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.
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.
Filed under: Mentoring ANA | Tagged: ablution, Afghan National Army, Afghanistan, ANA, Deployment, ETT, infidel, Mullah, Quran, religious curriculum, Taliban, U.S. Air Force, war | 6 Comments »