From the time I received the invitation for a week’s visit to Afghanistan from Mawlawi Ataurrehman Saleem Sahab’s Afghanistan Academic and Islamic Research Centre (AAIRC) a leading organization of Afghanistan on Islamic issues, there was a deep sense of exhilaration and a little hesitation about the visit. As a world traveler I never had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan. Yet there was an element of apprehension due to the situation. However, the week long invitation from a renowned organization with laudable objectives where I was invited to address issues relating to the rights of women in Islam, was a compelling factor in accepting the invitation . The dates finally fixed for the visit were 18-25th. September.
The Islamic Research Centre in Kabul , headed by the liberal Mawlawi Ataurrehman Saleem , enjoys the support of hundreds of Ulema The key intention of his organization is to increase the moderate and enlightened understanding of Islam. Hence one of its principal aims is to organize programs to invite eminent scholars from diverse countries to interact with the Ulema from Afghanistan and also Honorable Members of Parliament and Government Officials. . Mawlana Ataurrehman Sahab , the President AAIRC is an exceptional, dynamic person with a vision, mission and determination to broaden the perspective and practice of moderate Islam.
Initially, like several other people, I carried a baggage of misconceptions regarding Afghanistan and its people. It was only after an interface accompanied by a deep interaction and communication with its people,( along with my own observations of the milieu ) that made me change my mind . It was admirable that despite the turbulence, problems and predicaments, that faced the Nation, I saw the gentleness, genuineness and kindness , not to mention the courtesy, hospitality of the Afghans . In spite of the fact that Afghanistan has gone through the grind of trials and tribulations of foreign invasions and domination since several decades, particularly the late seventies , and still countenances formidable challenges, the people of Afghanistan retain their tender human element and I salute them for that. Media reports add to misapprehensions telling us that whole of Afghanistan is under the grip of violence and there is no peace or governance beyond Kabul.
Although my family has always encouraged my international travel for education especially pertaining to the rights of women in Islam, they were discouraging and even adamant about my visit . It took a great deal to convince them . Friends earnestly beseeched me not to travel in view of the fact that it could be hazardous and advised me to take safeguards. But during the course of my visit there was not a single moment when I felt at risk. Later I found that withith the exception of borders close to Pakistan it was safe .
Sunday 18 September
After reaching Kabul via Delhi on the evening of Sunday 18th , I was received by Mr. Afzal Afzali at the airport and invited the same evening, to meet , AAIRC President Mawlawi Ataurrhman Saleem Sahab, at his office. His welcome and kindness with those of his colleagues at once made me comfortable and put me at ease. Mawlana Sahab conversed with me in Urdu. His Public Relations Officer , Mr. Afzal Afzali, a bright young Buisness Management graduate spoke in fluent English. He expressed his wish to continue with his post – graduation studies in India. Despite several linguistic groups existing in Afghanistan, it is basically a country where Pashtu and Dari (Persian) are official languages. Persian is the language of erudite and cultured people and most of the Ulema speak Persian fluently.
The conversation revolved around the situation in Afghanistan, its religious facets and the situation concerning women. He did not mince his words when he gave me to understand that Pakistan was the enemy and troublemaker , its main objective being dominance and control of certain areas of Afghanistan. His passionate disapproval of the country and its people were clearly stated. On the other hand he said, Afghans had an overwhelming confidence and regard for India and Indians. They looked at India as an old friend and ally and said India was its confidant.
For those who claim that politically and religiously Muslims transnationaly unite to threaten the rest of the world this is certainly an eye-opener! The inherent fact that it is “ interest”, economic or otherwise , and not “religion” that it the polarizing factor. I found a clear line of distinction between perception and reality
Mawlana Sahab was of the opinion that Taliban control was existed in certain border regions skirting Pakistan, and the Talibans had no control in Afghanistan and even in the districts they assaulted , they vanished. However they looked for power sharing. The Taliban problem was principally due to Pakistan where they were trained and sent to Afghanistan and did not actually control governance in those areas where they were sent . In a way the Talibans were more a media projection than a reality. This view was confirmed and supported by many other Afghans.
It was also interesting when Mawlana Sahab mentioned that although Sunnis and Shias groups existed consisting of different linguistic groups, tribes and other differences they were united and co-existed peacefully.
On the subject the status of women he spoke at length . Generally the situation was dismal. There was a volume of work to be done on that front. The Afghans were a traditional society, education levels were low, poverty levels were high, constant wars depleted opportunities, there was much pressure from the Muslim conservatives who held a restrictive perspective. Women had to be made aware of the rights given to them by Islam. This was very significant as Shariah laws were practiced.
Mawlana Ataurruhman Sahab had arranged a series of meetings with the Ulema, Dignitaries, Honorable Members of Parliament , Vice Chancellors, Human Right Activists and several others.
On the eve of my arrival, after a meeting with the Mawlana and his Officials, a meeting had been arranged with HE , the Honorable Ambassador to India in Kabul, Mr. Gautam Mukhopadhya who previously been informed of my visit.
After passing through strict security we were warmly greeted by Mr. Abdul Ghafoor Algur, Councellor, Embassy of Kabul. He was instrumental in kindly arranging the meeting.
He guided us to the living room where we met the distinguished Ambassador Mr. Gautam Mukhopadhya. He greeted us warmly and cordially. His graciousness and affability and made me feel as if I was back home in India. I presented him with a copy of my book “ Winning The Peace : A Quest”. Wlile flipping through the pages , he remarked that he was familiar with several contributors from India.
As this was Mawlana Sahab’s first meeting with the Honorable Ambassador , there was a a lengthy , significant discussion revolving around Mawlana Sahabs efforts towards presenting the liberal understanding of Islam, my lecture series, a meeting with Dignitaries and Parliamentarians, problems relating to security, and other thoughts and issues discussed. There was an important discussion regarding a program inviting renowned , enlightened Mawlanas from India to visit and lecture in Afghanistan. There was also program to be arranged to invite Mawlanas from Afghanistan to India. Both Mawlana Sahab and the Honorable Ambassador asked me to recommend names and be an active part of this exchange program. We are working on that.
On the occasion , the Ambassador thoughtfully proposed to host a dinner party in my honor to meet some Women Parliamentarians’ and eminent persons in Afghanistan.
The hospitality of the Afghans is proverbial and I witnessed the same when ( after my meeting with the Ambassador ) I was driven to the Five Star Hotel called the Safi Landmark . It was a luxurious , modern, well-designed place . The Manager of the Hotel happened an Indian by the name of Mr. Krishnan and his right hand man was Mr. Shafi also an Indian. ! Warm hospitality, care and concern was extended by them during my stay. It had been a full day for me and I enjoyed a good nights rest.
The next morning my appointments began at 10 am. After that there was looking back.
Monday 19 September
The day began with a visit the University of Education and interaction with the prominent scholar , the Vice Chancellor of the University , Mr. Mir Harun Ahmadi. Some university Professors were present at the meeting. Mr. Mir Harun Ahmadi , an academician and well known Geographer and Cartographer , gracefully led me to the auditorium where a lecture on the subject of education and the rights of women in Islam was arranged. Both young men and women attended the class although they sat separately. Both participated in the debate the discussion that followed.
There was a range of subjects addressed from politics to economics to matters relating to the rights of women. These subjects were debated and discussed. On the question of womens status , several matters arose relating to their dignity, equality in the spiritual, legal and economic spheres. Regarding equality, the usual question regarding the testimony of women was brought up . When a male student read a selective quotation on the subject, he had to be informed by me that there are 9 verses in the Quran relating to the subject of testimony in the Quran. However , there was only one verse always selectively quoted in this matter ? And why then were the other 8 verses not brought up in the c