Oct 8, 2009

The Shadow of Skirts

“The shadow of Queen Soraya Tarzi Hanim’s skirts still haunts Kabul policy circles more than three-quarters of a century after her sartorial ensemble shook Afghan society.” (Jacinto, L. (2006). Abandoning the Wardrobe and Reclaiming Religion in the Discourse on Afghan Women's Islamic Rights. Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 32(1), 9. Retrieved September 29, 2009, from Academic Source Complete (EBSCOhost Research Databases)) Queen Soraya, in 1927, accompanied King Amanullah on a great trip to Europe, Egypt, and India. After returning to Afghanistan, she appeared in the Loya Jirga (grand assembly) in Paghman with the King. A history had begun. August 29, 2009; Afghan presidential election: Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential candidate, appears in public to give his vote, while his wife is accompanying him.

For Afghans, it has always been a unique experience to see their president’s wife in public. On the other hand, some of the most considerable momentums in the last century of Afghanistan’s history have been or related to this experience.

Soraya Tarzai Hanim was born in Damascus, Syria, in 1899. In Damascus, she learned modern western values. In 1913, Prince Amanullah met Soraya Tarzai and married her. Soraya Tarzai became the Queen of Afghanistan, and the only wife of King Amanullah, breaking the centuries of tradition of polygamy.

King Amanullah campaigned against the veil. "Islam does not require women to cover their bodies or wear any special kind of veil," said the King to Afghan elders, in the Loya Jirga in Paghman. Then, Queen Soraya, who was present in the speech, tore off her veil in public and the wives of other officials present at the meeting followed this example. “Thus, he struck at the roots of conservative Islam by removing the veil from the women…” (Dupree, L. (1997). Afghanistan. Karachi, Pakistan: 1997.) The Queen took part in hunting parties, military parades and other official ceremonies, with the King. During the War of Independence, she visited the tents of the wounded soldiers. She went with the King in rebellious provinces. “Do not think… that our nation needs only men to serve it,” she said in an Independence Day address to Afghan Women in 1926. “Women should also take their part as women did in the early years of Islam.” (Jacinto L., pp. 13-14.)

After eighty years from the time Queen Soraya challenged Afghan traditional society by unveiling in the historic Loya Girga, we were about to experience it once more. Dr. Abdullah is participating in the election with his wife. After the communist rule and about three decades of war in Afghanistan, this is the first time that an Afghan leader shocks the public by showing up to vote with his wife and his son. “Men and women in this country have a responsibility and it's the destiny of everybody, not just men in this country,” said Dr. Abdullah, after he voted.

‘Wearing an Iranian-style scarf, a green coat and black pants, Dr. Abdullah’s wife came up with a more politic response: “Women make up 50 per cent of Afghan society and [my presence] is to give a message to Afghan women to take part in the elections.”’

Queen Soraya and King Amanullah started the reform process in Afghanistan. They put themselves and their kingdom into danger with their beliefs. Finally, when the reform programs “increased in momentum”, in 1928, tribesmen revolted against the King, and burned down the King’s palace. (Dupree L., p. 452.) The kingdom of Amanullah collapsed, and he remained in exile until he died in 1960 in Zurich, Switzerland.

Queen Soraya lived when just two decades of the Twentieth century had passed. Afghanistan had not yet experienced many modern thoughts, ideologies, and technologies. Although, we are in 2009, if I want to know the name of Dr. Abdullah’s wife, I search the Internet and find nothing! I ask some people: “Nobody knows, and those who know wouldn’t tell you,” a fellow classmate said.

When Journalists ask the presidential candidate why he had not brought his daughters to the polling station, Dr. Abdullah said, “I have brought my son to give him the impression of democracy and voting for the presidency in our country I haven’t brought my daughters because they were not at home.”

For about eight years, he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs for Afghanistan; he knows well how to diplomatically respond to such questions.


  1. I read it, it was great particularly the flshback to early of 20th centery and difrencess and comonalities will be consider that why the way of modernaizing in Afghanistan is so narrow today.

  2. Well, that was a step, narrow or deep. What about now? What have we done now?