Ali Masjid and Surroundings


This photograph of Ali Masjid is from an album of rare historical photographs depicting people and places associated with the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Ali Masjid is a small shrine located at the narrowest point in the Khyber Pass, to the east of the city of Landi Kotal. The shrine is dedicated to ʻAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (circa 600–661), nephew and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the first converts to Islam. Above the shrine sits a fort, at the highest point of the pass (visible atop the hill on the far side of the river in the center of the image), which was the site of several battles between British and Afghan forces during the First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars. The shrine can be seen at the bottom-left corner of the photograph, alongside the faint signature of the photographer, John Burke. The Second Anglo-Afghan War began in November 1878 when Great Britain, fearful of what it saw as growing Russian influence in Afghanistan, invaded the country from British India. The first phase of the war ended in May 1879 with the Treaty of Gandamak, which permitted the Afghans to maintain internal sovereignty but forced them to cede control over their foreign policy to the British. Fighting resumed in September 1879 after an anti-British uprising in Kabul, and finally concluded in September 1880 with the decisive Battle of Kandahar. The album includes portraits of British and Afghan leaders and military personnel, portraits of ordinary Afghan people, and depictions of British military camps and activities, structures, landscapes, and cities and towns. The sites shown are all located within the borders of present-day Afghanistan or Pakistan (a part of British India at the time). About a third of the photographs were taken by Burke (circa 1843–1900), another third by Sir Benjamin Simpson (1831–1923), and the remainder by several other photographers. Some of the photographs are unattributed. The album possibly was compiled by a member of the British Indian government, but this has not been confirmed. How it came to the Library of Congress is not known.

Last updated: September 30, 2016