Translater: Hanne Türkmen
In our series “Exploring Countries”, our stop this time is Afghanistan. Let’s get to know this country better, which we know with its magnificent landscapes, colorful and friendly people.
1The Geographical Location of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is located in the middle of Middle Asia and South Asia, resembling a bridge between these two important geographies. It neighbors Pakistan in the southeast, Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan in the north, and China in the northeast.
In our series We Know the Countries, our stop this time is Afghanistan. Let’s get to know this country better, which we know with its magnificent landscapes, colorful and friendly people.
2The Population and Ethnic Structure of Afghanistan
The exact population of Afghanistan is not figured as there is no census in the country. Since the ID card obligation has only started in 2019, people are newly getting their IDs. However, according to estimated data, the population is around 39 million. The country’s ethnic profile is 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajiks, 15% Uzbeks, 9% Turkmens, 3% Aymaks, 2% Hazarians, and Baluchis.
3Languages Spoken in Afghanistan
The two official languages of Afghanistan are Persian and Pashto. The third most spoken being Uzbek, it can lately be found in the school curriculums as a selective course. Some other local languages spoken around the country are Turkmen, Pashai, Nuristani, Baluchi, and Pamiri.
4The Economy of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is one of the least prosperous countries in the world. Conjointly, the minimum wage is around 70 dollars. 80% of the population make a living out of agriculture and animal husbandry. Although these two hold a big share in the country’s economy, unfortunately, modern methods are not practiced. While cotton, wool, handmade rugs, and jewelry make up most of the export goods; food and energy remain the most imported in Afghanistan.
Rice (pilaf) and meat are at the center of Afghan cuisine. Especially when eating rice, people use their hands rather than spoons. Afghan pilaf is made of rice, carrots, grapes, saffron, and meat, and is indispensable at wedding events. Different styles of cooking meat, on the other hand, indicate socioeconomic status of families.
Another essential component of Afghan cuisine is green tea. Wherever you visit in Afghanistan, you will be treated with green tea. Afghans who drink it before meals love tea so much, they even have an expression: “Çay nehurde cenk nemişe.” which means “No war before drinking tea.” Afghan cuisine bears other tasty meals like sembuse, mantu, bulani, and kebab along with rice and green tea. Afghans tend to have lighter breakfasts with only green tea, bread, and grapes. For lunch and dinner, on the other hand, rice is preferred. It could be said that he cuisine is widely based on rice.
Like other Muslim countries, Afghanistan is known to have a conservative culture where family relations are important. The age for marriage is quite young with most boys and girls getting married by 18. The father is responsible for the children’s education and marriage. Because the bridewealth is expensive, starting from $10k to $15k, men cannot marry without their father’s support. The number increases depending on the bride’s talent of mending carpets or her coming from a noble family. Men in Afghanistan sometimes stay engaged for a long time while trying to collect the money for the bridewealth. This engagement phase can take up to 2 or 3 years.
Another discussion topic is weddings. Even though the engaged couple is not wealthy, they still organize a luxurious wedding. Wedding ceremonies start at dawn (fajr) and go until dusk (asr).
7 Religious Structure of Afghanistan
99% of the population is Muslim, and the other 1% consists of 20 thousand Bahai and 3-5 thousand Christians. Around 30 thousand to 150 thousand Hindus and Sikhs used to live in Afghanistan until the midst of the 1980s.
8Nowruz in Afghanistan
Nowruz translates to “a new day” in Persian and is celebrated on the 21st of March. Nowruz celebrations start with the president’s message on the first day of the year. The city of Mazar-i Sharif, where so many citizens from nearby cities come to visit and make dua, is believed to be home to Ali’s (r.a..) tomb. The celebrations start with a ceremony in which the president’s agent participates. Starting with cannon shots in Mazar-i Sharif, the ceremonies continue with a flag-planting that symbolizes Ali’s (r.a.) sword. The flag is planted on the first day and is hauled down on the fortieth.
The flags, named Cehende or Shah-i Cehende, usually come in the color of white, symbolising goodness and peace; green, symbolising Islam and spring; and red, symbolising independence. This flag must have been sown with care. It is commonly believed that during these ceremonies, the blind acquire vision, and the wounded heal. Then the Festival of Tulips ( Mile-i Gul-i Surh) starts with the planting ceremony. A number of contests such as wrestling and running take place at the festival.
9The Heart of Afghanistan: Mazar-i Sharif
The city is located in the west of Afghanistan, 15 km south of Belh. It is one of the biggest cities in Afghanistan with a population of 1 million. The city’s name comes from the belief that Ali’s (r.a.) grave is situated here. It is historically confirmed that Ali (r.a.) passed away in 661 in Kufa. However, according to the rumors, his body wasn’t buried right after his death. Rather, his companions placed his body on a white camel and followed the camel until it stopped, burying the body there. The grave of Ali (r.a.) was lost for many years until Seljukian Sultan Ahmet Sencer found it. The locals claim that all the pigeons in the city are white thanks to the holiness of Mazar-i Sharif. There isn’t a single pigeon with a spot or in a different color because the second they enter the holy area of the mosque, their feathers turn white.
10Traditional Clothes of Afghanistan
Different ethnicities in the country bring about diversity in clothing styles.One can detect ethnicities of people on the streets by observing their clothes and headwear. Looking at what men wear on their heads, one can tell Pashto,Tajik, and other ethnicities from each other. However, the same does not hold true for women as they wear one typical outfit in daily life. In general, men wear a knee-long dressing called Afghani, while women wear a lining called Burqa which covers the whole body except the eyes.
Pashtos differ from others with a slit on the front of their headwear. Tajiks, however, wear Afghanis along with a headscarf called Pakul. Lastly, Hazaras wear sleeveless jackets -Barak- on their Afghanis, while women wear a colorful traditional dress called Gand-i Afghani on special occasions.
Although it is falsely believed that Mevlana was born in Konya, he was actually from Belh, located in today’s Afghanistan. His father Bahaeddin Veled was a well-known scholar of the city. Mevlana took philosophy, philology, and theology lectures from his father starting from a young age. On his journey from Belh to Konya, Mevlana left behind many people who would remember him with blessings. The advice he gave was inherited for generations. May Allah grow the seeds of love and sincerity he left in people’s hearts and may the mercy of Allah enlighten his grave.
This article was originally written in Turkish. Click to read it! Ülkeleri Tanıyoruz: Afganistan