Afghan Culture: Some Things to Know

April 28, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Afghan Culture Some Things to Know art

We know now a bit more about the different linguistic and ethnic groups that make up Afghanistan, but we still could benefit from knowing a bit more about how the people there live.A language may be the key to understanding the culture of the people who speak it, but culture is the key to understanding the nuances of a language.

Despite there being around fourteen different ethnic groups that make up the population of Afghanistan, most of them share so many cultural traditions that one can safely say there is one dominant culture in Afghanistan. This culture began to develop over two thousand years ago, so it isn’t exactly new. Some of these cultural traditions that are shared by most Afghans are the religion of Islam, traditional Afghan food, music played on traditional instruments, and knowing more than one language.

Over 99% of the population of Afghanistan is Muslim, with around 80% of those being Sunni Muslims and the rest Shia Muslims. Islam came to Afghanistan around 720 AD, brought over by Umayyad Arab Muslims who invaded and ruled for some time. The 9th century was when Islam truly became part and parcel of Afghan culture. Sikhs and Hindus make up the rest of the population, but they are mostly found in the large cities, where diversity is more likely to be found.

Though there are some restrictions in traditional Afghan cuisine due to Islamic halal traditions, where pork is forbidden and all animals must be killed in a certain way by a Muslim. Other than that, Afghan food shares a lot with South Asian, East Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. The staples of Afghan food include maize (corn), barley, rice, and wheat, with many rice dishes being common as well as different types of wheat breads, including naan. Kebab is another popular traditional Afghan dish.

Just like food and eating, music is also a huge part of Afghan culture. What you hear on the radio tends to be folk music and ballads that have been around for a long time, and so everyone knows them. Unfortunately, the Taliban rule during the 90s made it difficult for budding musicians to make a living, but many were able to still do so by transplanting to other large cities in neighboring countries. Music from India and Pakistan is popular as well, with many Hindi songs that are from Bollywood movies being especially popular.

Having so many different ethnic groups living in the same land means being multilingual has become part of the Afghan culture as well. Pashto, a South-Central Asian language, is spoken primarily in the east and south. Dari, also known as Afghan Persian, is spoken in the northern and central areas of the country, as well as being a lingua franca of Afghanistan. The western area of Afghanistan is an area where both languages are spoken, though most Afghans can speak both languages fluently regardless of which region they live in. Some Afghans can also speak some of the less common languages, such as Uzbek, Balochi, and Turkmen.

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