Part of series on Taliban Memories
By Mustafa Kazemi
Nimruz – Afghanistan
It was around late 1998 when my father opened a carpentry workshop for me to keep my head down in there to avoid social immoralities caused by joblessness. As a doctor, my father did use to teach us English and a couple of other science subjects to make sure of our basic literacy, but there wasn’t much he could teach us at home without a proper teacher.
We lived in the border town of Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province and social immoralities were at its height – all transmitted from Iran’s border towns of Zabul & Zahidan. My father practiced medicine but it was sufficient enough to keep a family of 5 going on a day by day basis. Nothing much to save for the future or spend it fancily. I attended this very carpentry workshop with another man from eastern Laghman province but he later found serious issues with his family and decided to abandon the workshop and relocate to his hometown of Laghman.
My father bought this tiny workshop with all its wood and equipment hoping to keep me and my younger brother busy with it. The workshop was in the downtown part of the city and Taliban fighters used to frequently patrol the city center roads and attempt to execute Sharia law on whomever who did not comply by the Islamic sharia rules, i.e. kept long hair, shaved beard, listened to anything but non-Islamic and non-Jihadist songs etc… Certain Taliban teams consisted of at least two and at most five armed people were patrolling the streets while one or more of them often carried on him a lash – usually made of a 1-inch-thick electricity wire – to “punish” those who disobeyed the rules made by themselves only; whether or not Islamic.
It was a widely practiced custom those times that everybody must offer the prayer [Namaz] at a mosque – versus now that it is optional if someone wants to offer prayer at home or work or a mosque. Back then it was to say, forced on everybody to offer prayer at a mosque. As people knew that the Taliban’s “Moral correction” teams will force them to the mosque, the people walked up to a mosque on themselves and avoided resistance or getting head to head with Taliban. Yet again, among the people there were individuals who either hid at their shops or in one way or another, escaped the Taliban’s vision and stayed back, avoiding going to the mosque. In fact there were two groups of people: those who feared god, and those who feared the Taliban.
I was the latter. When prayer time, I closed my carpentry’s shop and walked towards the mosque. The city’s main mosque, now the biggest in the city, was less than half a mile from my workshop; so I always took a walk and went there for prayer. The mosque had three main gates, facing to three directions and one small gate facing west. This little gate was deep inside the mosque’s main hall where people offered prayer – mostly inaccessible for the general public.
One Sunday at around five or so, as usual I closed my shop and walked towards the mosque – but unaware that today was one different Sunday than others. I entered the mosque through its northern gate and offered the prayer as usual. The city was small back then and there were several alternate routes to every place and destination – one of those was my shop.
I left for the mosque from one different route but some wrong sixth sense redirected me to leave towards my workshop through a route different than that I used on the way in. Up until this point I had no damned idea of what was awaiting me.
After leaving the mosque, walking softly on the main road of the bazaar, I confronted four Taliban, one of them carrying a PKM machine gun on his shoulder while the rest carried the customary Kalashnikov rifles that every Taliban member carried. All with white or black turbans.
One of them stopped me and asked if I’ve offered evening’s prayer. “Yes I’m on the way back from the mosque”, I answered.
The other guy interrupted the conversation and said “He is lying. He did not pray”.
Feeling the trouble’s heat, I did not want to negotiate my release or bargain with them.
The gentlemen accompanied me to the very mosque and made sure I stand and begin my prayer.
Furious and upset over this, with feeling of telling myself that ‘praying again is no bad thing’, I quickly finished the prayer and walked to the exit.
This time I thought with myself that exiting from the same door will have its curse – so let’s leave from the other door this time.
I walked out of the eastern gate this time.
After about two hundred meters of walking, I faced another team of Taliban with a collected big bunch of people who had skipped their prayers. Trying to change my route immediately was the first thing that occurred to me – but it was late. They had spotted me and one of them shouted at me.
Seeming from the situation, I did guess that these folks will take me to the mosque again and will not believe if I tell them I already prayed twice. So, for the sake of saving myself a couple of lashes, I said nothing and complied by when one of the Talibs told me to walk towards the mosque along with others.
Third time, I was not offering the occasion’s prayer – I was praying to be able to escape and go home somehow. While standing with the rest of the people and acting like I am offering evening’s prayer, I was designing my escape plan.
My plan was to exit from the northern gate and leave for home instead of workshop because it was almost 6:30 pm and it was time to go home.
I did so – and I failed again.
This third time I was not even able to walk a hundred meters away from the mosque’s vicinity. I again faced a group of Taliban with machine gun on their shoulders and pushing everyone who came on their way towards the mosque.
For the 4th time I stood on the prayer line with everyone else. But this time it was late enough and the time to offer night’s prayer. I offered night’s prayer and intended a strategic escape. I thought I will wait until full dark and then leave from one of the doors – my family will already be worried about me and my father will be already looking for me.
For the final time, I attempted exiting the mosque.
I waited until complete dark – and then left from mosque’s eastern gate and walked towards home.
It is worth mentioning that when I intended to leave the mosque the second time, someone had stolen my sandals. They were a pair of cheap, fake, plastic affordable sandals that was good enough for me because they were washable.
Four times prayer, and loss of one pair of useful twisted washable cheap sandal was the cost of trying to abide by the Taliban’s sharia law 15 years ago.
It is marked as one of the greatest days of my life.