Voices of Afghanistan: It’s Not about Clothing

three Kabul women in the 1970s

It was 5 o’clock in the morning in Canada, and I was awakened by a dream that caused me a fright. I was thinking about Canada, how it is a peaceful and safe country with equal rights—your choice of clothes doesn’t matter here. I like it that no one makes people wear what they want them to wear.

When I look at pictures of my mother in Afghanistan forty years ago, in the period of the last king, Mohammed Zahir Shar, I see there was plenty of freedom in the way women dressed. But after decades of war, all everyone is talking about is women’s clothing. This is especially true on Fridays, when the mullahs speak out in the mosques.

Oh my God, I feel so sad when I hear people criticizing women’s dress. I believe Islam is in people’s hearts, not in a woman’s choice of clothes.

I tried to close my eyes and go back to sleep but I couldn’t so I opened my computer and saw the story on the AWWP blog about the Voice of Afghanistan singer Aryana Sayeed. Aryana herself commented on the story.

How important is that? What does a figure like Aryana do for the image of Afghan women in the world?

As I read the story by Mahnaz and Aryana’s comment, I felt proud. What a beautiful and direct message by a brave Afghan girl. It inspired me to raise and share my voice.

After long years of war in Afghanistan the TV show Voice of Afghanistan sounds like a plan to bring a positive change in Afghanistan and this is very important. Aryana Sayeed, a successful young singer with her beautiful voice who is a judge on the show, comforts our soul.

I think people like to talk about Aryana and pay attention to what she wears because she is the best female singer from Afghanistan.

I agree with my Afghan sister Mahnaz jan that the root of these negative ideas about women is our patriarchal culture, which allows men the authority to see women as insignificant and undeserving of any kind of respect and entitlement. Women and girls are denied many rights and freedoms. Men want Aryana to cover herself in long clothes and to cover her hair.

I think everyone should wear what they want.

Afghan women are constantly suffering from this controlling behavior about their clothes.

There are many Pakistani, Iranian, and Arabic female singers, but are they criticized the way men criticized Aryana? Unfortunately some Afghan women also blame her for her dress. The other three judges on the show are men. If they want to show off their personal choices in the way they dress, why shouldn’t Aryana Sayeed also do that? Why should our female singing stars be limited? Why are the talents of women in our society always insulted?

Islam is not wrapped in the burqa or in a big shawl; Islam is in our hearts. We are showing our Islamic culture in our words and actions.

I loved it where Aryana Sayeed wrote, “If united, we have the ability to change the way Afghan women are treated in Afghanistan.”

Yes, we should bring changes. The only way is through unity and by raising the voices of women by writing. My message is not only for my Afghan sisters Mahnaz and Aryana Sayeed, but for all of our sisters around the world.

We suffer from misery by superstitious tradition. Why should women’s dress be so important? There is too much war going on in our country to have time to consider how women are dressing. Afghan people should not allow these accusations against each other. We must come together in unity to defend our rights.

By Mariam

Photo: Kabul in the 1970s before the Taliban.


  1. A fantastic essay, Mariam. To think: of all the problems in a society, how frustrating and rage-inducing for authorities to focus on a woman’s dress. As if that is the root cause of all evil and discord. You explain all of this eloquently. And thinking about Islam being in the heart: that warms my heart. Please keep writing, please keep sharing with us your thoughts and your takes on the world. Stacy

  2. This is such a brave statement, Mariam, and so beautiful. When you write “Islam is not wrapped in the burqa or a big shawl; Islam is in our hearts,” I am truly moved by the perfect truth of what you are saying.
    Thank you for sharing, and for your courage in writing what is in your heart.

  3. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Dear Mariam,
    I enjoyed your essay and found it very timely. I agree with everything you write and encourage you to keep offering your viewpoints on this site!

  4. Just writing a quick word to advise that thanks to Stacy Parker Le Melle, I actually got to read this beautifully written article and appreciate all your kind and supportive words Mariam Jaan! I pray to God (Allah for the picky folks) for us to have more and more brave and bright young Afghan minds like yourself so we can bring forth a positive change to our society! Wishing you continued success! -Aryana-

    • Thank you, dear Aryana, for reading Mariam’s work and for leaving such a supportive and thoughtful message. Thank you for all you do, speaking out so bravely, sharing so much beauty. Stacy

    • I am 12 year old girl who lives in Canada and is a great fan of Aryana sayeed. but I really do agree its a choice,you can’t be forced to wear a scarf by anyone who’s against you. But the question is why do women have to cover their eyes, or their head? If there wasn’t any male judges on “the voice “were people going to go against it? And also to what people are saying about her wearing western clothes and makeup, seriously but there really isn’t anything about Islam that Denys about wearing western clothes. But some people don’t know that in Islam that it has to be appropriate. I mean in all her music videos and shows she was covered. She wasn’t like ” western people” who would show a part of their body. And the scarf situation, it’s really a choice. I mean for me I don’t wear scarfs in the public, I wear it when I am praying or I the mosque. But I am going to promise that when I grow up I will make the difference that aryana wants, I will do it in the name of god. (Allah)!

    • Dear Aryana Jan ,
      I was just reflecting on our connection by Afghan women voice and wanted to let you know how much it means to me and I am so happy while I read your comments I can’t to express by my words how much it means to me . And what a great experience I learned so many things from AWWP . We are always with you such a brave and wonderful Afghan female singer . It’s people like you who make a true difference in this world!
      I wish your continued success.

  5. Dear Mariam,
    Thank you for your thoughtful essay about one more way men try to control women. Thank you for speaking out and inspiring other women to speak out. You inspire me and make me feel hopeful.

  6. Peter Markus says:

    Yes, to your words and actions: words as action. “What a beautiful and direct message by a brave Afghan girl.” I give these words back to you.

  7. Kirsten says:

    I loved this essay! Your words are so true – why all the focus on simple clothing? Taking away that simple choice of women? You put the issue in a light that I, as an American woman, can so relate to. Keep writing!

  8. You wrote quite an essay and I appreciate your train of thoughts. There is always a but to every word, sentence or essay…..And the but I am using is for this that you just ask all the females(Which I am 200% sure they will not) on the surface of earth to keep themselves covered from top to bottom outside their homes and the crime rate will drop by 80%. Why (Your normal reaction)
    Majority of human beings committing crimes on the surface of earth (I cannot visualize those in the universe) are male human beings. And why they do so. Because of the females. I am not taking sides with someone and I am also very strictly against unfair physical punishments especially in case of females. But if you take the exammple of even any crime from the start of humanity up till this day. You can see that in each and every act of crime there is always a small share of a female either intentionally or unintentionally. There will never be a single mistake committed without the participation of females.
    And you want to talk on the clothes issue. Well in one place you say men and women shall be equal and you can see that most men are always fully covered so what is the problem of women. What it costs to them nothing and there is also many benefits. The biggest of all not to stimulate the sexual desires of men. I can write a whole book on it not to snatch the liberty from women but to keep them safe and hence forward.

  9. I am writing regarding the comment from Muhammad Nasir Qurishy.

    I feel sorry for you, as you think like this about women. I would feel deeply hurt if you think about, your mother, your sister, your wife and your daughter if you think that they are behind any crime!

    It is not about that, it is about the injustice against women. Do you know that those who torture, cut nose and ears of women think the same as you and even worst than you. I ask you instead of writing a book with your wrong ideas, read some books and make your self understand first.

  10. And a short note to Aryana Saied…. Do you think there is a difference between God and Allah?
    You wrote it like: I pray to God (Allah for the picky folks) Could you make it clear?

  11. Do what you want. You are right, Islam is in our hearts and only Our Allah God can judge us. Do not worry about what other people are doing. In the end we will all have a price to pay for our actions whether they are good or bad. Do you not think that there are some women who believe dressing as in the picture above is more oppressing than a choice of dressing more modestly? Think about that.

    And you must understand in a country awakening from under Taliban rule, for a woman to dress like Aryana does in Afghanistan would be the same type of shock as if women in Canada one day decided to walk around naked freely. Because of TV, internet, and the type of governance running the country, Afghan’s are learning new ways of life so change will come whether anybody likes it or not. Time will tell of it’s consequences.

    “patriarchal culture, which allows men the authority to see women as insignificant and undeserving of any kind of respect and entitlement” – Patriarchy is not inherently negative as you put it. Just because there is one bad apple in the bunch, it does not make all the apples bad.

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