Reza Mohammadi writes: When the Taliban’s poetry book was published in the UK this month, many found it very strange indeed, but someone who understands the culture and lifestyle of Afghans knows how important poetry is to Afghans. On a visit to Jalalabad during the orange flower blossom celebration, I have felt the power of poetry within the people. As each word was recited by poets, people would rise up, cheer, and then sit down. This is how Afghans live and breathe poetry and drown in an illusion and dream.
The Taliban are like other Afghans, humbled by poetry, and their connection to poetry is older than their connection to radical Islam, the Kalashnikov and grenades.
The history of poetry in Afghanistan dates back millennia. It flourished during the reign of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, who ruled from 998 to 1030, and was a man of literature and poetry, with more than 700 poets living in his palace. But 100 years before the Sultan of Ghazni, Persian literature was born in the court of the first Persian king, Yaqub, in Nimruz, a western province of Afghanistan. It is said that one day a poem was recited in Arabic to praise him, but as Yaqub didn’t understand Arabic he ordered that no poem should be recited in a language he did not know. So the literary men of the court were forced to compose poems in Farsi, the language of the king. And the rest is history.
Poetry is everything to Afghans, we hear and recite poetry from cradle to grave. Regardless of our ethnicity, whether we are Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun, Uzbek, Turkmen, Nuristani, Baluch, or any other of the hundreds of sub-ethnic groups, Afghans are threaded together by poetry.