akram, a learned scholar from Qandahar. Since their youth, they had been so close that both at home&abroad, they were inseparable. He was also the teacher of Mahmud and his brothers since their childhood. When Amir Abdur-Rahman decided to exile Ghulam Muhammad, Akram considered leaving him to be a dishonour and out of loyalty and true friendship remained with him. 

At this point, it might be appropriate to quote a few lines from the report of the Bombay foreign secretary dated 13 Dec., 1883 to the government of India on Ghulam Muhammad's brief biography;

Sardar Gholam Mohammad of Qandahar is the eldest son of Sardar Rahmdel. Our scant information indicates that at one time he was a prominent chief but there is no evidence that he held an important post in Afghanistan. His cousin, the governor does not have a good opinion of him. As far as we know, he has never rendered a service to the british government and therefore we are in no way indebted to him.''

He is one of the Sardar's whom the Amir accused of rebellion in a plot involving Sardar Ayub and cosequently expelled him from Afghanistan (1881 ) . He and a group of 150 exiled people arrived in Karachi on Jan. 17 , 1882. 

Sher Ali is against Gholam Mohammad's staying in Karachi. We do not know the reason but probably the latter has heard about it, because only recently he asked that we arrange his travel to Teheran. He also expressed the hope that before his departure, he could go on a tour of India.

Ghulam Muhammad had a reputation amongst the literary&artistic circles of India, particularly in Sind which was home to many brillant Persian speaking poets and other men of letters with whom he was in touch. (This respect and attention was another reason for his cousin's dissatisfaction and envy.) Ever since his arrival, Ghulam Muhammad was not keen to spend much time in India under British rule and as the British did not count him among their supporters, they were glad to see him leave. To encourage this, they reduced his allowance by half: from 600 to 300 Rupias a month.

In any event, Ghulam Muhammad&his son, with the approval of the British, started their tour of India in early June 1884. For approximatelly six months they visited Bombay, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Misore, Madras, Ahmadabad, Gujrat, Delhi, Sarhind, Lahore and other places. Literary&artistic circles were calling his works "kalam-e tarz-i Muhammad" to identify him ( style Muhammad) because he wrote a large body of religious, mystic and secular poetry with his very personal style. Later "Tarzi" becomes Mahmud beg family name because G.Muhammad Khan affixed the name of Tarzi to his son Mahmud, while they were in Lahore(*see below). In the course of their travels, father&son with much interest, saw numerous historical sites ñ particularly those of the Islamic periods. Whenever, Tarzi would learn about the shrine of a Moslem spritual he would rush there to pray and meditate. For instance, in Mysore, he visited the tomb of Sultan Tipoo. This wise Mujahid had courageously stood up against the British quest for world domination. Sword in hand, he had remained in his trench, fighting to the end. In humility, Ghulam Muhammad stood for a long while at his grave and offered a fervent prayer.

Ghulam Muhammad Khan name and his works were and are still well-known in all eastern countries, from Iran to India and up to Turkmenistan. He and his son Mahmud Tarzi are valuable academic sources still in the western countries too.

He worked together with his brother Sardar Muhammad Alam Khan who died in battle and became martyr , to put new mantalities into the military and political organisations.

Ghulam Muhammad had a friend in Peshawar whom he had never met but knew thru correspondence and the exchange of poems. This supposedly devoted but absent friend was judge Tela related to the Qazikhel family of Peshawar. Most likely Ghulam Muhammad's sole purpose in visiting Peshawar was to see him. The judge , however was hard to find &kept making excuses for not seeing him. It turned out that he and his family were loyal servants of the British. According to the secret files, either the nephew or cousin of the judge, Abdul Gader, known as Judge Qadero' during the reign of Amir Sher Ali had been spent to Kabul as a spy. He quickly found his way to the court becoming a special advisor and confidant of the Amir.

More surprising after the fall of Amir Sher Ali, Qadero suddenly dissapeared after a while, under a pseudonym, found his way to the court of Amir Abdurrahman. He would send detailed reports about the state of affairs in Afghanistan and news of the courts, to the government of India. 

More surprising after the fall of Amir Sher Ali, Qadero suddenly dissapeared after a while, under a pseudonym, found his way to the court of Amir Abdurrahman. He would send detailed reports about the state of affairs in Afghanistan and news of the courts, to the government of India. 

It was apparent that they shared this wish. Altough Ghulam Muhammad reluctantly agreed, he was vexed by his sons' attitude. The strained relations were eased several years later when his second son, Zaman with the help of nephew Anwar (who had returned to Karachi) undertook the task of compiling and publishing all the poems of his father from the fair copy which he had writing in his elegant hand writting. Mahmud wrote the preface for Dewan in Syria and sent it to his brother. 

Ghulam Muhammad was very devout and lived an exemplary muslim life. During his stay in Baghdat, he had established himself in the neighbourhood of the holy shrine of Sheikh Abd ul- Qader Ghilani(Jilani) 

The British agent in Baghdad reports as follows on the arrival of the Ghulam Muhammad family; Sardar Gholam Mohammad and his family totaling 17,18 person, were respectfully received by the family of the Naqib of Baghdad. They settled down in a house in the Bab-e Ul-n Sheikh section. I have been informed that Tarzi was not happy with the allowance provided by the government of India and that.....if more satisfactory arrangement is not made by the Ottoman authorities, he would try his fortune in Teheran.

This information, no doubt based on Bazaar gossip or reports from a Naqib servant, does not take into account Tarzi's longstanding wish to visit some day, the blessed shrine of Abdul Qader Gailani (Hazrat Ghausi )and other holy places.

He was also contemplating a pilgrimage to Mecca. It came as no surprize therefore,that he spent six months in Baghdad close to his shrine. Ghulam Muhammad's deep faith in and devotion to Gailani is amply reflected in his rapturous poetry composed in his praise. In fact this affection and spiritual attachments was so strong that when at times of difficulty and danger, he would appeal to his spiritual mentor for help, it would invariably be forthcoming. 

Ghulam Muhammad Khan passed most of his time in prayer at the shrine of Hazrat Ghaus. He kept in touch with members of the clergy and the nobility as well as with senior government officials. The government of Baghdad and the commander of the 6th. Army soon became devoted friends. Twenty three year later in Kabul, Mahmud discovered in his notes a brief biography about those days. He wrote, ... ... the general in his affection and kindness and from a sense of hospitality appointed one of his senior officers gave me lessons in the arts&scines in Turkish both the governor& the general thought it would be a good idea for my father to pay his respects to sultan Abdulhamid the 2nd. In Istanbul. My father who had been so warmly welcomed, of course considered it his duty and honour to express his gratitude in person to his imperial majesty. 

Mahmud in the preface to The Collection of Poems, wrote; 

Father left ......... accompanied by this servant who, thanks to the general, had learned some Turkish which enabled him to act as his father's interpreter went to greet the Caliph of Islam at the Sublime Porte.

On the way they made a pilgrimage to Karbala and Najf. At Ali's tomb they noticed a sword hanging from the coat of mail on the coffin, which inspired Ghulam Muhammad to write a passionate poem.

To sum up, we arrived at Istanbul.......... The Sultan bestowed upon us all sorts of royal favours and had us stay at goverment house. A monthly allowance of 2.000 khurush was appropriated and Damascus designated as our place of residence.

During their two-month stay as imperial guests, they met most of the ministers and other dignitaries, religious leaders and scholars. They all admired Ghulam Muhammad's learning and accomplishments. Before leaving, Ghulam Muhammad presented to the Sultan, a beautiful poem, a eulogy written in his own elegant handwritting and artistically decorated with engravings and gildings. The Sultan was so impressed and pleased that in return he awarded Tarzi the sum of 2.000 khurush. It was late 1885 father and son returned to Syria. Thus, 18 years went by in comfort and happiness, within the warm family circle and in the fine homes of friends in Damascus.

Shortly after establishing themselves in this lovely city, the learned men, literary personalities and dignitaries flocked to Ghulam Muhammad's intimate gatherings. Normally, he would spend the day in a world of poetry, calligraphy, gilding and engraving (his decorative handwriting was considered unique). Every night after dinner he would go to the great Amawi Mosque to worship and pray till dawn, next to the tomb of Hazrat Yahya.

Ghulam Muhammad would often get together with friends in a corner of the mosque, for intellectual discussions.

In mid-1886, Ghulam Muhammad decided on a second visit to the Sultan. He was again received with warmth and affection. Moreover, his sons were given jobs with the government of Syria and his allowance increased. The Sultan had just built a beautiful small mosque, the Hamidia Mosque, adjacent to the Yildiz Palace. This prompted Ghulam Muhammad to design a beautiful miniature of the mosque which, together with a poem, he presented to the Sultan who was so impressed by its beauty and workmanship that he awarded him 2.000 khurush.

He again, went to Mecca and he took Mahmud's mother and his 3rd son, Khaleq, with him. In the preface to The Collection, Mahmud writes: ì........and he formally appointed his devoted servant, the writer.....as his representative in all matters, big and small, internal and external.......

Upon his return, Ghulam Muhammad started to think about reciprocating, altough modestly, all the kindness and favours extended to him by the Sultan. For six months he worked day and night to produce an exquisite literary work comprising a selection of his rare poems, written in his beautiful handwriting and decorated with engravings and gildings. He gave it the title, Hamidian Ethics. 

Some of his friends who had seen the work, informed the governor who then arranged a literary gathering to which he invited Ghulam Muhammad. To quote Mahmud: ...........the distinguished scholars, state officials and judges in appreciation recommended that it would be brought to the attention of His Majesty. 

Ghulam Muhammad , assigned his son Mahmud to carry this work to Istanbul. Once in Istanbul he met the deputy chief of protocol, the Sultan's secretary and several ministers and waited to be presented to the court. Finally, the book was brought to the Sultan's attention and won his admiration and appreciation. He was gracious to Mahmud and had Ghulam Muhammad's allowance increased. 

In 1889 Akram passed away,leaving the family in deep grief and sorrow. At his request, he was burried close to the tomb of Sheikh Al-Arabi.

During the last years of his life, Ghulam Muhammad Khan re-established contact with Amir Abdur-Rahman, exchanging ideas. In one of his letters,the Amir describes the situation in Afghanistan:the stability of his government and the prevailing peace and prosperity. He concludes: now there is no obstacle to separate us. If you should return to the country, you will be received with appreciation."

Ghulam Muhammad, in his poetic and literary style thanked the Amir for his kindness and as a pleasantry, added; As Your Majesty knows, it is said that the Day of Judgement will begin in this land of Palestine and Syria. If I should return now when I am so close to entering my grave, imagine how difficult it would be for me to make this long journey back to Syria. The Amir then decided to allot a yearly salary of 20.000 rupias for Ghulam Muhammad to be paid through his representative in Bombay.

In 1897, Ghulam Muhammad for the last time made the pilgrimage to Mecca. It was in the year 1900, on Friday evening, the 15th of Shawal, 1318 he returned to his Creator, leaving his family and friends in deep sorrow. Formal funeral arrangements were made by the Syrian authorities. He was burried in the Hazrat Dahdah cemetery in Damascus.


Translation from Dari

Sardar Ghulam Muhammad Khan (1830-1900) 

Poem composed in Kandahar


The Manuscript by the handwriting of the Sardar was photographed and published in Kabul

in "Mahmud Tarzi(1865-1933),pamphlets,editorials an other major articles from

Siraj-al Akhbar (1911-1918), compiled by Dr.Ravan Farhadi,Kabul 1977


A thousand thanks for the grace of God, the Affectionate ,

It was on the first day of the month Rabi II

When appeared in the rose-garden of existence the newly born flower

Because his happy star rose in the horizon of Ghazna,

His father chose the name of Mahmud for him

When investigating the year his birth

Tarzi asked about the long-lived master of Intelligence, who said:

Substract one by counting the ABJAD letters and say:

"The flower of glory came to grow in the rose-garden of desire.

(damid naw-gol-e '- ezzat ba golshan-e maqsud)

1,Rabi'II, 1282,lunar hijra

( 23 August,1865 )


(*)It was not compulsory to have family name in those years but Mahmud Tarzi used and registered Tarzi as a surname which was belonged to him. His sons A.Wahab and Tavvab used Tarzi name during their educations in Paris at 1922 with their fatherís permission. But later,other brothers families started to use Tarzi as a surname for themselves also.