I was invited to visit Afghanistan many years ago. The group inviting me was focused on how to infuse a more progressive interpretation of Islam into the discourse in Afghanistan. My visit was during the month of December and I prepared for extreme cold without good central heat. I don’t know why I remembered that, but I had to buy a long black wool coat, which I found at a thrift store. I wore that coat every day at every event even inside.
The organization, (I do not recall the name for (or the year of this visit lol]) was completely made up of local Afghan MEN.. The person who negotiated the details of this visit and provided translation for me when I was meeting various people through out the week was named Afzal. You will hear more about his escape from Afghanistan this week. Or you can just follow this link to that story (to which I will return: https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Four-children-escape-Afghanistan-for-reunion-with-16422291.php )
First, I want to give a few snippets of my visit. First of all, because Afzal spoke English and Dari, he could communicate with me and the program director who spoke Dari. Then we hit on the realization that both the director and I could speak Arabic so we tended to communicate with each other in this third language. So, imagine any setting that we were in, I could understand Afzal but only in English. The director could understand Afzal in Dari. But he could not understand me in English, and Afzal could not understand us both in Arabic. This tri-lingual event turned out to be really fun.
One of the events organized was a large gathering of local religious leaders. These are ALL male. The strict gender divide was such that when they entered and saw that there were women present, including myself in the front along with the presenters, they all wanted to turn around and leave. Anything that includes women must be about women and as such not for men. The Director had to intervene explicitly to say this was an inclusive space and program INTENTIONALLY.
They provided a young philosopher to translate my talk. Once again I spoke of the divine feminine using the Qur’an. My focus on these lessons allowed me, for example to talk about how we learn FROM women, starting with the Qur’an’s attention to Mary the mother of Jesus. I was intentionally gentle and ambiguous. However, as the program went on and other Muslim male religious leaders spoke, I noticed a few of them made reference to parts of my talk. (aha.. the message was getting through LOL)
After the Kabul schedule, meeting various political and community leaders we traveled to Herat, the director and I (only) At the domestic airport we had to separate as women only sat in a waiting room with only other women and children and the men sat in another waiting room. I wondered how I would know when our flight was ready to board since the announcements were only in Dari. Turns out there were not that many flights and actually pretty much everyone got up to board at the one call.
In Herat I met the Mayor, who could speak English. So again 3 languages were in continual usage and when the Director and the Mayor spoke together I was clueless what was going on. However, the Mayor was a history guy and recommended I visit certain historical sites amongst them the grave of a famous sufi saint. The four pillars that remained from a huge mosque built on an endowment from a well known female patron of Islam way back in the day. Herat was a magical place I cannot say why I felt so deeply there and felt nothing in dusty Kabul, but there you have it
After an over night stay we went to a benefactor of the program for breakfast. Normally, in the home of the benefactor, women occupied a guest room separate from the men. They put me in that room but none of the women of the house were prepared for guests and so the room was not heated and no one else joined. So they let me into the men’s room. The men’s room was heated by a kind of heater that sits under the covers which are pulled over the legs around a square table that opens in the middle to let the heater do its thing. So, we sat at the same table. AND we were served breakfast. Men do not eat with women so this was another interesting coup.
I came away with an experience and perspective of Afghan men that is no where available in the mainstream western media. How this hairy guys are also gentle and compassionate. To push the boundaries of the social order while maintaining cultural pride is not an easy thing to do and yet it was so every day during my visit. May Allah bless them.
Last week I received a frantic message from Afzal through DM. He asked if we could connect through WhatsApp. There he ask me to support his initiative to get to the US. I have no means to be of much help but I wrote to his benefactor by WhatsApp and indicated how I knew Afzal and other work I have done with Afghan women part of the peacekeeping groups and the current Afghan ambassador to the US who was a student in one of our courses on gender equality at Musawah. The person helping Afzal recognized my name through affiliation with my former university in Virginia.
Today I received the news that Afzal had made it to Dallas Texas and was awaiting processing. He also sent the article I attached above and this one. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/29/us/four-children-afghanistan-arrive-in-us/index.html
He had helped these children in their return to their mother. He has linked the GoFundMe here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-out-an-afghan-patriot-who-stood-by-the-us?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer
If anyone can donate that would be very helpful. I know that all of us are always called to support others and wonder what we can do as one person. All I can say is that ANY little effort goes a long way and your blessings is with Allah. That is the nature of charity in the context of Islam we are not called to be the answer, only to be a part of the solution