Soraya Tarzi, known mostly as Queen Soraya (Pashto/Dari: ملکه
ثريا) (November 24, 1899 – April 20, 1968), was the
Queen consort of
Afghanistan in the early 20th century and the wife of
King Amanullah Khan. Born in Syria, she was educated by her father,
who was the Afghan leader and intellectual Sardar Mahmud Tarzi. She
belonged to the
Mohammadzai Pashtun tribe, a powerful sub-tribe of the
1 Early life and family background
1.1 Queen of Afghanistan
1.2 Women's rights
1.2.1 Marriage controversy
2 Final years
3.1 National dynastic honours
3.2 Foreign honours
5 External links
Early life and family background
Soraya Tarzi was born on November 24, 1899, in Damascus, Syria, then a
part of the Ottoman Empire. She was the daughter of the Afghan
political figure Sardar Mahmud Tarzi, and granddaughter of Sardar
Ghulam Muhammad Tarzi. She studied in Syria, learning
Western and modern values there, which would influence her future
actions and beliefs.
When Amanullah's father (Habibullah Khan) became the King of
Afghanistan in October 1901, one of his most important contributions
to his nation was the return of Afghan exiles, specifically that of
the Tarzi family and others. This is because the Tarzi family promoted
the modernization of Afghanistan. Upon her family's return to
Soraya Tarzi would later meet and marry King Amanullah
Queen of Afghanistan
After the Tarzis returned to Afghanistan, they were received at Court
as wished by the Amir Habibullah Khan. This is where
Soraya Tarzi met
Prince Amanullah, son of the Amir Habibullah Khan. They struck an
affinity. The prince, who was a sympathiser of Mahmud Tarzi's liberal
Soraya Tarzi in August 1913.
Soraya Tarzi was
King Amanullah Khan's only wife, which broke centuries of tradition.
It was when she married into the monarchy that she grew to be one of
the region's most important figures.
When the prince became Amir in 1919 and subsequently King in 1926, the
queen had an important role in the evolution of the Country and was
always close to her husband. He had her take part in all national
events. He was said, ”I am your king, but the Minister of
Education is my wife—your Queen”. Queen Soraya
was the first
Muslim consort who appeared in public together with her
husband, something which was unheard of at the time. She
participated with him in the hunting parties, riding on horseback,
and in some Cabinet meetings. She was present at military parades with
the king. During the war of Independence, she visited the tents of
wounded soldiers, talked to them, offered them presents and
comfort. She accompanied the king even in some
rebellious provinces of the country, something which was a very
dangerous thing to do at that time.
In 1928 Queen Soraya received an Honorary Degree from University of
Oxford. As Queen of Afghanistan, she was not only filling a position
– but became one of the most influential women in the world at the
Because of the reforms King
Amanullah Khan instituted, the country's
religious sects grew violent. In 1929, the King abdicated in order to
prevent a civil war and went into exile. The king and queen's first
stop was India, which was then part of the British Empire. There, the
sovereigns were applauded everywhere they went by thousands of Indian
people. There was also ovation from the Indian women
who were crying and shouting the name of "Soraya" without mentioning
Main article: Women's rights in Afghanistan
Soraya Tarzi in
Berlin in 1928.
Amanullah drew up the first constitution, establishing the basis for
the formal structure of the government and setting up the role of the
monarch within the constitutional framework. Amanullah was influenced
and encouraged by
Mahmud Tarzi in his endeavors.
Tarzi was specifically instrumental in designing and implementing
changes pertaining to women through his personal example of
monogamy. His daughter, Queen Soraya Tarzi, would be the face
of this change. Another daughter of Tarzi's married Amanullah‘s
brother. Thus, it is not surprising that Tarzi's sophisticated and
liberal intellectual ideology blossomed and concretely embedded itself
in Amanullah's reign.
Amanullah Khan publicly campaigned against the veil, against
polygamy, and encouraged education of girls not just in
Kabul but also
in the countryside. At a public function, Amanullah said that
Islam did not require women to cover their bodies or wear any special
kind of veil". At the conclusion of the speech, Queen Soraya tore off
her veil (hejab) in public and the wives of other officials
present at the meeting followed this example. Throughout her husband's
reign, Queen Soraya wore wide-brimmed hats with a diaphanous veil
attached to them. Many women from Amanullah‘s family publicly
participated in organizations and went on to become government
officials later in life. Upon her family's return, she would meet
and marry King Amanullah Khan.
Queen Soraya encouraged women to get an education and opened the first
school for girls in Kabul. She sent 15 young women to
higher education in 1928. Soraya was very instrumental in
enforcing change for women and publicly exhorted them to be active
participants in nation building. In 1926, at the seventh anniversary
of Independence from the British, Soraya gave a public speech:
It (Independence) belongs to all of us and that is why we celebrate
it. Do you think, however, that our nation from the outset needs only
men to serve it? Women should also take their part as women did in the
early years of our nation and Islam. From their examples we must learn
that we must all contribute toward the development of our nation and
that this cannot be done without being equipped with knowledge. So we
should all attempt to acquire as much knowledge as possible, in order
that we may render our services to society in the manner of the women
of early Islam.
She founded the first magazine for women called Ershad-I-Niswan
(Guidance for Women).
In 1927 and 1928,
Amanullah Khan and his wife Soraya visited
Europe. On this trip they were honored and feted. In 1928, the King
and Queen received honorary degrees from Oxford University. The Queen
spoke to a large group of students and leaders. This was an era when
Muslim nations, like Turkey, Iran, and Egypt were also on the
path to modernization. Hence, in Afghanistan, the elite was impressed
by such changes and emulated their development models, but the time
may have been premature. Not only did conservative
with the changes, the British distributed pictures of Soraya without a
veil, dining with foreign men, and having her hand kissed by the
leader of France, Germany, etc. among tribal regions of
Afghanistan. Conservative mullahs and regional leaders took the
images and details from the royal family's trip to be a flagrant
betrayal of Afghan culture, religion, and "honor" of women. One can
take the circulation of such images from foreign sources as evidence
of British efforts to destabilize the Afghan monarchy, the first of
many international attempts to keep the country in political, social,
and economic turmoil. The British did not have a good relationship
with Soraya's family as a whole, for the chief representative of
Afghanistan that they had to deal with was her father, Mahmud Tarzi.
When the royal family returned from Europe, they were met with
hostility and eventually forced out of office.
According to a second source, Amanullah married a second time (for a
brief period) to pacify the opposition.
According to a third lesser source, Amanullah was married three times.
Shahzaha Hanım in 1910, Kabul,
Afghanistan (Shahzaha Hanım died on
19 November 1912)
Soraya Tarzi Hanım in 1912, Kabul, Afghanistan
Aliah Begum in 1929 (location unknown)
Queen Soraya and her husband King Amanullah are buried at this
mausoleum in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
In 1929, the King abdicated in order to prevent a civil war and went
into exile. Queen Soraya lived in exile in Rome, Italy, with her
family, having been invited by Italy. She died on 20 April 1968 in
The funeral was escorted by the Italian military team to the Rome
airport, before being taken to
Afghanistan where a solemn state
funeral was held. She is buried in Bagh-e Amir Shaheed, the family
mausoleum in a large marble plaza, covered by a dome roof held up by
blue columns in the heart of Jalalabad, next to her husband the King,
who had died eight years earlier.
Her youngest daughter, Princess India D’Afghanistan, has visited
Afghanistan in the 2000s, setting up various charity projects.
Afghanistan is also an honorary cultural ambassador of Afghanistan
to Europe. In September 2011, Princess India D’
honored by the Afghan-American Women Association for her work in
National dynastic honours
Afghanistan: Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of the
Afghanistan: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Leader
Egyptian Royal Family: Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Order of the
Iran: Dame Grand Cordon of the Order of Aftab
Russian Imperial Family: Dame Grand Cordon of the Imperial Order of
United Kingdom: Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the
^ "Extended Definition: Soraya". Webster's Online Dictionary.
Webster's Dictionary. [dead link]
^ a b c d e Runion, Meredith (October 30, 2007). The History of
Afghanistan. 139: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 155.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Halidziai, K. "The Queen Soraya of
Afghanistan". AFGHANISTAN OLD PHOTOS. Archived from the original on
^ A History of Women in Afghanistan: Lessons Learnt for the Future
Archived May 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Ahmed-Ghosh, Huma (May 2003). "A
History of Women in Afghanistan: Lessons Learnt for the Future or
Yesterdays and Tomorrow: Women in Afghanistan". Journal of
International Women's Studies. 4 (3): 14. Retrieved 30 June
^ a b c d "When
Afghanistan was in Vogue". Wadsam -Afghan Business
News Portal. Archived from the original on 2016-08-22.
^ Ahmed-Ghosh, Huma. "A History of Women in Afghanistan: Lessons
Learnt for the Future or Yesterdays and Tomorrow: Women in
Afghanistan." Journal of International Women's Studies. Bridge Water
State University, May 2003. Web. 4 Feb. 2017.
^ a b c d Ismene. "Burqa Babes: Soraya Tarzi". A Handful of Dust –
On Afghanistan, Counterinsurgency, and Whatever Else We Might Fancy. A
Handful of Dust – On Afghanistan, Counterinsurgency, and Whatever
Else We Might Fancy. Archived from the original on August 17,
^ Shalizi, Hamid. "Afghan king's shrine neglected as city modernizes".
Reuter. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
^ a b Garzilli, Enrica; Asiatica Association (December 3, 2010).
"Afghanistan, Issues at stake and Viable Solutions: An Interview with
H.R.H. Princess India of Afghanistan". Journal of South Asia Women
Studies. 12 (1). Retrieved 1 July 2016.
^ "Afghan-American Women Association honor Princess India
D'Afghanistan" (PDF). Afghan-American Women Association. September
2011. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
^ a b Queen Soraya wearing 2 stars of orders on her left breast
A History of Women in Afghanistan: Lessons Learnt for the Future or
Yesterdays and Tomorrow: Women in
Afghanistan By Dr. Huma Ahmed-Ghosh
Old pictures of the Queen Soraya of Afghanistan
Queen Consort of Afghanistan
Mah Parwar Begum
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