The Culture and Customs Of Afghanistan

The Blue Mosque in Afghanistan. Editorial credit: CHRIS POOK /
The Blue Mosque in Afghanistan. Editorial credit: CHRIS POOK /

Afghanistan has a rich and diverse culture that has taken shape for thousands of years. The history of Afghani culture can be traced back to the Achaemenid Empire of the 6th century BCE. The culture of Afghanistan is influenced by Islam. There are two official languages in the country; Dari and Pashto. Modernization has resulted in the infiltration of western influences into the Afghani culture, which is most profound in the country’s major cities.

Religion In Afghanistan

Religion plays an integral role in the shaping of Afghanistan’s culture and has influenced other spheres of the country’s culture. Islam is the major religion in the country and is practiced by about 99.7% of Afghan citizens. However, the oldest extant religion in Afghanistan is Zoroastrianism which is believed to have its origins in the country dating back to the 18th century BC. There are an estimated 2,000 Zoroastrians in modern Afghanistan. The history of Buddhism in Afghanistan is traced back to 305 BC when the nation formed part of the Maurya Empire. Islam was introduced to the country in the early 8th century and had grown to be the nation’s dominant religion by the 9th century. 90% of the nation’s population practices Sunni Islam while about 10% of the population identify with the Shia sect of Islam. There is also a significant number of Muslims in the country who identify as nondenominational and modern Muslims. The Christian population in Afghanistan is believed to be comprised of between 500 and 8,000 individuals.

Clothing In Afghanistan

The types of clothes worn in Afghanistan are a reflection of the cultural composition of the country. Many of the traditional attires of the country are made out of light linen and are characterized by loose fittings. Among the most popular traditional attires in Afghanistan is the Pashtun clothing. The attire’s design is inspired by Pashtun culture and comes in male and female variants. The male Pashtun clothing is accessorized with traditional headgear such as the perahan turban or the karakul hat. The female variant is composed of a Firaq partug dress, a long shirt known as a “Kamis” and a belt, and is usually worn during festivities. Many prominent Afghani citizens and government officials wore the Pashtun clothing during formal occasions. The country is also known for its traditional carpets known as Afghan rugs which are woven locally in the western and northern part of the country. The carpets are popular across the globe and have even won international awards on numerous occasions.

Sports In Afghanistan

The most popular sport in the country is cricket, which has a fanatical following in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the Afghanistan national cricket team which represents the country in international competitions played many of its home matches outside the country owing to the security issues Afghanistan faced in the 1990s and early 2000s. Football is another popular sport in the country. The country’s national football team known as the Khurasan Lions was founded in 1922. Despite joining FIFA in 1948, the national football team did not participate in any international matches for 18 years between 1984 and 2002 due to internal political instability. Since returning to international football, the Afghanistan national football team has participated in major football competitions including the South Asia Football Federation Championship and the AFC Challenge Cup. The Khurasan Lions won the 2013 edition of the South Asia Football Federation Championship, their best performance in the competition. Another popular sport in Afghanistan in basketball and the national basketball team has participated in major basketball competitions. The Afghanistan national basketball team emerged as the champions in the 2010 edition of the South Asian Games.

Food In Afghanistan

Afghan cuisine is a reflection of the nation’s cultural diversity. The staple crops in Afghanistan are rice, barley, wheat, and maize. Rice is the dominant food item in many Afghan kitchens, with a local rice dish known as the “Kabuli palaw” being recognized as Afghanistan’s national dish. Meat, particularly lamb and beef, is another important component in Afghan cuisine. Roasted lamb kebab is a popular snack in the country and can be found on many street vendor stalls in the country. As an Islamic nation, consumption of alcoholic drinks is not popular in Afghanistan and mainly observed with expatriates living in major cities such as Kabul. A popular drink in the country is the “doogh” which is made using yogurt, water, and mint. The drink can be prepared at home or purchased in restaurants and grocery stores.

Music In Afghanistan

Music, like many other aspects of Afghani culture, revolves around the nation’s dominant religion, Islam. Traditional music in Afghanistan is diverse, with different regions of the country having distinct traditional musical styles. Indian, Pakistani, and Persian culture has also influenced the music of Afghanistan. The radio played an essential role in the growth of the nation’s music industry with Radio Kabul and Radio Afghanistan being the two oldest radio broadcasters in the country. The industry experienced its golden age in the 1970s, a period that saw the rise of many legendary Afghani musicians. The golden age also marked the explosion of pop music in the country, which catapulted the music careers of Afghani pop artists such as Ehsan Aman and Naghma Shaperai. The Taliban government repressed the music industry, but it has experienced a renaissance since the expulsion of the Taliban in the early 2000s. Bollywood has also influenced music in Afghanistan, with Bollywood music being the favorite in major cities, and especially among the young people. Western music genres have in recent years been embraced in Afghanistan. An example is hip-hop which has a considerable following in Kabul and even has attracted local artists including Soosan Firooz who is often labeled as the country’s first female rapper. Afghani hip-hop features the traditional style of the genre but also incorporates local cultural connotations.

Art In Afghanistan

Art has been part of the Afghani culture for hundreds of years. The oldest oil painting on earth is from Afghanistan. For many years, art in the country revolved around Islam, but in the modern age, artists are drawing inspirations from many other sources for their artworks. The National Gallery of Afghanistan has an extensive collection of local artworks and is the place where many of the top artists in the country exhibit their masterpieces. Other institutions where Afghani art can be seen include the National Archives and the National Museum, both of which are based in Kabul.


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