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Taliban Bans New Year's Celebration

Associated Press Writer

March 20, 2001, KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Amina's multicolored plastic sandals gleamed against her dirt-caked feet. Photo here

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 said.

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.


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