Eid al Fitr or Return of the Afghan Man’s Dignity
By Nasrine Gross
(Published in Dari in Kabul Weekly second week of January 2003)

This year, Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting was special for me. It was the first time in thirty-seven years that I was in Afghanistan. I enjoyed waking up before dawn, preparing breakfast with candle- or kerosene lamp-light, rushing to have one more cup of tea while listening to the call for morning prayer that signals the end of eating and start of fasting, of course chuckling a little when competing mosques and Mullahs would call at different times! Then in the afternoon, my appetite whetted at the thought of food, cooking something special and again listening to the Mullah’s call for the evening prayer and end of fasting. All of this I enjoyed with relish, especially talking with dinner friends about their rituals and remembering wistfully those of my own family’s four decades ago.

So it was with the end of Ramadan, anticipating the Eid al Fitr, the three days of feasting. In fact, five days before the Eid when I wanted to buy a cake for that evening, I found out from several bakeries that they were all sold out of cakes and cookies – – all for the Eid! So, feeling worried that I did not have any savories for the festivities, early the next day I dashed to a shopping spree, much like last minute Christmas shopping, but really four full days before the event!

The night before the Eid, as is customary, I made Halwa and bread and distributed them in the name of our dearly departed to the neighbors and our local mosque. That night I also listened to the radio to make sure it was Eid, as it is not Eid in Afghanistan until Saudi Arabia declares it to be, modern means of spotting the moon of a new month notwithstanding.

I got up early the next morning and arranged the sweets and dried fruits and Halwa on platters and made sure there was enough hot tea and cups to go around. This being the first Eid after my mom’s passing I was supposed to stay home for people to come and see me.

On the second day of Eid I went visiting myself. I did have wonderful visits but nothing compared to what I observed in the streets. It seemed to me that everyone was out, by car, on bicycles, on foot, in groups of mixed company, in men or women-only groups, in a myriad of clean, festive dress codes. Even the streets themselves looked clean and resonated with a lot of loud of music.

However, one recurring sight caught my eye the most and made me realize how special this Eid was. That was seeing men walking together with women: I saw men in suits holding their babies and strolling side by side with their wives who wore a lot of makeup, colorful glittery dresses, elaborate sumptuous scarves; men in pakol and piran/tunban (Afghan equivalent of blue jeans) accompanying their grown sisters in burqa; military men holding the hand of their little sons and daughters, their mothers walking ahead; groups of brothers and sisters of various ages snacking and chatting together; men on motorbikes with a woman on the back seat; one bicycle with six persons on it, husband, wife and four children; a distinguished-looking elderly couple, she wearing a brownish traditional Afghan dress pleated at the waist, long white pantaloons, a soft beige scarf on her shingnoned gray hair and green shawl over her shoulders, the man with a well-groomed beard, wearing a dark green turban striped with white, and brown chapan over his immaculate piran/tunban, holding his wife’s hand, crossing the street.

Everywhere I turned I saw the same scene, men and women in the company of each other. The same story in homes too, husbands and wives greeting visitors together, doing the rituals of hospitality together, and conversing, joking and laughing together. To me, this was truly the first time Afghan men could publicly express with their actions what they think of Afghan women. These men were walking or riding or visiting with happy relaxed faces, sure steps, tall postures, exuding pride. As if to say loud and clear, albeit in an unspoken manner, that walking together with their families, not being ashamed of it or of them, being proud of their womenfolk, was their normal, customary habit.

This was the same Afghan man who was the butt of lies of the Taliban. The Taliban said the customs of the land required the decrees against women. The Taliban who disrespected women through Fatwas (religious decrees) and their religious police, in effect hit at the core of the dignity Afghan men feel as heads of their families. Every time Mullah Omar proclaimed another Fatwa against Afghan women, he chipped away at the authority and self-respect of the Afghan men. The men felt it but were powerless because any reaction and they would be further shamed and humiliated. Although the men themselves were also restricted in many ways, many of them have told me that the indignity against their women was like a poison forced down their throat or a dagger pushed in their hearts.

On this Eid day, it seemed to me that the men wanted to show their true selves and say out-loud that what the Taliban said about the customs of Afghan men were a pack of lies, that what the Taliban did to the authority of the family destroyed the sanctity of the Afghan family. I felt Afghan men wanted to stand up for themselves and show their respect and support for the women. They wanted to reclaim the dignity of their families and express their tolerance towards other families. They wanted to declare that this was their Islam and their traditions. They now had the freedom to tell the world ‘See, this is my family, I am the head of this household and responsible for its well-fare, and I am proud of my family.’Ö Thank God for the return of freedom that will help heal and rebuild the pride of the Afghan man, and, with it, the Afghan family!

So, for me, this Eid was about the return of the dignity of the Afghan man. My unsung Afghan brother, you who withstood so much indignity during the Taliban and their masters, you who suffered so many humiliations at the hands of the religious police, you who were ultimately victorious in rooting out the Taliban with your gun and wit, congratulations on your new found freedom! You know that your family authority is yours again; that today, in family peace and harmony just you and your wife have a role, not the Taliban compulsion; that the guardians of your family dignity are just you and your wife, not the Taliban police. My wonderful brother, you who keep the family going with your hard hard work, you who are a porter, pushcart seller and thistle gatherer, you who are a Mullah, cleric and jurist, you who are a farmer, carpenter and cotton beater, you who are a soldier, Mujahed and defender of our independence and religion, you who are a teacher, expert and politician, you know you are first a husband, father, brother and son, and I wish your wife, mother, sister and daughter’s place to be always by your side, not under the Talib whip. You who in the field toil together with your wife, you who in the city together with your wife are responsible for the household, you who on the street, together with others of your brothers are the sentries of all other families, I salute you! My beloved brother, you, who, on this holy day, showed your civilized culture to all, may your future always be Eid, an Eid of freedom and respect!