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Here I am discussing the Islamic Sufism and then the Afghan women’s beliefs on the shrines and saints.  A shrine is a place built over the grave of a revered religious figure, often a Sufi saint or dervish. Women often visit the shrines (Ziyarat), a term associated with religious visits and “pilgrimages”. It is also known as “Dargah” which is derived from a Persian word which literally means “portal” or “threshold. It is not necessary that just the poor who visit shrines, there are places where thousands unburden themselves, sharing their inner turmoil at the feet of holy people they believe can intercede on their behalf. The belief is that prayer by a saint can alleviate poverty, cure illness, mend relations with loved ones and provide solace from the trials of life. When a person becomes helpless after using all the possibilities in his/her hands then he/she refers to the spirituals, one of these spirituals is Sufism and saints. The partisans of this spiritual thinking that saints are the representatives of the lord who can build their relations with lord subsequent all their desires that can be directly heard and fulfilled by the Lord.

In Afghanistan, women do not a social life as compare to men because there are no opportunities for them to enjoy the recreational prospects outside the house. If married, they remain to stay at home or go to the home of their parents where they are more likely expected to only cook and work. Culturally in Afghanistan, the women are not allowed to leave the house alone for an outing and fun because it is believed that there is no security for them outside the four walls of their houses. The safest place for them is to go to the shrines for praying and giving their devotions. Therefore they are referring to the saints more and more. There are two types of saints, one is those who are alive and women can meet them for sharing their problems, while the second are those who have been passed away and lying in their graveyards (pilgrimages).

 The living saints are available far and wide within Afghanistan and they demand their followers and devotees to bring with a sheep in reward of amulets. They say we do not want sheep actually giants wants sheep and in return, they will leave your body. So they ask to slaughter the sheep and leave there because giants will come and eat it. Some demand for bringing black hens and said we will write amulets by hen blood and in this way giants will leave you. But some of them want a higher fee which cannot be afforded by many ladies (families) therefore most of them are going to the pilgrimages of the dead saints that are gratis and complimentary. I would like to bring an example of my friend here; she said I fall in a spiritual disease and after visiting many doctors I did not feel well, so my parents took me to a Saint in Nimroz Province where he said you are badly affected by several giants and I have the solution but in return the giants want Mule. First, bring mule then I will cure your disease with 100% guaranty by amulets. She said we did not find mule but gave a big amount. As a result, my condition did not change but yet I felt sorry for the amount my parents paid to that Saint. 

The fact that women are associated with local pilgrimage in Afghanistan is neither accidental nor incidental. Men are associated with the mosque, religious texts, reasoned theological discussions, formal ritual assemblies—in short, with intellectual aspects of religion. Women’s association with local pilgrimage points out that it is bound up with things of the heart, the troubling aspect of life which questions, unsettles, and answers obliquely. Women in Afghanistan are regarded as frivolous, emotional, irrational, and at times dangerous; the things with which they are associated are consequently dismissed as either inconsequential or at times downright suspect.

In Islamic Sufism there are several kinds of pilgrimages and visiting these are based on the need (desire) of the people. The ones who believe in saints are thinking that saints are alive even after death and they can support us as they used to do, and every saint can treat a specific sickness and or need, for instance, treating sicknesses, helpless nesses, finding husbands and making married life, bringing peace between the couples and etc. Here again I would like to bring an example of pilgrimage in Kandahar Province by the name of Sheen Ghazi Asabi pilgrimage. In that pilgrimage, there is a very old and big tree and most of women have believe on that tree and said this tree has miracles. Every Thursday a large number of women came to this pilgrimage and they said to make a wish and lay near to that tree if you roll up and down then your wish will come true but if you did not roll up and down then it means your wish did not complete.

People in need think that visiting the pilgrimages are not only for making dua’ (praying) and differs from a need to need, culture-wise they are organizing a duly different ritual, some examples of rituals are: Cooking and distributing food, lightening the candles and etc. A huge portion of the verbal literature of Pashtu language is set for visiting pilgrimages and most often it is linked to the life of the women, if this portion of the literature (poetry) is accurately explored, many of psychic, cultural, family life and social problems will be enlightened.

Visiting the pilgrimages is a duly general cure; the medical doctors say that there must be a factor out of three reasons behind every disease such as spiritual, psychical and bacterial factors. With visiting the pilgrimages at least the spiritual diseases can be treated especially if the sicknesses are because of a spiritual factor, although he/she will get rid of it, this will also result to lessen the effects of other sicknesses.  furthermore visiting the pilgrimages is a kind of fun and mind-relaxing hence when they are visiting the pilgrimages they will also meet other ladies who have or have had the same sicknesses, in the meantime, they are sitting together for a while and sharing their experiences as well as every one of them think that they are not the only ones who are suffering from this disease and there are many others. Visiting the pilgrimages strengthens the spirituality of the people and the ladies. Hazrat Mohammad PBUH said that visiting the pilgrimages is reminding you the death and equality.  You will see that the king, rich and poor are facing the same destiny and they will be arithmetician of their sins.  This will cause them to keep patience and to have a relaxed mind if his/her feelings are hurt by someone he will think that he will be accountable for it and there is someone who is asking for what he/she did or doing.

Last but not least Women are ritually polluted with the messy business of menstruation and childbirth, but these polluting elements are paradoxically life-giving. Similarly, local pilgrimage is disorderly and informal, but what goes on at the local shrines energizes religion. Ziarat gives scope to the personal and difficult aspects of life and allows both men and especially women to express their emotional sides—to grieve and wail in an approved setting and to celebrate joyously with others.


  • Nasima Bari, an author, and journalist who has used the platform of Media to throw light on women’s experiences and advocate for their empowerment. She is the only woman in the southern Afghanistan provinces who owns a media outlet. She is the founder and owner of Amil Newspaper.