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    Lebanon
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  • Bangladesh!

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    Bangladesh
    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

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Culture & Identity of Afghanistan

WARNING: Afghanistan is currently unstable, please read this travel warning before going!

Introduction

The culture and way of life in Afghanistan is varied, more than varied, it is so diverse there is no single way to define it. There are many more differences than there are similarities in the country and few defining characteristics are all inclusive. Most of the people are Muslim and this is probably the greatest similarity among the people. Next, comes a loyalty to the people's local tribe, but even this is not true among all people.

Many people in Afghanistan, or their ancestors, made their way to Afghanistan as a safe haven from political organizations or wars. The country made a good home due to the mountains and near isolation from mountain valley to mountain valley. This near isolation led to a dependence on local ties, family, friends, neighbors, and community or tribe. In fact, not even the people in the country are unified in terms of ethnicity or language so these local ties have always been the most important aspect of safety and identity. Additionally, this isolation has led to a bit of mistrust to outsiders, including national-level offices like the government, encouraging closer ties to the local community.

Today less than a quarter of the Afghanis are urbanized and over three quarters make a living in agriculture. The way of life is still reliant on the land and on community. For many of these farmers life revolves around the sunlight, weather, seasons, and also religion, which holds an important place in the lives of most people. The weekly and daily schedule is often dictated by the above mentioned items and there is little discretionary income to take time off of work, to travel, or to spend money on wants.

Although farmers grow a huge number of crops, one of the easiest to grow in the country is opium, which is easy to sell and makes good money on relative terms. This has led to some outside groups to fight this industry, but for many people this is a traditional crop that has been grown for generations and is one that is sure to make money and support the people's livelihood.

In cities, such as Kabul, the culture and way of life is slowly changing. There are a very limited number of jobs in the industrial sector and a few in the services sectors. Some of these jobs have more regular hours and the weekly and daily schedule is more dependent on working hours than on the weather or seasons. In the few places working hours are regular the work day tends to run from about 9:00 am to about 4:00 pm. The work week is generally Saturday to Thursday morning, with Thursday afternoons and Fridays off of work as Friday is Islam's holy day.

Schools also provide some form of schedule in people's lives, but regulated schooling and national-level education is a relatively new concept in Afghanistan as the number of children attending schools is slowly increasing. Sadly, some schools are targeted by radical groups, particularly those that educate girls, and many families are hesitant to send their children to schools with attacks, especially daughters due to attacks, poor facilities, and the lack of female teachers (some people feel uncomfortable have a male teacher teach girls).

No matter the occupation, wages in Afghanistan remain low and many people struggle to survive from year to year. Due to this situation, it is common to again turn to family, friends, neighbors, and the local tribal affiliation for support. These community residents truly support each other and this support and trust in community is always at the core of the culture and way of life.

Identity

Rarely does a citizen of Afghanistan identify as "Afghan." Most people in the country first identify by their ethnicity, which includes Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and more, although sometimes Pashtuns are referred to as Afghans. These ethnic-based identities tend to be attached to not only an ethnicity, but also a language, culture, foods, and a religion that defines that identity. Among the many groups it seems the only similarity across the people is that nearly all of them are Muslims. Beyond this, each group is very different from the next and the lack of a national identity has led to vast differences among the people, except when minority groups unite to counter actions taken by the majority, the Pashtuns.

This page was last updated: November, 2013