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Learn More About Afghans and Afghanistan

Afghan handicrafts

The artistic expression of the Afghan people is found in their handicrafts, especially in hand weaving and fine carpet design. Afghan carpets and rugs are famous for their beautiful colors -- frequently shades of red from the madder root -- and design -- bold geometrics and guls (small medallions).
Photos of rug bazaars and manufacturing
Some rug designs incorporate war imagery (photos load slowly)
Living in Afghanistan, from the Textile Museum of Canada

Why do we call our blankets 'afghans'?

We've been busy pondering this important question! We're scouring the literature and talking to textile curators here and abroad -- and we've discovered a great subject for a Ph.D. dissertation. The Modern Textile Dictionary tells us that the word came into use because the patterns -- stripes, zigzags, and squares -- and colors of knitted and crocheted blankets resembled those of rugs from Afghanistan. The term first appears in print in 1833 [Oxford English Dictionary]. The nomenclature caught on as Oriental rugs became widely fashionable in Victorian decor [Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, Second Edition, 1988] and travelers increasingly returned home with exotic carpets. Please send us an email if you can add to this body of knowledge.

Significance of the color green in Islam

Green is the symbolic color of Islam. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH, peace be upon him) wore a green turban, and green is believed to have been his favorite color. Green was also the color of the banners used on the battlefield and the color of the first Islamic flag.

The Quran and the Hadith, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, describe Paradise as filled with green: the people of Paradise "will wear green garments of fine silk [The Noble Quran, 18:31]."

Islam also considers green significant because it is the color of nature. Therefore, green is popularly used in the flags of Muslim nations, as well as in art and architecture. Mosques are frequently decorated with green tiles.

Islam and figurative art

Even though orthodox Muslim theologians decry the making of figurative art, the Quran does not contain this prohibition. The condemnation of figurative art -- representations of faces and animals -- is aimed at avoiding the creation of any likenesses of God. This convention was vital in Islam's early centuries, when idol worship was rampant in Arabia. Early Muslim theologians feared that people would not distinguish between God and idols. To uphold God's supremacy, depicting figures was discouraged.

At the end of the fifteenth century, figurative art was a popular aspect of Muslim culture and enjoyed in the courts of many Muslim rulers. However, depicting images was restricted to the private realm. This tradition continues to this day, even though most Muslim scholars now feel that the prohibition is no longer needed in our modern times.

From this history evolved Islam's rich tradition of producing the world's most exquisite decorative and calligraphic arts. Calligraphy is widespread and considered to be the noblest form of art because of its association with the Muslim's holy book, the Quran, which is written in Arabic. Whether it's the interior of a mosque, an illuminated manuscript, or a silk rug, graceful, repeating patterns dominate the surfaces. Many people believe that this unending repetition of geometric and vegetal patterns emphasizes the infinite nature of God.

Editor's choice

After searching for 17 years, National Geographic has once again found the Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes. Behind the Search for the Afghan Girl, "National Geographic," March 2002.

View the rediscovered treasures from Afghanistan's National Museum at the Guimet Museum in Paris.

See Anthony's beautiful photos of Afghanistan published in Afghanistan Alive magazine.

Recipes for qabili pilau to sheer payra fudge ... try Afghan cuisine! Bake Khatai cookies. About cooking with pumpkin and Borani Kadoo.

Sorting and packing volunteer Else Vellinga recommends these first-person stories in Life in an Afghan Village from the BBC News.

Decades of war and years of drought have devastated Afghanistan's environment, but not the spirit of it's people. Perilous Gardens, Persistent Dreams, "Sierra Magazine," May/June 2003.

View photos of the Bagh-e-Babur, Kabul's Moghul Garden.

Have you seen American Sarah Chayes' "A House for Haji Baba" on Frontline?

Read Michael Park's personal tale "Shawls, Markets and Politics in Kabul."

Oregonian Volunteer Nancy Hamm suggests learning more about Afghan food and trying the recipes in your own kitchen.'s Central Asia Director Ivan Sigal visited Afghanistan in early 2002. His photos document how post-Taliban Afghanistan regards itself. EurasiaNet, February 2002.

Did you know that Afghanistan was once a popular hangout for hippie backpackers? That's what the Lonely Planet guidebook says.

Recommended books, movies, music, educational materials

Click here to see our recommendations for you.

The Afghan refugee crisis

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 3.5 million Afghans have sought refuge in neighboring Pakistan and Iran. This is the largest refugee population in the world. Following the Soviet invasion, more than twenty years of war ruined the Afghan economy and infrastructure, as well as riddled the once fertile land with perilous landmines. Afghans suffer from insufficient food, medical care, shelter, and clothing. Drought and famine plague the country. The current war has created more refugees and dislocated more than one million within Afghanistan's own borders.

Find out how humanitarian agencies are helping the Afghan people:


Click to see more Afghanistan photos by Luke Powell

Friday Mosque in Herat

Friday Mosque in Herat
© Luke Powell, 2002


Afghan women spinning wool
Rahima Haya, October 2003


Afghan girl in a village in northern Afghanistan

Afghan girl in a village in northern Afghanistan
© World Concern 2002




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