Taliban Bans New Year's Celebration
By KATHY GANNON
Associated Press Writer
March 20, 2001, KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Amina's multicolored plastic
sandals gleamed against her dirt-caked feet. Photo
They were new - ``special for New Year's,'' she said outside the blue-domed
shrine of Hazrat Ali, where the New Year festival is celebrated each year
by Afghanistan's Shiite Muslims.
But not this year.
Wednesday's New Year celebration has gone the way of the country's
ancient Buddha statues - vanquished by the ruling Taliban, who say it is
contrary to Islam.
A largely Shiite Muslim festival that came to Afghanistan from neighboring
Iran, New Year was decreed a pagan celebration by the Taliban, who said
it was taken from Zoroastrianism, which flourished in pre-Islamic Iran.
``We are an Islamic country and do not celebrate New Year's,'' the
Taliban's Radio Shariat said in announcing the ban.
The same argument was used in ordering the destruction earlier this
month of thousands of statues of Buddha, including two towering Buddhas
carved into a cliffside in the third and fifth centuries - a legacy of
Afghanistan's pre-Islamic residents.
To enforce the ban on New Year celebrations, soldiers stood guard Tuesday
outside the shrine of Hazrat Ali, revered by Shiites as the rightful heir
to rule the Muslim faithful following the death of Islam's prophet Muhammad
in the seventh century.
Sunni Muslims, who are in the majority in Afghanistan, disagreed, leading
to the creation of the two sects.
The Taliban, who have been trying to end the New Year tradition in
Afghanistan for several years, broadcast warnings this week to Shiites
ordering them to observe the ban.
New Year's festivities traditionally include music, baking of special
foods and pilgrimages to the shrine and the graves of loved ones to offer
prayers and food. Often prayers are accompanied by the tying of a brightly
colored ribbons around a pole sheathed in a deep emerald green cloth.
``What can we do? It is the order of the Taliban,'' said Gul Sherah,
an elderly woman who said she normally left food on her brother's grave
for New Year's, but wouldn't this year.
``It is too bad, but all I want right now is to live in peace,'' she
On Tuesday, 11-year-old Lida lugged a jug of water up the steep mud
slope to the shrine looking for thirsty customers. Her tattered jacket
hung open to reveal an old gray sweat shirt, embossed with the words ``American
Baseball Championship.'' Beneath, in smaller letters decorated with a baseball,
were the words: ``Big baseball ideas.''
In keeping with the Taliban ban on educating girls, Lida has never
been to school; she can't read and doesn't know what her sweat shirt says.
But it is still her favorite, she said - special for the New Year.
Amina said her hope for the New Year was for a new dress.
``But I don't think I will get one because we have no money. I have
a sister and four brothers and we don't have any money,'' she said.
Her younger brother Hashmat begs at the shrine. ``But I don't get much,''
the 7-year-old said.
A poor country, ravaged by drought and relentless war, most of Afghanistan
is ruled by the Taliban, whose hard-line interpretation of the Muslim holy
book, the Quran, includes a ban on women working. Men are required to wear
beards and pray in the mosque, and photography, music, television and most
forms of light entertainment are outlawed.