Conversations with an Afghan Man

This was written in an email on 2006 to family and friends

‘The most fearsome of warriors turned out to be by far the most peaceful of people’

From the balcony, and far into the skies,  I spot a blur vision of the moon, almost matched to perfection. All activities have ended. Kabul is as silent as a graveyard. Not far, I vaguely see the picturesque scene of Afghan mountain peaks silhouetted against the hazy sky. The sun is setting, leaves are rustling and not long more the call for prayer will sound. I prepare myself for prayer and sit by the balcony door in a lotus position. My eyes close as I try to achieve a oneness with God. ‘God is Great. There is no God but God himself’, the prayer recites.

After my prayer, I skip down the stairs and rush ouside to speak to the guardsman, an ex-commander in the army during Soviet occupation, whom I call ‘Ustaz’ (teacher). He pulls out a chair for me and places it next to him. I am eager to hear him. He tells me about God, about spirituality. I ask him about women’s modesty (the Burqua, Hejab, Jilbab). He pauses for a moment then replies ‘God knows no beings. To him, we look the same. The only thing that differs is our hearts.’ It reminds me of a saying by an Islamic Sufi poet, Rumi, ‘When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the Earth, but find it in the hearts of men.’ My Ustaz moves on to women’s education. I lean closer forward and listen intently. He speaks in a different language but the message is clear. ‘If my wife is not educated, how will my children ever be educated, for all the knowledge of a man is first imparted to him by his mother when he was child.’ He repeats for the 3rd time- the views of the Taliban are not representative of us. Both men and women suffered the loss of education. He himself had to burn his books when the Taliban raided his village. ‘When we threw our books away, it was like we threw our lives away.’

I am drawn to my Ustaz’s words. I learn more and more each day i spend my evenings with him. I hear his speak of his wife as if she were a sacred shrine. He tells me she is too precious for him to raise his voice at her. He then quotes a phrase from the Holy Koran,’God created a man and a woman so that love could grow between them.’ Such a beautiful phrase establishing the sacredness of love. I ask myself silently, ‘Will anyone believe this was cited by an Afghan man?’

I tell him of my plans to raise awareness of women’s rights within an Islamic framework in villages. But I also tell him I am afraid it will create an uproar. First he points to the heavens. I know I have to believe it is possible. He places his hand on his chest, ‘But whenever you need me, I will be there for you.’

On my thoughts about the future of women- I see such a huge potential, albeit slowly for a progression and development of women’s rights.There are some men who had views like women should stay at home and not go out…or that men have the right to marry four women etc. Their reasoning however differs; some pointed out that the security of Afghan streets is so loose and there is no protection from the law if anything were to happen to their women and therfore women should not be allowed to go out. Others had the impression that ‘It is my job as a man to support my family. I don’t want my wife to bear that burden‘. Others were outright male chauvinists (excuse me fofr using such a term!) What I tried to emphasise was though I understoodtheir concerns, it was wrong for them to limit their women from having the choices and making their own decisions. I spoke to them everything from marriage, veil, education, polygamy. I had my koran with me and actually pointed out the relevant phrases and quoted what the Prophet said. I also made the driver (who speaks English) to interpret everything for me. For me, raising awareness was very important and I tried as best I can to convey the truth to as many men as I could gather.

A common one was about polygamy and I showed them in the Koran a phrase in the Koran first that says

And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course 4;3

Then later it states:
‘You may never be able to deal justly with you wives even if it is your ardent desire, so leave not them hanging as if in the air; and if you effect a reconciliation and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful 4;129

When I told them this, I felt like they understood. Only 2 questioned further and argued with me but most of them accepted this and told that my ‘mind was good’ as they put it. But also warned me that some men could kill me for this and I should becareful. But the mere fact that they sat to listen to me, an 18yr old non-Afghan ramble on about something so controversial and even agreed and said they understood finally shows how moderate they are and how much potential there is to raise awareness and raise ACCEPTANCE of women’s rights within an Islamic framework. THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO FULFILL desperately.

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