Did You Know These Amazing Facts About Poetry in Afghanistan?

No other nation has poetry flowing through its history and its soul quite as strongly as Afghanistan does. The rich tradition of poetry in Afghanistan dates back thousands of years, and historic and contemporary poems alike are cherished by just about every group in modern Afghan society. To learn more about the special place that this unique art form occupies in the hearts of Afghans, read on for a look at some fascinating facts about poets and poetry in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has produced countless famous and passionate poets.

Poetry has existed in the region that we now know as Afghanistan for more than 3,000 years. It’s therefore hardly surprising that, over the centuries, the region has produced some of the world’s most famous and passionate poets, many of whom are enjoying a newfound popularity with contemporary audiences. These poets include:

Rumi—The 13thcentury Sufi poet and mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi, better known simply as Rumi, is the most widely celebrated Persian language poet in the world. Born in Balkh in 1207, Rumi lived for much of his life in present-day Turkey, but is still claimed by Afghans as their own beloved poet. His thousands of poems, many of which were inspired by his friendship with the mystic and religious seeker Shams of Tabriz, are known for combining religious themes and imagery, and for exploring spiritual love and transcendence. Rumi’s most important work is the Mathnawi or Masnavi, a six-book spiritual epic that attempts to teach followers of the religious tradition of Sufism to become one with God.

Jami—Two centuries after Rumi, the Persian-language scholar, mystic, and poet Jami was born and spent his life in Herat, which was a noted literary and scholarly center for many centuries. His work explores complex questions of ethics and philosophy using what has been described as a fresh, graceful, and simple style. Many Islamic rulers of the time offered patronage to Jami, but he refused most of these proposals, preferring to live simply as a mystic and scholar rather than as a court poet.

Khushal Khan Khattak—Often referred to as the national poet of Afghanistan, as well as the father of Pashto literature, the 17th century Pashto poet Khushal Khan Khattak was both a poet and a warrior. A renowned military fighter who first served the Mughal empire and later turned against it, Khushal Khan Khattak spent the last years of his life promoting the cause of Pashtun nationalism through his poetry. It is estimated that he wrote some 45,000 poems in total, primarily on subjects such as honor, war, unity, and love.

Poetry readings are a common pastime.

In present-day Afghanistan, poetry is considered one of the highest forms of self-expression, so it’s not surprising that gathering to read and share poems, both old and new, is a popular pastime among Afghans.

In Herat, for example, members of the Herat Literary Association meet weekly to share and discuss their latest works. While these poets come from all walks of life, many are young people looking for an outlet to express their views on life in contemporary Afghanistan. Poems shared at the Herat Literary Association deal not only with weighty subjects such as war and peace, but also with love, friendship, and the realities, both positive and negative, of daily life.

In Afghanistan, poetry can be competitive.

Have you ever thought of poetry as a competitive sport? One of Afghanistan’s most intriguing poetic traditions is “sher jangi,” which translates as “poetry fighting” or “poem battle.” In this game, which is a common form of entertainment in Afghanistan, one person kicks off the contest by composing a verse. The challenger must then reply with a new verse or line which not only responds thematically to the previous verse, but also begins with the same letter as the last word of the previous verse.

The contest continues back and forth until one poet fails to come up with a coherent response. The tradition of sher jangi is at least a thousand years old: once performed by master poets at court, poetry fighting is now popular among adults at parties and gatherings, and as a game for younger boys and girls.

The Kabul Public Library was established by poets.

Of the handful of public libraries that exist in Afghanistan, the Kabul Public Library is the country’s only state-owned public library. It therefore seems entirely fitting that this library was established in 1966 by members of the Association of Poets. An organization that brought scholars, playwrights, teachers, and poets together from all across Afghanistan, the Association of Poets gave Afghan literary artists a sense of support and camaraderie that few had experienced before. The four founding members of the library transformed this wonderful poetic energy into a small but important literary hub that, today, is home to thousands of poetry books, among other resources.

7 Certified Charities That Make Life Better for Afghan Children

According to 2019 data from the World Bank, more than 4 out of every 10 Afghans (42.47 percent) are under the age of 14. Given this very young population, it’s hardly surprising to find that many charities in Afghanistan are specifically focused on improving the quality of life for children and youth. Read on for a look at seven charities and NGOs that include children’s needs and issues as part of their mission. Best of all, each one of these organizations is certified by the Afghan Institute for Civil Society, which means that they all operate using internationally recognized standards and best practices.

Help the Afghan Children (HTAC)

For over 25 years, HTAC has been working to build an Afghanistan in which all children have equal rights to education and can participate fully in the country’s civil society. Through its innovative educational programs, HTAC empowers children and their communities to become productive actors in their society and their future.

Projects the organization has undertaken include its respected Peace Education Program, which has taught key skills and values such as cooperation, respect, and conflict resolution to nearly 100,000 students in 93 schools, and its vocational skills training initiatives, which helps vulnerable families break the cycle of poverty by providing high school-aged children with training in areas such as computer skills and tailoring.

Youth Health & Development Organization (YHDO)

Established in Afghanistan in 2009 by a group of health professionals, YHDO has a vision of a socially inclusive Afghanistan in which youth are empowered to exercise their rights and have their voices heard. In conjunction with a variety of development partners, including Save the Children International and numerous UN agencies, YHDO works across 19 Afghan provinces to deliver key services to Afghan youth and other marginalized groups. Central focus areas for YHDO include health services, community development, and human rights. Examples of specific programs include prevention and treatment programs for HIV-affected groups and emergency health response efforts in vulnerable areas.

Tashabos Education Organization (TEO)

An Afghan-led nonprofit based in Kabul, TEO supports Afghan youth in a unique way: by training them to be entrepreneurs. TEO originally began as an entrepreneurship-promotion project of the Center for International Private Enterprises, but today, the organization offers business-based educational programs to over 35,500 high school students in the Kabul area.

Students receive training in key areas such as market-based economics, good governance, and fighting corruption. They also benefit from networking opportunities and other forms of mentorship and support. The main goal of TEO’s work is to inspire and prepare youth to be socio-economically empowered, as well as to support them in building businesses, which will, in turn, help to build Afghanistan.

Bu Ali Rehabilitation and Aid Network (BARAN)

While there are many vulnerable children in need of support throughout Afghanistan, many of those who need help the most live in remote, rural areas. It is precisely these children that BARAN, established in 2006, aims to reach.

BARAN offers programs and services across a range of areas, including education and social services, but its main activity is the delivery of health care, especially care targeting children and families. Some of the programs BARAN has recently undertaken include offering critical immunizations to children in rural areas and conducting community-based nutrition programs designed to educate families on age-appropriate nutrition.

People’s Action for Change Organization (PAC)

PAC’s mission is to create an Afghan society where everyone can live in dignity and peace without hunger, poverty, or suffering. Established in 2012 and operating across several focus areas, including child protection and education, PAC works by assessing community needs, promoting community participation in the planning process, implementing programs collaboratively, and remaining accountable to community members during the evaluation process.

Shuhada Organization (SO)

Established in 1989, SO is one of the longest continually operating NGOs in Afghanistan. Guided by its simple but profound slogan, “Working for a Better Tomorrow,” SO has expanded its mission and vision over the years to incorporate many programs and services in the sectors of education, health, human rights, and democracy.

It has also placed particular emphasis on helping and empowering children. Some of SO’s major accomplishments include the construction and renovation of 127 schools and three orphanages and the provision of extended education services to over 217,000 Afghan youth. SO has also provided awareness training on human rights and democracy to hundreds of thousands of people.

Razi Social Development Organization (RSDO)

In Afghanistan, one of the main ways that charities help children is by facilitating their access to education. RSDO, in operation since 2008, counts education among its main areas of focus. With a vision of an Afghanistan in which no one is illiterate, RSDO works to ensure that all Afghan children have access to a high-quality education that can improve their lives and allow them to build a better future for themselves.

7 Amazing Things You Can Find in Kabul

If there’s one thing you should know about Kabul, it’s that this incredible city is full of surprises. Current news stories usually reveal little about the Afghan capital. However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see a place that is home to some truly special and unexpected features.

Some of the most unique things you can find in Kabul include:

Evidence of a long, rich history

Did you know that humans have been living on or near the site of Kabul for over 3,500 years? The first mention of a settlement here appears in the Rigveda, an ancient Hindu scripture which dates back to the year 1500 BCE. The city then makes a further appearance in the writings of the Alexandrian scholar Ptolemy, who lived in the second century CE. This long history makes Kabul one of the oldest settlements in the world, and evidence of its amazing past can still be found in the centuries-old monuments and buildings that survive to this day.

High altitude

Tucked into a narrow valley between the soaring peaks of the Hindu Kush mountain range, Kabul is one of the world’s highest capital cities (only 10 other capitals are located at higher altitudes). Kabul’s elevation is an impressive 5,873 feet above sea level; this is about the same elevation as the city of Denver, Colorado, which is popularly known as the “Mile-High City.”

A century-old bird market

In the heart of Kabul’s old city lies the Ka Faroshi Bird Market. Tucked away behind a mosque, the market occupies a narrow alley that is lined with stalls selling all types of birds. For many Afghans, keeping birds is a passion and a much-needed source of solace and comfort in challenging times. Birds that can be found at the market include canaries, finches, fighting cocks, roosters, and doves, but a particular favorite is the elegant chukar partridge, a reddish-gray bird with a red beak, black stripes on its side, and a distinctive black band across its eyes and throat.

Lush gardens

Among outsiders, Kabul may have a reputation as an arid desert city, but in fact, the capital is home to many beautiful green spaces. The largest and best known of these is Bagh-e Babur, or Babur’s Gardens, an 11-hectare oasis of peace and tranquility in the heart of Kabul. The gardens were founded in the early 16th century by Babur, the first Mughal emperor who used Kabul as his capital city for two decades. An avid gardener and nature enthusiast, Babur designed his gardens according to the traditional principles of Islamic gardens, which include key features such as a quadrant layout, flowing water, shade, abundant foliage, and perimeter walls. Although they fell into disrepair, Babur’s Gardens have been spectacularly restored with the support of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Open to visitors since 2008, the gardens stand today as one of Kabul’s most beloved public spaces, and a home for cultural performances and other special events.

A museum dedicated to land mines

Many of Kabul’s museums, such as the National Museum of Afghanistan, highlight and celebrate the country’s rich cultural history, but some also commemorate the more sobering aspects of Afghanistan’s recent past. Among these is the OMAR Mine Museum, which teaches visitors about the history of landmines in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. This museum, operated by the Organization for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation, features displays about the different types of mines and military hardware that have been used in Afghanistan, and the ongoing work being done to remove mines and make the land safe for use again.

An unusual mosque

In the center of the city, just off the Kabul River, sits one of the most surprising examples of Islamic religious architecture to be found anywhere in the world. Built in the 1920s, the Shah-e Doh Shamshira Mosque boasts two stories, a lemon-yellow façade, and Italianate stucco detailing: all very unusual features for an Islamic place of worship. The design for the mosque was modeled after Istanbul’s Ortakoy Mosque, and some describe the overall effect as “Afghan Baroque.”

A skate park

When Australian skateboarders Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan first came to Kabul in 2007, they couldn’t have foreseen that over a decade later, they would be running a hugely popular skateboarding school and international charity. Today, Skateistan continues to pursue its mission of using skateboarding to engage Afghan children, and to help increase their access to education, health care, and cultural opportunities. The school and skate park, which serves around 300 students, is built on land donated by the Afghan National Olympic Committee.

Featured Image courtesy Teseum | Flickr