We walked into an open, dusty, gravel yard. Two girls in matching red dresses were playing hide and seek. The head of Yakawlang hospital, the hospital’s only doctor, came out to greet us.
Elizabeth decided earlier that she wanted to see the village hospital. It had been so vilified throughout the day; I came along just to see what the conditions were like.
As Elizabeth introduced herself to the head doctor, an old man with blue eyes walked into the yard. He wore a grey turban and long-tailed coat, over impeccably white khurtha pajamas. His facial hair was carefully constructed – no mustache, dyed black eyebrows, and mostly bare cheeks. A line of grey hair ran down either side of his face, and met in a tuft at the bottom of his face.
“This is Syed Mahmoudi, the village mullah,” Hamid said to Elizabeth and me. “He took part in Shuhada’s Access to Justice project.”
“Access to Justice? That’s human rights trainings, right?” I asked
I wavered for a minute – not wanting to disrupt the hospital tour. But this mullah meted out justice within his remote, rural community, and participated in the human rights workshops I was so skeptical of. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak with him.
“Can I borrow Hamid for a second, while the two of you go on your tour? I’d like to interview Mr. Mahmoudi.” I asked Elizabeth.
“Sure! You don’t need to look at hospital incinerators and latrines. It’ll be boring,” she replied.
Hamid led Mr. Mahmoudi and me into the administration office. We sat down on retro orange couches that looked like they were out of the 70’s. Unlike almost everywhere else in Bamyan, we didn’t have to take off our shoes when we came inside, and so the red carpet was spattered with dusty footprints. Mr. Mahmoudi sat across from Hamid and me.
“What is your role within your community?” I inquired.
“I am a mullah. I – along with 6 others on the Shura council – solve problems in my village according to Islamic law,” he responded. He had a tempered, quiet way of speaking.
“And what did you think of the Access to Justice project – of these human rights trainings?”
“I thought it was a positive project. It made the men and women in the community aware of their rights – according to Islamic law.”
“So, according to Islamic law, what are women’s rights?” I asked. Admittedly, I expected to hear a lecture on inheritance laws, and the number of wives a man can have.
But as I asked that question, Mahmoudi energetically moved forward in his chair, “It means men and women have the same rights. And they have the same rights to education. Prophet Muhammad said getting education is necessary for men and women,” he said – quoting a line from somewhere, most likely a Hadith.
“And Islam has denied forced marriage – such as giving a 15 year old girl to a 60 year old man. It has denied trading girls for animals or other things. This is denied in Islam and is haraam!” he declared with greater enthusiasm, emphatically pointing his finger in the air.
“And also – both girls and boys have to agree to the marriage before it can happen. It cannot happen without the girl’s agreement!”
This mullah was something else, I thought. More progressive and enlightened than many men I knew in America. And he seemed far too spirited to be disingenuous. I adored him.
We spoke for a little while longer about development in his village, and his role specifically. I was still reeling from his responses about women’s rights. I’m unsure about the extent to which the Access to Justice project affected his original beliefs. The line he quoted from a Hadith suggests that he might have already felt this way. But his ability to articulate the rights of women with such fluency was – almost certainly – a byproduct of the human rights trainings. Having written proposals and reports on human rights trainings for Shuhada, I recognized the near word-for-word confluence of his responses and issues addressed in trainings. I hoped that his beliefs affected the decisionmaking of the village shura council. Perhaps my skepticism of these workshops was less warranted than I originally thought.