Life with No Music: The Taliban Years

morcha guitarist

Editor’s note: Twelve years ago on October 7th, international forces invaded Afghanistan to remove the Taliban.

Today in my culture class we started with a short discussion about music. All of the students like different musical genres. Some like jazz, some pop, and a few like beatbox, where you use only your voice to make a kind of music.

I like my culture class very much, as everyone has different ideas and we have learned a lot about different cultures. This time one of my classmates shared a strange story about North Korea, where no one is allowed to listen to music except during special ceremonies. They can go to jail for listening to music.

It reminded me of the Taliban regime. Twelve years ago when the Taliban was still in place in Afghanistan, listening to music was considered an unforgivable crime. It is difficult for me to imagine my life with no music, as music has always brought joy to my family and the people of my village.

Between 1998 and 2001, I used to go to the mosque for religious studies. One Wednesday afternoon when I was six, the Mullah asked me to see him after class.

I went to his small room. His room was full of Islamic books and it smelled like ripe apples. Every week the villagers sent him fresh fruits. He asked me to sit down. I was very nervous and scared because the Mullah was always talking in secret to the Talibs.

The Mullah gave me an envelope, cleared his throat, and said, “Look, we are Muslims. A good Muslim always follows the Islamic rules. Give this letter to your father and tell him that he should not listen to music anymore.”

All the way home I thought about my dad and the Mullah’s words about being a good Muslim. I couldn’t understand what he meant. Was my father a bad Muslim? When I got home, my mother was in the kitchen. I didn’t give the letter to her; I waited for my dad to come home. Finally, he got home late that evening. Dinner was ready and my mother called everyone to the dining room.

I was still feeling very confused about listening to music and being a bad Muslim and finally I gave the Mullah’s letter to my father. He read it out loud and then tore it up.

“Don’t listen to him. Listening to music has nothing to do with Islam. Music is food for the soul,” he said, quoting a Persian expression.

I took a deep breath, but I was still afraid of Mullah, and I knew he might punish me if I told him what my father said. So I lied to the Mullah and told him that my father will not listen to music anymore.

Around this time, the Taliban’s Amr bil Ma’ruf wa Nahy an al Munkar (Command the Good and Forbid the Evil), a group of Islamic inspectors, was checking all the houses in the village every week to make sure that no one was watching TV, listening to music, or had equipment like CD players.

In my house we had a bunch of Indian tapes with an old tape recorder. It was a huge risk to keep these in the house, but the Taliban never found them. When the inspection group was coming to the village, my father and my older sisters would hide the tapes in the oven of an old, empty house. That house was scary and dark and surrounded by high towers. Most of the villagers did the same thing, they hid their TVs or tapes in secret places and covered their windows with big blankets in the hot days of summer so they could watch TV or listen happily to music.

I wonder how some people can be against others’ happiness. It is difficult for me to imagine my life with no music. Whenever I am tired, bored, or depressed, I listen to my favorite song. But there are some dictatorial countries that oppose people’s happiness and try to take it away in different ways.

Listening to music gives us a special joy; there are always nice words, beautiful wishes, and sometimes hopes within a song. Whatever gives happiness and joy to all people is not a bad thing. I am thankful for all singers, musicians, stars, and authors.

By Kamilah

Rock band Morcha (“Antz”), founded in Herat province, performs in Kabul. Sulyman Qardash/Al Jazeera.


  1. Nancy Antle says:

    Kamilah — I have read a lot about the Taliban and the “laws” they tried to force on to the people of Afghanistan but I have never read about the music before. It seems as if the Taliban was trying to take away every last ounce of joy in the lives of Afghan citizens. What risks the people took to keep what was their right to have! Thank you for sharing this enlightening article! Nancy

  2. Music is the food for the soul! The great comfort! The great happiness-maker. I think the troubles in my own culture, how black people in America have had to overcome so many barriers and terrible problems over the centuries. And then I think of music in the church, music on the radio, and how one singer’s vocals, how a band of instruments, can make the saddest moment bearable, can bring smiles to the most frustrated faces. I am so sorry that you had to live through a time when listening to music was a crime. I am so happy that now, you can listen to the music of your choice! Thank you for this insightful and thoughtful essay, Kamilah. Stacy

  3. Mahbooba says:

    Thank you Kamilah jan to shear this story, as Afghan girl I can understand what was that time looked .
    every where was darkness. keep it up, good luck.

  4. Thank you Kamilah for sharing your experience. It looks difficult to imagine our lives with no music. Taliban did such a worse thing to take the people’s happiness. We, humans always need to be happy and enjoy our life and music is one of the best ways which gives us joys and happiness.

    Good Luck, MH

  5. Rebecca Biggio says:

    Kamilah, You’ve done such a wonderful job with description and imagery here. Your writing is so vivid! I love this piece. –Rebecca

  6. Cassandra says:

    Kamilah, like you say, it’s hard to imagine life without music! Im glad your father knew it is the food of the soul and kept his Indian tapes. KNowing that the Taliban banned such a simple thing as music emphasises the inhumanity which for years Afghanistan was subject to. Thank you for your insight

  7. Mike L. says:

    I truly love music. I could not imagine a life with out any music. Or risking my life to listen to music.

  8. Kamilah says:

    Thank you everyone for your nice comments and thoughtful words. I hope a safe and happy life for all humans.

    I am very pleased by your nice comments and supports,

  9. Elisabeth Lehr says:

    Beautiful work, Kamilah. You explain beautifully how important music is to the human spirit. I cannot imagine being denied such an intimate part of my life. How wonderful that you are free to listen to music now without being in danger.


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