Traditions and customs of Afghanistan

What traditions and customs are there in Afghanistan?

A look at the customs and traditions of Afghanistan, in Asia.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

The daily meal consists of flatbread baked on an iron plate over a fire or on the inner wall of a clay oven. The bread is often dipped in a light meat broth. Yogurt and other dairy products (butter, cream, and dried buttermilk) are an important item in the diet, as are onions, peas and beans, dried fruit, and nuts. Rice is consumed in some areas and in urban settlements. Scrambled eggs prepared with tomatoes and onions are a common meal. Food is cooked with various types of oils, including the fat from a sheep’s tail. Tea is drunk all day. Sugar is used in the first cup of the day, and then the sweets are eaten and held in the mouth while drinking tea. Other common drinks are water and buttermilk. Afghans use the right hand to eat from a common bowl on the ground. At home, when there are no guests, men and women share meals. Along the paths and in the bazaars, there are many small restaurants that double as teahouses and inns.

Common Islamic food prohibitions are respected in Afghanistan. For example, meat is only eaten from animals that are slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law; alcohol, pork and wild boar are not consumed, although some people secretly make wine for consumption at home. Shiites avoid the rabbit and the hare.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

On special occasions, pilau rice is served with meat, carrots, raisins, pistachios, or peas. The preferred meat is lamb, but chicken, beef and camel are also consumed. Kebabs, fried pancakes stuffed with leeks, ravioli and noodle soup are also prepared. Vegetables include spinach, zucchini, turnips, eggplant, peas and beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Fresh fruits are eaten during the day or as a dessert. In formal meetings, men and women are separated. Dinners begin with tea and nibbling on pistachios or chickpeas; food is served late at night in plates that are placed on a cloth on the floor. Eating abundantly shows the pleasure of enjoying.


Marriage is considered an obligation, and divorce is rare and stigmatized. Polygamy is allowed if all wives are treated the same. However, it is rare and occurs mainly when a man feels compelled to marry the widow of his dead brother. The general pattern is to marry relatives, although families try to diversify their social assets through marriage. The incidence of unions between cousins ​​is high.

The first contacts are often made discreetly by women to avoid public denial. Then the two families negotiate the financial aspects of the union and decide on the trousseau, the price of the bride and the dowry. The next step is the official engagement, during which the groom’s female relatives bring gifts to the bride’s house and the sweets are consumed. The wedding is a three-day party paid for by the groom’s family during which the marriage contract is signed and the couple is reunited. The bride is taken to her new home in a luxurious procession.


The young address the elders not by name but by title. A husband will not call his wife by her name, but he will call her “mother of my child.” Family surnames are unusual, but nicknames are very common. Kinship terms are often used to express friendship or respect. Hospitality is a strong cultural value.

When food is served, the host waits for the guests to begin eating. As soon as the dishes are clean, guests ask permission to leave unless they are staying overnight. Upon meeting, two men shake hands and then place the right hand over the heart. Direct physical contact between men and women is avoided. If they haven’t seen each other for a long time, friends and family hug, kiss, and say polite phrases. When someone enters a room, people stand up and greet them. As they sit down, more greetings are exchanged. It is considered impolite to ask an objective question or ask about something specific at the beginning of the conversation. To express affection, it is customary to complain, sometimes bitterly, about not having received any news.


Religious beliefs

Despite their different affiliations, Sunnis and Shias recognize the authority of the Koran and respect the five pillars of Islam. However, relations between members of different religious sects are distant and strained. Sufism is an important expression of religiosity. It represents the mystical trend of Islam and emphasizes emotion and personal commitment over a codified conception of faith. Some Islamic scholars view it with suspicion. An extreme form of Sufism is represented by wandering beggars. Supernatural creatures such as angels, genies, ghosts, and spirits are believed to exist. Exorcism and magic protect people from the evil eye. Although condemned by orthodox religious authorities, these practices may be enforced by village mullahs.

Religious practitioners

There are two types of religious practitioners: scholars, whose power is based on knowledge, and saints, whose authority comes from their ability to convey God’s blessing. Among the Sunnis, there is no formal clergy, while the Shias have a religious hierarchy. Village mullahs receive a religious education that enables them to teach children and lead Friday prayers. Many Sufi saints and leaders claim descent from the Prophet. Their followers visit them for advice and blessing. During the war, a new type of religious leader emerged: the young Islamic militant who challenges the authority of traditional practitioners and proposes a more political conception of religion.

Rituals and Holy Places

Throughout the year, people gather on Fridays at noon at the mosque. Most villages have a place to pray, which is also used to accommodate travellers. The graves of famous religious leaders often become shrines visited by local people. They play an important role in the social life of the village community and in local identity. Pilgrimages allow women to leave the home in groups to chat and socialize. There are two main religious holidays. The Id al-Kabir or Id-e Qorban (the Great Feast or Feast of the Victim) commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham at the end of the annual pilgrimage period to Mecca. Most families slaughter a sheep and distribute some of the meat to the poor. Id al-Fitr or Id-e Ramazan (the small festival or festival of Ramazan) marks the end of the fasting month and is a time of joy during which family and friends visit each other. The fasting month of Ramadan is an important religious and social event. During Muharram (the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar), Shiites commemorate the death of Muhammad’s grandson. It is a period of mourning and sadness. People gather to hear an account of the martyrdom, crying and beating his chest. The anniversary of Husain’s death is the climax. Processions are organized and some young people injure themselves with chains or sharp knives. Other important social ceremonies with a religious dimension include births, weddings, funerals, circumcisions of young boys, and charity meals given by wealthy people.

Death and the afterlife

The dead are quickly buried in a shroud. In the countryside, most graves are just piles of unmarked stones. The richest people can erect a tombstone with a prayer written on it. For three days, the close relatives of the deceased open their house to receive condolences. Forty days after death, family and close friends meet again, visit the grave and pray. After a year, a ceremony is held to mark the end of the mourning period. Many people believe that if a funeral is not carried out properly, the ghost of the dead will return to haunt the living.

Secular celebrations

Jashn, the National Independence Holidays (celebrating complete independence from the British in 1919) used to be an occasion for the government to promote reforms. Parades and sporting events were organized. The new year of March 21 dates back to pre-Islamic times. In the old Persian calendar, it was a fertility festival celebrating spring. It is still a time of celebration when family and friends visit each other and bring gifts for the children.

Arts and Humanities

The Taliban have banned artistic expression. High culture is kept alive in Pakistan and in the West, refugees have established cultural circles that organize concerts, exhibitions (paintings, photographs), poetry competitions, and courses in calligraphy, painting, music, and poetry. Some also have modest film libraries and archives and promote theater.

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