The community of downtown Kabul
Murad Khani was historically inhabited by an ethnic group known as the Qizilbash. The story of the Qizilbash begins in the 13th century, with the founding in Iran of a Shi’ite Sufi order called Safaviyya. Many of this order’s converts were drawn from among the Turkic peoples of
Anatolia and the Caucasus, primarily Azerbaijan. Their distinctive twelve-pointed red headgear earned them the name 'qizil-bash', Ottoman for 'red head'.
In the early Afghan courts, the Qizilbash played a central role in the administration and military. When Ahmad Shah Durrani came to power in 1747, the Qizilbash cemented their elevated position in society through an alliance with him. Soon, key positions amongst the king’s bodyguards, servants, and secretaries were all filled by the Qizilbash.
Although their access to wealth and power afforded many Qizilbash very comfortable lifestyles, their prosperity came at a price. Practising Shi’a Islam in a predominantly Sunni country, and as a powerful and distinct ethnic group, the Qizilbash became the targets of persecution during the 19th and 20th centuries. During these periods, many Qizilbash invoked 'taqiyya', the Shi’ite practice of renouncing their religion outwardly, while continuing to practise it in secret.
The architecture of Murad Khani reflects the turbulent history of the time and the threats faced by its original inhabitants: the low doorways that can still be seen stopped potential attackers on horseback from entering; narrow lanes prevented armed men from walking more than two abreast; the lack of external windows protected the inhabitants from arrows; and concealed 'taqiyyakhanas' (Shi’ite places of worship) allowed the Shi’ite faithful to practise their religion in secret.