In the Land of Blue Burqas (updated)

burqasIn the Land of the Blue Burqas by Kate McCord gives a fascinating insight into the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women, and how Islam affects their lives and relationships.

While Islam and Christianity embrace very different views of God, McCord makes use of a few common areas of belief to build a bridge to share the gospel.

McCord writes of how “Afghans almost universally believe in the concept of kismet, fate. Whatever happens happens because Allah wills it, no matter whose hand has accomplished the thing”.

She addresses this with a group of Afghan women while discussing a deadly car bombing in Kabul that destroyed a bus and killed many including a young mother:

“God told us not to kill. We cannot disobey God in the name of God. That is a lie. God told us to love Him with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. Then He told us to love our neighbours. If a man kills his neighbour, he is disobeying God. This man who blew up the bus and killed that mother did not do the will of God. He did the work of Satan. God will judge him”

One woman in the room responded by sharing another story.

“Our town was at peace. We didn’t know war. We were happy. One day my cousins and aunts were gathered in the house preparing [food] for a wedding party. A bomb fell. We found pieces of dough, bundles of meat, hair ties, scarves, and scraps of bloody fabric. Even the part of the ceiling that didn’t fall was covered with blood and pieces of bodies”

… we all looked at the swirling red carpet . Each woman muttered “Tobah” repent.

After a long pause I restated what I absolutely believe to be the truth: “That was not the will of God, either”
“No,” the women agreed. “That is not the will of God.”

McCord gives the Christian reader a lot of food for thought.
She writes:

“For many Westerners, the question of who God is and what He wants for and from us is simply not relevant. We are, after all, wealthy and busy. For Afghans, it may be the most important question of all.”

And she confesses to something that I think affects most western Christians to one degree or another:

“Sometimes I forget to differentiate between what I believe as an American woman and what I believe the Bible teaches. America is my culture, and Jesus is my Saviour and Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to untangle the two. Afghans challenged me to try.

McCord compares various aspects of her Christians beliefs with those of her Afghan neighbours to show how the vastly different cultural beliefs affect Afghan views of God and as a result their society.

One example she describes is the Afghan view of temptation and sin.

I learned that in Afghanistan, the influences that cause or encourage a person to do what the society defines as wrong are the real sin, not the person who actually does the wrong. People are weak and must be protected. The society provides that protection. Any influence that tempts a member of the community must be eradicated, silenced, or walled out.

McCord also found that her time in Afghanistan gave her a new perspective on some very familiar parts of scripture.

Afghans helped me understand the teachings of Jesus more completely. The culture of Afghanistan today is much more similar to the first century Judea of Jesus’ day than my own Western culture is…

As an example of this, she writes:

I was often amazed when an Afghan heard a Jesus story for the first time and then told me what it means. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well, a woman who had had several husbands and was not married to her current partner. My Afghan women friends immediately saw the woman’s shame. No woman in Afghanistan can arrange her own marriage. The woman at the well had been used by five men, and the last didn’t even have the decency to marry her.

I found the book to be a an effective eye-opener, not only to an unbelievably foreign culture and religion, but also to the unbelievably naïve view that Western Christians have developed concerning the life and teachings of Jesus and how we’ve been taught to view them.

7 thoughts on “In the Land of Blue Burqas (updated)

  1. Thank you for the update. I can see why you enjoyed the book, for a variety of reasons. With regard to one particular, do you think the author perceives that the women have less faith in kismet?

  2. One of the central beliefs in Islam is that Allah determines everything that happens – nothing occurs unless it’s Allah’s will. The author had more contact with women than with men, so was more able to make them consider the inconsistencies of that fatalist viewpoint.
    Afghan women were also more isolated from the direct influence of the mullahs and the mosque, so were perhaps more open to what the author had to say about God’s character and how he deals with mankind – including the role of personal responsibility and personal faith; both of which are excluded from Islamic belief.

  3. The Afghan Muslim’s exclusion of personal responsibility even extends to the area of sin, where the one perceived as responsible for tempting another is seen as the one to be blamed, and not the person who gives in to temptation.
    Even if the “tempting” was unintended.

    According to the author, Afghan women weren’t allowed to sing, even in the privacy of their own home, in case a man passing by heard and was driven to lust by the sound of her voice. In that case, the singing woman would be considered as the guilty party if the man gave in to his lust.

    But even that shows how ludicrous the idea of “kismet” is – that every that occurs is predetermined by Allah – because surely, if that was the case, Allah would be the one responsible not only for the man’s lust, but also the woman’s act of singing; considering they were part of the “everything” that Allah had predestined.

  4. Good examples there at the end. Also, I noticed that the women saw the woman’s shame. I mean, shame indicates she did something wrong. But they were saying the last man didn’t have the decency to marry her? Nevertheless, there is something real about that. Women often feel shame in their circumstance, which they did not bring upon themselves. An obvious example is rape. There are less obvious examples.

    There is something to the idea that a person tempting or attempting to manipulate or deceive another is at fault — but they obviously take it to a bizarre meaning. Here in the west or at least the U.S. and Australia (and sometimes the U.K.), but also I think it’s the fallen world, the bizarre meaning is more like, I tricked you, so you obviously deserved to be tricked [or used or beaten or whatever in a world that isn’t personal, just business].

  5. There is something to the idea that a person tempting or attempting to manipulate or deceive another is at fault — but they obviously take it to a bizarre meaning.

    Yes, the act of intentionally tempting someone into a wrong action SHOULD be condemned, and yes, it is taken to a bizarre extreme in the Afghanistan/ Muslim example.

    I recall a few years ago that an influential Mullah in Australia was berated in the media when he made a comparison between women wearing skimpy clothing in font of men and leaving a plate of uncovered meat in front of a dog. His clear meaning was, you wouldn’t blame the dog for taking the meat, so you can’t blame a man for his actions either if he reacts inappropriately towards the woman.

    Clearly there are problems with his analogy because the man has something the dog lacks – a sense of morality.
    But when a culture or religion presents a “morality” that justifies sexual transgression on the grounds that the man fell victim to a woman’s “irresistible” temptation (intended or otherwise) the man’s restraining “sense of morality” is compromised or nullified.

    Maybe reading what Kate McCord had to say about this matter helped me understand something that happened over a decade ago in Sydney when there were a series of gang rapes committed by young Muslim men. Some of those men were convicted and given longer than usual jail sentences. To me one of the significant things about the case was the way the families of the men refused to see that their sons had done anything wrong even though it was clear they had committed rape and associated sexual assaults.
    I think it may even have been in this context that the Mullah made his address containing the above mentioned analogy.

  6. Who were the women referring to when the women said to “Repent!”? (Themselves or the bombers?)

    I’m not sure how that “repent” should be interpreted – it might have been an Afghan figure of speech used in a way like some people in the west would say “God help us!” in response to a shocking situation, whether they believe in God or his ability to help or not.

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