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Find Out All About Afghan Culture

Afghans display pride in their country, ancestry, and above all, their independence. Like other highlanders, Afghans are regarded with mingled apprehension and condescension, for their high regard for personal honor, for their clan loyalty and for their readiness to carry and use arms to settle disputes. As clan warfare / internecine feuding has been one of their chief occupations since time immemorial, this individualistic trait has made it difficult for foreign invaders to hold the region.

Afghanistan has a complex history that has survived either in its current cultures or in the form of various languages and monuments. However, many of the country's historic monuments have been damaged in recent wars. The two famous statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Province were destroyed by the Taliban, who regarded them as idolatrous. Other famous sites include the very cities of Herat, Ghazni and Balkh. The Minaret of Jam, in the Hari Rud valley, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The people of Afghanistan are prominent horsemen as the national sport is Buzkashi, similar to Polo, but instead which a goat carcass is used instead of a ball. Afghan hounds (a type of running dogs) also originated in Afghanistan.

Although literacy levels are very low, classic Persian poetry plays a very important role in Afghan culture. Poetry has always been one of the major educational pillars in both Iran and, consequently, Afghanistan, to the level that it has integrated itself into culture. Persian culture has, and continues to, exert a great influence of Afghan culture. Private poetry competition events known as “musha’era” are quite common even among ordinary people. Almost every home owns one or more poetry collection of some sort, even if it is not read often.

The eastern dialects of the Persian language are popularly known as "Dari" outside of Iran. The name itself derives from "Pārsī-e Darbārī", meaning Persian of the royal courts. The ancient term Darī - one of the original names of the Persian language - was revived in the Afghan constitution of 1964, and was intended "to signify that Afghans consider their country the cradle of the language. Hence, the name Fārsī, the langue of Fārs, is strictly avoided."

Many of the famous Persian poets of 10th to 15th centuries stem from what is now known as Afghanistan. They were mostly also scholars in many disciplines like languages, natural sciences, medicine, religion and astronomy. Examples are Mowlānā Rumi, who was born and educated in Balkh in the 13th century and moved to Konya in modern-day Turkey, Sanaayi Ghaznavi (12th century, native of Ghazni provice), Jāmī of Herāt (15th century, native of Jam-e-Herat in western Afghanistan), Nizām ud-Dīn Alī Sher Navā'ī, (15th century, Herat province). However, it must be acknowledged that these individuals were of Persian (Tājīk) ethnicity who still form the second-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Also, some of the contemporary Persian language poets and writers, who are relatively well-known in both Iran and Afghanistan include Ustad Behtab, Khalilullah Khalili, Sufi Ghulam Nabi Ashqari, Parwin Pazwak and others.

In addition to poets, the region of Afghanistan produced numerous scientists. Most notable was Avicenna (Abu Alī Hussein ibn Sīnā) whose father hailed from Balkh. Ibn Sīnā, who travelled to Isfahan later in life to establish a medical school there, is known by some scholars as "the father of modern medicine". George Sarton called ibn Sīnā "the most famous scientist of Islam and one of the most famous of all races, places, and times." His most famous works are The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine, also known as the Qanun. Ibn Sīnā's story even found way to the contemporary English literature through Noah Gordon's The Physician, now published in many languages.

Before the Taliban gained power, the city of Kabul was home to many musicians who were masters of both traditional and modern Afghan music, especially during the Nauroz-celebration. Kabul in the middle part of the 20th century has been likened to Vienna during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The tribal system, which orders the life of most people outside metropolitan areas, is certainly as potent in political terms as the national state system of 1914 Europe. Men feel a fierce loyalty to their own tribe, such that, if called upon, they would assemble in arms under the tribal chiefs and local clan leaders (Khans) in the same way that men throughout Europe "flocked to the colours" in 1914, forming up in regional divisions and battalions under the command of the local nobility and gentry. In theory, under Islamic law, every believer has an obligation to bear arms at the ruler's call (Ulul-Amr), but this was no more needed than was enforced conscription to fill the ranks of the British Army in 1914. The Afghan shepherd or peasant went to war for much the same mixture of reasons as the more "civilised" European clerk or factory worker - a desire for adventure, a desire not to be left out or lose esteem in the eyes of his fellows, a contempt for invading foreigners, revenge against those that ruined his family life or threatened his faith, perhaps even the chance of extra cash or enhanced personal prospects.

The tribal system is not something particularly backward or warlike. It is simply the best way of organizing large groups of people in a country that is geographically difficult, and in a society that has an uncomplicated lifestyle - from a materialistic point of view.