ANA Mullah’s Perspective

Note:  My intent is not to offend my Muslim readers and the context below is based on my research and my memory of an intellectual and theological conversation with an ANA Mullah.

ANA Mullah.

It was another one of those unpredictable days, not knowing what was in store for me as I ventured over to ANA land.  We held our typical morning meetings, shook hands with our ANA counterparts and practiced greetings in our best Dari enunciation.  I briefly met up with the PBO officer who was being hurried off to conduct an equipment inventory.  My ANA Sgt Major was boarding a helicopter and flying to a conference.  So with mentoring, this only left the Religious Officer Assistant (ROA).  My interpreter Omid called him on his cell phone and he was in and wanted to chat.

As we were walking up the hill, I noticed a large grader was smoothing out the piles of gravel that was dumped

ANA grading piles of gravel.

there a few days ago.  Somehow the grader was miraculously fixed and the mounds of gravel were being leveled out.  I had to take a picture and inquire how this Caterpillar grader was magically repaired.  Through my interpreter, I learned the grader had a bad battery and it was simply replaced.  Wulah!  Just like magic, the grader was operational again!  Later on I learned the Australians gave some pointers on how to use the grader, because the ANA driver did not angle the blade and was attempting to smooth out the piles by keeping the blade at a 90 degree angle.  Small victories!!

Our next stop was the Religious Officer’s building.  He is in charge of the ANA literacy program and the religious curriculum.  When we walked into his office, I was pleasantly surprised to see the ANA Mullah sitting in a chair.  Although the Mullah is short in stature and a man of few words, it’s always an educational experience to hear his viewpoints.  After a few pleasantries, (greetings and handshakes), I initiated the conversation by inquiring about my previous visit to their classroom last week.  The ROA has a tendency to dominate the conversation and he provided me some positive feedback.  He attributed some of the student’s viewpoints due to lack of education and heavily influenced by rumor and propaganda.  He said majority of the students liked me and Americans, but they do not like the Brits.  The Brits have been accused of allegedly ferrying Taliban militants from the south and dropping them off into the Northern provinces along with providing them weapons.  I felt this was preposterous, but the RAO explained this is how gullible these uneducated soldiers are.  In fact, part of the religious curriculum is teaching these new recruits how to properly pray and ablution (cleansing of the body before prayer).

I turned to the Mullah and decided to probe at him with some neutral questions.  On a previous occasion, I tried to delve too fast into a controversial issue and he wouldn’t respond.  Instead the RAO would defend his position and I got the impression that the Mullah knew everything, so he didn’t have any questions for me or curiosities.  So today I took the pace slower, hoping not to offend him.  I learned he was placed into an Afghan madrassa at the young age of 6 years old.  For the next 15 years, he would study the Holy Quran and undergo a detailed religious curriculum.  By the time he completed his training, he had memorized the entire Quran.  At a later date, I hope to learn more about his religious studies and daily life inside a madrassa.

I surprised the Mullah and the RAO by informing them that I had read the English version of the first 2 chapters of the Quran.  Then the RAO surprised me by revealing an English translation of the Quran wrapped in an expensive silk cloth.  I knew better not to touch the book and even clarified that with my hosts.  However, if I were to conduct an ablution, even as a Christian I would be allowed to touch their Holy book.  An ablution is when a person washes their face once, both arms up to the elbows, part of the head, and washing the feet up to the ankles.

Our next topic was a bit of a historical question to me testing my knowledge on the origins of the Quran.  My research paid off and I detailed according to Islamic belief that the Angel Gabriel appeared to their Prophet Mohammad and revealed the verses used in the Koran.  The verses were initially memorized by his followers and later on recorded in writing.  The Mullah corrected me on some parts of my historical knowledge, but for the most part I had passed.  This is when I saw an opportunity to inquire more about the term of “infidel.”  I knew this topic could be treading thin ice and lead into a theological debate, but it was a risk I was willing to take.  I started my sentence with a question, “Were you aware that the Christians first used this term in the 14th century to label people who were non-Christians”?  Then I inquired, what does this term mean to Muslims.  The RAO who is very educated and knowledgeable would interject before the Mullah would have an opportunity to respond.  I sensed he was almost protecting him, just in case I would ask a “gotcha question” which was not my intention.  The RAO went into a long dissertation explaining about the differences/similarities in Christianity and Muslim faith and how extremists use this term for non-Muslims.  He also revealed that some of the students in the classroom also viewed me as an infidel because they were not educated.

The Mullah at times would utter a few words and the RAO would expand on them.  For instance, it is permissible for a Muslim to marry a Christian and vice versa.  However, I was also aware this is permissible, but the children will be raised as Muslims.  The RAO explained that every faith wants to continue and expand and Christianity is no difference.  But I also pointed out that if a Muslim converts to Christianity in a Muslim country, the penalty could be death.  But in the United States, Christians can convert to become a Muslim without penalty.  I also understand and respect the cultural laws of Muslim societies, even though I may be in disagreement with the penalties imposed.

I made a point to tell the RAO that I would like to hear from the Mullah and this would be an opportunity for everyone in the room to learn.  So if he could refrain from dominating the conversation, I would appreciate it.  Everyone in the room laughed.  I asked the Mullah about women wearing burqas and the rationale behind it.  He said it was in the Quran and detailed that women must be protected because men look at women in a sexual way which leads to rape, adultery, etc.  Only the husband should be allowed to appreciate her beauty.  I inquired where in the Quran did it say this, he said the next time we meet he would show me.  I did not want to offend him or his knowledge by testing his memory of the Quran since it was only 3 feet away from him.  That would be disrespectful.  Instead, I responded with a question that raised all of the eyebrows in the room.  First I inquired “Isn’t it wrong for a man to lust upon a woman who is not his wife and doesn’t this violate the Quran”?  I was correct with this assertion, but then I spoke without really thinking.  I said, “Then men in Afghanistan are really weak and can’t control their lust and as a result the women are forced to wear burqas.  Futhermore, if all of these men were really devout practicing Muslims and adhere to the Quran, there would not be a need for the women to wear the burqas”.  The RAO could not stay silent any longer and in defense of Afghan men he tried in vain to attribute this to people being uneducated.  Unintentionally I may have come up with a “gotcha question.”  The Mullah only smiled and did not respond.

My time was up and we clarified the details about speaking with his classroom tomorrow.  So tonight while I am typing this entry, I am trying to construct some questions that will not inflame the class, but also provide an opportunity for me to learn and in turn, they might be able to learn something from me.

Runt Runt poses for camera.

When I returned from ANA land, I stopped to see the camp puppies.  “Fat Boy” was adopted by the interpreters and will be kept at “Terp Village.”  A contractor is going to adopt the brown female named “Runt Runt”.  The remaining puppy is going to stay at the camp for now.  He has a dislocated leg which may have been accidentally injured when the mother laid on her puppies at birth.

Camp puppies in their box.

Later in the afternoon we had a few drops of rain and I was able to capture the rainbow image with my camera.  Tomorrow I will speak with the literacy class and it should be another educational day.

Rainbow seen from the camp.

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6 Responses

  1. What an interesting conversation you had! I can’t imagine how you could have offended with your questions. They were right on! You asked everything I would have wanted to ask, I think you were very diplomatic.

    i have read a lot of books written by people who have also served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in comparison, your blog is really the most interesting. I really think you could put a book together when you get back and it would be very successful.

    I feel sorry for that poor puppy with the dislocated leg. I’d adopt him in a second if I could. My two german shepherd dogs would love him, and so would we.

    Paula Dowling
    Harry and Zoey, GSDs
    North Salem
    New York

  2. Great report. It’s very hard to understand a culture without understanding religion … as the son of a preacher man.

  3. I am soooooo proud of you Rex. What an experience. i believe that if there were more Rexes there, there would be more peace.

    Thank you for sharing all of this.

    All the best,

    Angela (and Dan, who is at school tonight)

  4. some excellent questions!! As a muslim I commend you for asking and hope you will continue to do so—the reason is, that the Quran is against blind belief and encourages its readers to adopt a questioning attitude. (This is made abundantly clear in the stories about Prophet Abraham(pbuh) who came to understand God through questioning.) The Quran itself asks questions of its readers through phrases such as—Do you not see—have you not contemplated—when they ask—–etc.

    By the way, there are many translations available online—some mainstream ones are Pickthall, Yusuf Ali and Mohammed Asad. The M.Asad translation comes with Tafsir(commentary) that puts the verses in context and explains some of the Arabic meanings—-and you do not need to do wudu to read them.

    The verse about modesty is Surah 24, verses 30 and 31. The definition of “modesty’ is left upto the intelligence of human beings—the Quran merely provides guidelines. In a lawless atmosphere such as Afghanistan, “modesty” might be defined differently than in Indonesia for example.

    The word “Kaffir” often translated as “unbeliever” has been sorely abused by Muslims. —mostly to refer to other Muslims who do not hold the same beliefs. The reason is that in order to be a (true)”Kaffir” one has to first fully know and understand Islam and then reject it. (someone who has no idea of Islam would not be a true “Kaffir” since you cannot reasonably reject something you do not know—such a person could be a “Jahili” or ignorant–though this word has a more specific meaning) The word kaffir originates from the root word “ungrateful”. (for more on this–refer to Toshihiko Isuztu”s work)

    Death for conversion from Islam is also against the Quran as the Quran advocates freedom of religion—“there is no compulsion is religion”. see also Surah 109 (Al-Kafirun) verses 1-6 and Surah 5 verse 48, …among many others.

    The best way to learn (gain knowledge) is through questioning and I hope your example will inspire Muslims in Afghanistan to pursue knowledge through a questioning attitude.

    You can use this hadith (saying of the Prophet (pbuh)) to make questioning easier…..” The search for knowledge is a sacred duty imposed upon every Muslim. Go in search of knowledge, even to China.”

  5. A very interesting post! I admire your direct/sensitive approach in capturing the essence of their beliefs.

  6. What is Holy Quran

    The Quran is the most often-read book in the world. Revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century, and revered by Muslims as being God’s final Scripture and Testament, its words have been lovingly recited, memorized, and implemented by Muslims of every nationality ever since.
    “It is He Who sends down manifest Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) to His slave (Muhammad) that He may bring you out from darkness into light
    [Surah (Chapter of) al-Hadeed 57:9 – English interpretation of the Quranic Verse]
    Learn Quran, Read tajweed Quran online, learning Quran online Koran

    Allah has told us in the Quran (Quran / Koran) the stories of the earlier and later generations and the creation of the heavens and the earth. He has explained in detail what halaal is and what is haraam, the basics of good manners and morals, the rulings of worship and dealings with others, the lives of the Prophets and the righteous, and the reward and punishment of the believers and disbelievers. He has described Paradise, the abode of the believers, and He has described Hell, the abode of the disbelievers. He has made it (the Quran (Quran / Koran)) an explanation of all things:
    “And We have sent down to you the Book (the Quran (Quran / Koran)) as an exposition of everything, a guidance, a mercy, and glad tidings for those who have submitted themselves (to Allah as Muslims)”
    The Quran (Quran / Koran) confirms the Books which came before it, the Tawraat (Torah) and Injeel (Gospel), and it is a witness over them, as Allah says (English interpretation of the Quranic Verse):
    “And We have sent down to you (O Muhammad) the Book (this Qur’aan (Quran / Koran)) in truth, confirming the Scripture that came before it and Muhaymin (trustworthy in highness and a witness) over it (old Scriptures)”[Surah (Chapter of) al-Maa’idah 5:48]
    The faithful are inspired, consoled often moved to tears by its eloquence and poetic imagery, especially when recited aloud. And yet, the Qur’an is unique in being the only Scripture that is free of scientific inaccuracies, whose historical authenticity can be verified, and whose text has been so carefully preserved that just one authorized version (in Arabic) exists. Approximately the length of the New Testament, the Qur’an is also the only holy book that can be memorized in its entirety by people of all ages and intellectual abilities – including non-Arabic speakers – which Muslims consider to be one of its miracles.

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