Womanhood in Afghanistan
A Christian Science perspective: A US Army colonel stationed in Afghanistan reflects on his time there.
As I drive along the road from the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on my way to the International Security Assistance Force headquarters for a meeting, I can see only the eyes of the women I pass.
The men walk with men and the women walk behind them carrying everything and wearing burqas that hide everything but their eyes. After seeing this day after day in many countries in this region, I can’t help wondering if these women will ever gain more freedom.
According to a NATO study of women in Afghanistan over the past five years, they are generally honest, trustworthy, loving, and praying for peace. The many women I’ve met and talked to, sometimes with an interpreter, are praying every day, caring for their children, and doing the right thing. Their strength and resolve are amazing to me.
So why are the women here treated as “less”? A quick e-mail to my mom from my office in Afghanistan on the topic brings helpful spiritual thoughts. Even though we think of qualities as male or female, they are spiritual and express the complete image and likeness of God; unrestrained goodness.
This statement challenges what appears to be an unchanging and unchangeable human reality. I pray to see all women as spiritual and free, the image and likeness of God, and also to recognize that no men can be held hostage to traditional beliefs that would degrade themselves or others.
In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy says: “In Science man is the offspring of Spirit. The beautiful, good, and pure constitute his ancestry. His origin is not, like that of mortals, in brute instinct, nor does he pass through material conditions prior to reaching intelligence. Spirit is his primitive and ultimate source of being; God is his Father, and Life is the law of his being” (p. 63).
One constant for me, no matter where I am, is divine Love. I persistently work and pray each day to mentally see the Afghan men and women not as stuck in the mortal dream of “brute instinct” but rather as under Love’s government. All men and women include spiritual intelligence as loving children of God. Each is fulfilled and complete.
This statement from Mrs. Eddy gives me confidence in my prayers: “The higher nature of man is not governed by the lower; if it were, the order of wisdom would be reversed. Our false views of life hide eternal harmony ...” (Science and Health, p. 62).
At one point last year, I thought God had forsaken mankind here in Kabul. “False views of life” were certainly challenging me. I was surrounded 24 hours a day by reports of hate and senseless murders of men, women, and children by the warring factions striving for power and money. My head was swimming in disbelief after listening to a briefing about a girls’ school burned to the ground with the girls inside, because they didn’t have their heads properly covered.
I called a Christian Science practitioner, who prayed with me daily to know I was in my right place here in Afghanistan, that I was able to share God’s law and witness to God’s true protection of humanity. The practitioner told me that the truth of God’s man is always revealed.
This was helpful for my prayer about the women in Afghanistan. All of us are righteous and protected in God’s kingdom.
If my true job is to witness God’s law and see men and women as God sees them, then it is more important than ever to purify my image of womanhood. I need to hold to what is true about both men and women and see them as God sees me – as His image and likeness.
As with all healing, I must see that these women – and men – have never been separated from divine Love, its protection and direction. Our Father-Mother God is the only power and His promise is true.
I understand now that most of the things we deal with on a day-to-day basis are only a shadow of what God knows of us and of what is actually true. I read Psalms 23:4 with this new vision of reality: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
This prayer has helped me see these women as walking “through the shadow” of death, not stuck in it or walking with death. And I know how to get rid of the shadow: All I have to do is turn on the light. In this case, the light is the light of the spiritual truth about women. In the kingdom of God, they are already safe and cherished, and I pray to see that they are right now free from this shadow and comforted by divine Love.
Hymns have been so helpful as I’ve prayed to change my thought about the people of this region. One that begins “I love Thy way of freedom, Lord” (Violet Hay, “Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 136) is freeing and helps me see man – meaning both men and women – as whole. “I walk with Love along the way” (Minny M.H. Ayers, Hymnal, No. 139) takes my thought from pity to purity.
As I watch these women covered from head to toe walking in the mud and trash in 100-degree temperatures, I recite two lines of that hymn, “The joy that none can take away/ Is [theirs]; [they] walk with Love today.”