Thursday, May 9, 2013

Stories from Afghanistan: An American Evangelical, a Warm-Hearted Jihadist, and a Communist Muslim?

Part five in my "Stories from Afghanistan" series. For the context and background, I invite you to read the previous posts in the series.


During my stay in Kabul, the Afghan-Turk NGO graciously arranged office space for me to use when I was not teaching. My office mate was an Afghan man in his early 50s. 

When my friend introduced me to my Afghan office mate, he said, "Thomas, please meet Mr. Siraji, a key part of the Aghan-Turk staff. Mr. Siraji was a member of the Mujahideen. He was one of the youngest jihadists fighting against the Russians. But don't worry, Thomas. He has come down from the mountain, he has shaved his beard, and he is MOSTLY civilized now!"

With that, Mr. Siraji let out a huge belly laugh and reached out to embrace me in an equally massive bear hug. With a grin on his face, he said, "Welcome, my American brother!" Everyday thereafter, my Mujahideen brother, as I came to address him, greeted me with me with the same joyous warmth--often in the context of one of those bear hugs.

A day after meeting Mr. Siraji, I met another member of the Afghan-Turk NGO administrative team--Mr. Hafiz, also in his early 50s if I had to guess. My friend introduced him by saying, "Thomas, Mr. Hafiz is an Afghan who completed his undergraduate degree in the former Soviet Union. He earned his masters degree at the Kremlin and is our resident communist." Mr. Hafiz chuckled and offered me a kind greeting.

Mr. Siraji, "my Mujahideed brother," was standing nearby as Mr. Hafiz and I were introduced. He began playfully teasing Mr. Hafiz, whom I began addressing as "my communist brother," about their respective ideological differences. It was unclear to me if they still hold some of those ideological differences or if they were only teasing about things from their past. In many respects, it does not matter.

What does matter is that these two Afghan men, from very different backgrounds and on opposite sides of a major war, now work together to help young people in their country find a better way through quality education and by learning respect for those who are different.

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