The Qizilbash have been defined to a large extent by historical circumstances. The Qizilbash were formed out of several Turkish Shia groups that were living in northwest Persia (Azerbaijan) in the fifteenth century. These groups were oppressed by the Osmanli Turks in the early years of the Ottoman Empire. Shaykh Heydar, a charismatic Sunni religious leader, attracted a large following of Shia from Azerbaijan. He called his most loyal Turkic followers "Qizilbash" and created a special hat for them to wear. The Heydar hat was red, and "Qizilbash" came to mean "red hats," "red heads," or "red beards."

Shaykh Heydar was killed in 1488 in a battle between his Qizilbash and other Turks. Civil war in Azerbaijan ensued. In 1501 Heydar's son, Esmā'īl, founded the Safavid dynasty and conquered most of what is Iran today. Shah Esmā'īl spread Ithna Ashari Shiism throughout Persia, the religion that is still dominant in Iran today.

The Qizilbash became known as skilled warriors. They could put 70,000 armed horsemen in the field at one time. Some became mercenaries, but most of them supported the Safavid shahs who were fighting against the Sunni Ottoman and Sunni Uzbek Turks.

The Qizilbash, though not always aligned with the shahs in power, seemed always to have a central role in the power struggles that were constantly in play over the centuries. Their formidable military organization was utilized by various shahs and played a prominent role in the expansion of empires, particularly the Durrani Empire (1747-1793), which extended through Afghanistan and into India. When not at war, the Qizilbash served as personal bodyguards of the shahs and as household troops. Such forces were used to quell rebellions within the empire.

In the course of expansion, groups of Qizilbash (and others) were left at various places to protect communication and supply routes, to maintain law and order, and to collect tribute from conquered peoples.

The Qizilbash became better situated (if not more numerous) in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan than they had been in Iran. In Afghanistan, the Qizilbash gradually accepted Dari (Afghan Farsi or Persian) as their primary language. Because they remained Shia and maintained a strong influence in the Afghan court, the predominant Sunni population resented their presence, and the Qizilbash felt the discrimination. Nevertheless, the Qizilbash became an entrenched part of the Afghan population, particularly in urban areas, where they became administrators, clerks, traders, and artisans.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Qizilbash influence in the Afghan court had diminished. The Qizilbash supported, or were thought to be supporters of, the Hazarajat, who fought unsuccessfully against the ruling emir. For these reasons, and others, the emir tried forcibly to convert the Qizilbash to Sunni Islam. Those who refused were forced to wear red turbans. Because of the threat of persecution, many Qizilbash claimed to be Sunni, but secretly remained Shia.

This adoption of a dual religious identity, known as taqiyya, still occurs today. Obtaining accurate population figures for the Shia Qizilbash in Afghanistan and Pakistan is virtually impossible because they claim to be Sunni, Tajik, Farsiwan, or Pashtun, or they identify themselves according to their place of origin in India. Population estimates for Afghanistan range from 30,000 to 200,000, but some suggest the figure is closer to one million. The story is similar in Pakistan. Few influential Qizilbash live in Iran, their original home.

The Qizilbash are no longer considered a warrior class, but they are still thought to be within the upper strata of power and among the intelligentsia. They also tend to be predominantly urban professionals—doctors, teachers, engineers, and lawyers. Because of physical dispersal and taqiyya, they are no longer a cohesive group; nevertheless, they have maintained their strong ethnic pride.


Dupree, Louis (1979). "Further Notes on Taqiyya: Afghanistan." Journal of American Oriental Society 99(4): 680-682.

Dupree, Louis (1980). Afghanistan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Dupree, Louis ( 1984). "Qizilbash." In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey , edited by Richard V. Weekes, 637-642. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Tapper, Richard (1979). Pasture and Politics. London: Academic Press.

Watkins, Mary Bradley (1963). Afghanistan: Land in Transition. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Also read article about Qizilbash from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

I am Pakistani Qizilbash and I am proud to be a Sunni Muslim.
i am Afghani , Orginal Qizilbash and i am proud to i am Shia muslim and also all Qizilbash people is Shia not sonni
Dear Samim its true that most of the Qizilbash people those who lives in Iran and Afganistan are shia but our ancestor belongs to a group who belongs to Nadir Shah a Last Sunni Emperor of Iran. During his invasion in Indo/Pakistan area his army promoted Sunni Islam because Nadir Shah was a Sunni. Yes we are limited but we proud that we follow the true path of Islam (ie Sunni Islam) Introduced by our beloved prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H. under the light of Quran. And we love all Caliphs of Islam because they were the great people of Islam. And We Sunni Qazilbash people are Hanfi Sunni Muslims. There are many Qazilbash in Pakistan practicing shia safavi things. But we not.
Ibrahim Kizilbas
Amir, I am also a Qizilbash from Afshar Tribe (Dulkadir branch, eventually became it's own tribe) in Turkey. My ancestors moved back west from Khorasan to Eastern Anatolia after they set up Shah Ismail on the throne.

It is true that Nadir Shah became Sunni later on in live, but he was born and raised a Shia. His whole tribe (Afshar), his father, grandfather and ancestors were all Shia, only after he became Shah did he convert to Sunni islam for political reasons. Nader Shah was a military genius and conquered a lot of territory but his opression of Shia islam and his own Qizilbash people in favor of Sunni Afghans caused his empire to desintegrate after he died. The Qizilbash are a people who derive their identity from being Shia and being followers of Shah Ismail. So every Qizilbash has Shia roots. Please don't speak negatively about Safavids, Afsharids, Qajars and Shia islam because you will be insulting your own ancestors. I, myself, am a secular socialist and don't really practice religion apart from Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, but still am proud of my Qizilbash Shia roots.
Tahir Qizilbash
I am Shia Qizilbash, born in Lahore, Pakistan. I am proud of my roots and Alhamdo-Lilla all Qizilbash people are Shia, followers of fourteen Masoomeen ( Prophet Muhammad, Bibi Fatima and twelve Imams ). Brother Amir, please check yours roots, study Islam history during the life of Prophet and the behaviour of so called Calips of Islam after Prophet 's death before you say what is the true path of Islam. May Allah bless you with knowledge and bring you to the right path of Islam.
Qizilbash from Azerbaijan
Salam-Aleikum !

I'm Qizilbash from Azerbaijan. 90 % of people in Azerbaijan Republic are Qizilbashs (Turk), we speake Turkish langugae. All Qizilbash in the world are from Azerbaijan and Eastern Turkey, we are Turks.

To my Qizilbash brother who from Afghanistan and Pakistan - please, write me to this email: bunturk@box.az
Mustafa Ali Qizilbash
Hello All,

Nice to see a very valuable conversation here. And i am happy to see Qizilbash people from Azerbaijan contributing here.

I am also a Qizilbash from Pakistan and of course a Shia one. I also hear few Sunni Qizilbashs here in Pakistan too but i was so confused why is it like this. The above example explain why.

By the way, i read everywhere that Qizilbashs are professionals like doctors, teachers, engineers, and lawyers. Please include one more profession that is Information Technology which i am practicing right now haha. Now i realized why i am the first IT professional from all the Qizilbashs i know off.

Asad Ali Qizilbash
He called his most loyal Turkic followers "Qizilbash" and created a special hat for them to wear. The Heydar hat was red, and "Qizilbash" came to mean "red hats," "red heads," or "red beards."

Sorry .. but this is wrong. It was the Ottomans that mandated that those certain Azerbaijani tribes be marked with "red caps". As a way of distinguishing them for public reasons.. Well because we gave the corrupt Ottomans hell to pay. Anyway it was a political thing and eventually the Qizilbash tribes suffered state sponsored persecution by the Ottoams. But the Qizilbash perspect was .. well if this red hat means we are what we are.. then we will wear it with pride.

Also.. my brothers..All Qizilbash started as Shia Twelvers. As marked by the 12 tassels on the red caps. if you are Qizilbash and you are Sunni.. then you are most likely Sunni because at some point your ancestors had to start pretending to be Sunni because they were being hunted.
Asad Ali Qizilbash
Also the Qizilbash would have destoryed the Ottomans if the Ottomans didn't go and buy muskets and cannons from their European friends. The Qizilbash considered this a very dishonorable form of battle.
I am Qazalbash from pakistan and i am proud to be a sunni muslim.. Im not here to argue any one.. i am happy for my tribe because i did'nt hear any where about our tribe and here i found many of them .. I love You All
Hello fellow qizilbash brothers in from kabul afghanistan and im shia im proud to be qizilbash

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