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The Culture and History of Afghanistan

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1541
  • Category: Ramadan

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Afghanistan the crossroad of the Middle East, central Asia, and East Asia, lies in the central of Asia. It is a strategic location created a variety of ethnicities that reside within its perimeter. However, foreign news tend to use “Afghan” as a metonymy for the countries diverse ethnicities. This misconception disregards the diversity of Afghanistan. Ironically, this ethnic diversity has undermined the efforts of peace and created ethnic division.

Afghanistan is a domicile to nearly a dozen of ethnic groups: Turkmens, Hazaras, Aimaqs, Kyrgyz, Arabs, Pamirs, Qizilbash, Balochs, Pashais, and Nuristanis. Yet, the foremost groups that make up the majority are the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and the Uzbeks.

Pashtuns and Tajiks are the most important ethnic groups in Afghanistan. They are Sunni Muslims and it is very obvious in the way they look (clothes), the food they eat, and the drinks they are forbidden from (alcoholic drinks). Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan (make up forty two percent of the population) and Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group (make up twenty seven percent of the population). Pashtuns are also known as Afghans and they say that Afghanistan is their property and they call it the land of Pashtuns. They are divided into major sub-tribes like Ghilzak, Durrani, etc. They speak with a dialect known as the Pashto language, while Tajiks speak with a dialect known as Dari. Tajiks are also referred as Farsi. They are famous for their elaborate embroideries on fabric. The Pashtuns make up most terrorist groups and one of them is the Taliban. Pashtunwali is their way of living. Pashtuns target Lazarc, an ethnic group, because they see them as “Kafura” and call them Shiite Muslims.

Prior to the 19th century, Hazaras were one of the largest Afghan ethnic group constituting nearly sixty seven percent of the total population. Amusingly, now they make up only nine percent of the population. Theories suggest they descent from Mongol soldiers left behind by Genghis Khan in the thirteenth century, taken into account their physical features. They are inarguably the most oppressed and marginalized group in Afghanistan. In the reign of Emir Abdur Rahman Khan, their lands were confiscated and distributed to the Pashtuns and harsh taxes were imposed on them. Emir brutally massacred them (wiping out nearly sixty percent of the population) and sold the remaining into slavery. Until 1919, the Hazaras were legally slaves.

Hazarajat was kept impoverished with no infrastructure. Hazaras occupied the lowest jobs. They were very poor and practiced subsistence farming and herding. Hazaras speak a dialect of Dari. The vast majority follow the Shia sect of Islam, while a small number are Sunni Muslim. Hazaras are famous for their folkloric music, poetry, and proverbs.

On behalf of all the Hazaras and in an attempt to unify them, Abdul Ali Mazari became the 1st political leader to speak out on an international level, putting their case to the UN.

Nevertheless, he was brutally murdered by the Taliban in 1995, after signing an agreement with them in 1993.After the Taliban seized power in 1996, they declared Jihad on Shia Hazaras. Consequently, Hazaras faced a series of mass killings in northern Afghanistan. In response, Hazaras formed part of the Afghan Northern Alliance that opposed the Taliban and took power after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Since 2001, the Hazaras situation has improved appreciably. Hazaras now are one of the national ethnic minorities recognized in the new Afghan Constitution and have been given full right to claim Afghan citizenship. Despite the fact that they still face persistent discrimination in many areas of the country.

Uzbeks, descending from Turkic-Mongol invaders, settled in central Asia in the thirteenth century and coalesced into what would become known as “Uzbeks. They formed their own state ”Uzbekistan”, which would at some point break up into three parts and be absorbed into the Russian Empire during mid to late nineteenth century. In 1920’s, many fled into northern Afghanistan to escape the repression of the Soviet government due to their efforts of stamping out their customs and religion. Uzbeks speak an eastern Turkic Language. They are mostly Sunni Muslim of the Hanafi School. Uzbeks are the most populous Turkish group in Afghanistan (make up approximately twelve percent) and are distinguishable by their broad, flat faces and lighter skin when compared to the Pashtuns.

Sunni and Shia are the two main sub-groups in Islam. The division between Shia and Sunni dates back to the death of Prophet Mohammed. This event raised the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslims nation. The word Sunni means ‘one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.”. The word Shia in Arabic means a group or supportive party of people. Sunni believes that the caliph should be Abu Baker while the Shia believes that the caliph should be the prophet’s cousin, Ali Bin Abu Talib (rejecting all first three caliphs). Eighty five percent are Sunnis all over the world and the rest are Shias. Sunni lives in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. While Shia lives in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon. Both of them share some common beliefs, but practice it in different manners. Shia believes that Ali Ibn Abu Talib is sinless by nature and god gave him the authority. Sunni and Shia Muslims follow the Quran and the prophet’s Hadith and Sunna. They also stick to the five pillars of Islam: shahda, salat, zakat, sawm, and hajj. They both differ in praying, fasting, and pilgrimage. Shia prays three times a day, they combine Zuhr and Asr salat and they also combine Maghreb and Aisha salat, while Sunni Muslims pray five times a day. Shia does not fold their arms during namaz, but Sunni does fold their arms. Sunni touches their head to the ground, while Shia uses a wooden block or tablet to rest their heads during prostration. Shia breaks their fast until the last ray of light has vanished from the sky. Sunni breaks their fast when the sun is no longer visible on the horizon (during the Maghreb).

When it comes to holidays in Afghanistan it is passionate and hearty. People are always devoted to religious events. Two of the best known celebration are the Nau Roz (New Year) and the Independence Day. The first festival is the Nau Roz of Nowruz, it is the New Year according to the Islamic calendar. People celebrate with music and dance. Second is the Mawleed Al Nabi, it is the remembrance of the birth of Prophet Muhammad. People offer special prayers and visit mosques. Third is the Jeshyn-Afghan Day, celebrate the end of British control. Fourth is Ramadan, in this month Afghans don’t eat or drink anything during the day till the Maghreb. Fifth is Eid El Fitr, people pray in mosques and gather with relatives and friends after Ramadan ends. Sixth is Eid El Qurban/Adha, they slaughter the goats, camels, or sheep to start the Muslim pilgrimage (hajj). And finally Ashura, this festival is during the 10th of Muharram. Also called “Mourning of Muharram” or “Remembrance of Muharram”. They memorize the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (the remembrance of the betrayal of Imam Hussein by his followers). This day also marks the day Noah left the ark and Moses was saved from the Egyptians by god.

Ashura is differently practiced in many countries. In Afghanistan, it plays a major role in the Shia calendar. It was marked by “donating blood”. During this day, Afghans beat themselves for salvation because they believed that they are the reason for Imam Hussein’s death. They use chains and swords to beat themselves with. In London, Sunni Muslims are the majority of the UK Muslim population. Ashura for the Sunnis in the UK is a day of fasting and praying, but for the Shiites it involves loud chanting and participants beating their chest without any blod donating. In Egypt, Cairo many Shias don’t accept the practices the other Shias do in other countries. They also don’t accept violence because they said that Imam Hussein did not rise for rebellion, but for reforming the nation (Ummah) of Prophet Muhammad. In Iran, Ashuran lasts ten days. Ten days the country remains in a state of mourning, no music is played in the streets, and happiness would be considered inappropriate. To the women, they prayed silently on their knees with tears of grief soaking their cheeks. It was not all gloomy, but in the evenings the rich give to the poor, free meals are offered, and even restaurants and hotels cook massive vats of food and they are offered in the streets.

Last but not least, Sunnis share a symbolic meal called “Noah’s Pudding” or “Ashura”. It is made of water, grains, fresh and dried fruits, salt, and honey. During Ashura day Sunnis share this meal with their neighbors or beloved ones (family). This sweet dish came from Prophet Noah. When the waters of the flood began to decrease, Noah and his family are said to have gathered up all the food remaining on the ark and transformed it into this delicious meal.  

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