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Afghanistan Culture and Traditions

Customs and traditions

Afghanistan is an almost entirely Muslim country and most contexts are characterized by Islamic customs. This means that social interaction between men and women who do not belong to the same family is severely limited, almost non-existent. On the other hand, one often encounters a hospitality that can be overwhelming to an outsider.

  • Countryaah: Overview of the capital city of Afghanistan, including information about its population, economy, geography, history and map.

Anyone who is invited to an Afghan family, or has a booked business meeting, may be prepared for the fact that time is a very relative concept. The wait can be long before the meeting / dinner starts. In addition, several activities can take place simultaneously; people leave the room, others come in, there are various interruptions. Patience is a virtue.

Men and women

A firm handshake is the normal way to greet, men in between. It is often followed by both putting their hand to the heart and bowing slightly. A cheek kiss, men in between - or women in between, but never between man and woman - can also occur. The greeting is also usually accompanied by inquiries about the other's health, his children, how things are done, etc. A foreign man should not ask an Afghan how his wife or daughters are doing. It is an undue intrusion into privacy.

Culture and Traditions of AfghanistanIf a foreign man visits a relatively traditional Afghan home, he probably does not meet any women at all. In this respect, a foreign woman has a first step; she can move in both male and female environment. In more modern metropolitan families, or in workplaces with both men and women, a man should not try to shake hands with an Afghan woman unless she takes the initiative herself. A foreign woman also makes good sense to settle for bowing to the men and oral health, at some distance.

In the event of encounters with an Afghan woman, a man should not only avoid shaking hands with her, but also avoid looking her in the eyes. That, or talking to men about a woman in their family, is considered patronizing and a lack of respect for the whole family.

A man and a woman who do not belong to the same family should never be alone in a room. Should this still happen, they should keep the door open to show that nothing inappropriate is going on.

Gifts and clothing

During a general conversation, one should first turn to the elder in the congregation. If someone enters the room, or when someone walks in, the others are expected to line up.

It is customary to bring a gift when visiting an Afghan home, at least for the first time, but does not make a big deal with the handover. Don't expect the host to open the package to everyone's curious eyes. It is usually not advisable to bring alcohol as a gift to a host. And even if you know that he is not pure and appreciative of the gift, you should at least be very discreet.

Proper attire is recommended for men in official contexts, more unofficially goes well with wide afghan cotton clothing, or western everyday wear. Women should cover their arms and legs and preferably wear both pants and long skirts that hide all body shapes. It should also cover the hair with a shawl.


In private homes, dinner is usually served on a canvas laid over a large, beautifully knotted rug. The guests are placed on pillows around the carpet and take, with their right hand, from common dishes. Green tea, soft drinks or mineral water are served for the meal. Any business discussions, or political discussions, are saved after the meal.

A long dinner can be a torment for a Westerner who is above sitting with his legs retracted under his body. The host may have indulgence in the fact that a foreigner is forced to stretch his legs sometimes, but care should be taken not to point the soles of the feet to another. It is very naughty.

Since a guest is considered a gift from God, you are always served the best house you can bring. Very poor people may only be able to afford tea and some candies, maybe a bowl of fresh berries. In the well-off, a variety of meat and fish dishes, vegetables, yogurt, bread and other accessories can be brought up, but the care of the guest is the same no matter what is offered. Leave some leftover food on the plate. Scratching cleanly indicates that you are still hungry and did not get enough. Do not take food with your left hand, nor hand anything over to someone with your left hand. It is reserved for toilet visits.

A non-Muslim should never touch a copy of the Qur'an. It is considered too sacred to be handled by a non-believer.

Weekends and holidays

In a country like Afghanistan, where almost all are Muslims, the same religious celebrations are celebrated as in other Muslim-dominated countries. You fast during the Ramadan and celebrate the end of the fasting month with the big holiday id al-fitr, when everyone goes to the mosque and then frozen in the best food the household can spend with family and friends. Id al-fitr can be roughly compared to the Christmas celebrations of Christians as the feast when the family is at the center.

During id e-qurban, a sheep or some other animal is sacrificed to celebrate that hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, begins.

For Shia Muslims, ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, is an important feast, though most marked by sorrow. Then the Shia Muslims celebrate Imam Hussain's martyrdom in 680. Hussain was the Prophet Muhammad's daughter's son and is considered within the Shia as the Prophet's rightful successor.

The Muslim New Year, nouroz, is also a religious celebration but is celebrated as a secular celebration. At least in music that is not too strictly religious, there is music and dance. For the peasants, the New Year is an opportunity to praise God for what the earth gives them. In northern Afghanistan, New Year's celebrations are devoted to, among other things, buzkashi, a game similar to horse polo, where the two teams of riders fight for a trophy, which is usually a slaughtered calf.

The Prophet's birthday, mawlid, is partly a family holiday but most of all an opportunity to visit the mosque.

Even as deeply a religious country as Afghanistan has several secular celebrations. In Jalalabad, on April 13, Mushaira, the day of orange blossom, is celebrated when families have a picnic in the green during the blossoming orange trees and listen to music. Similarly, the arrival of spring in the province of Wardak is celebrated ten days later with apple blossom festivals.

May 1 remains as a public holiday as a legacy from the time when the country basically obeyed the Soviet Union. Independence Day jeshyn on August 19 celebrates the day in 1919 when Britain gave up control of Afghan foreign policy and the country became an absolutely sovereign state.

And even though the fall of the communist regime in 1992 triggered a continuing civil war, the Mujahedin's victory day is still celebrated on April 28 - though not by everyone.



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