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tv talk: afghan star

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Can talent shows such as Afghan Star transform Afghanistan’s outlook on women?  

Afghan Star is a TV talent show, similar to American Idol, that started up in Kabul about eight years ago. For those that do not know much about American Idol or this show, Afghan Star is a popular reality television show which searches for the most talented singers across Afghanistan. It might not seem like much by the Western cultural standards, but when you see young Afghan women sing on the stage, it’s quite surprising, considering it was illegal to sing under the Taliban regime.

Going back to the 1970s, Afghanistan was a country where men and women performed together. It was a Westernised country where women and men had equal rights. To see this country totally transformed into a country where young women fear performing on stage, or even taking part in talent shows, is just absolutely terrifying. But seeing rare courageous young women like Anahita Ulfat, the Afghan Star’s only female contestant to make it through to the Top 5, was a great source of hope for women in Afghanistan. Her self-confidence and outlook on women in the show brought her a tremendous amount of support, from both men and women.

Afghanistan’s youngsters are so hopeful, so determined on their quest for peace, so tired of war. They believe that music is the best way to transform the country by bringing people together and giving them alternatives to war through mutual love of music. There are the fanatics, who say that Setara, a former female contestant, deserved to die for breaking out into an impulsive dance on stage with her headscarf constantly slipping off, but these types of comments appear to be outnumbered by the young people who are simply thrilled that this kind of competition is now allowed. These young people want their old peaceful Afghanistan back, and fortunately they have small hope in this talent show.

In 2005, when the show was first launched, it was the country’s very first encounter with democracy. Since then, Afghan Star has changed a small percentage of men’s outlook on women, which is a great result for a war torn country. Thanks to Afghan Star’s support for its female contestants, the show has given them an opportunity to take their first step towards freedom.

In Afghanistan there are no specific statutes or laws to govern by. The sole constitution that is used is the Quran, which all judges have to interpret conservatively. Many actions that are considered illegal have no actual written laws to ban them; as a matter of fact, a lot of them are not even addressed in the Quran. The general rule in regards to the legality of something is that if it is suspected to be Haram (forbidden or clashing with Islamic law or may lead people astray from Islam) then suspicion alone is grounds for banning it. Therefore some Islamic states, like Afghanistan, cannot accept women who choose to become singers, dancers or actresses; it is not a part of Afghan tradition and culture. There is a belief that if a woman chooses a career in the entertainment industry, such as singing, this will degrade her dignity.

God’s commandments about the status of women and the relations between men and women, according to the Quran, consist of full justice. In this regard, Islam suggests equality of rights, responsibilities and duties between the two genders. Islam is based on sympathy, tolerance and respect for human beings, and does not discriminate against women in this matter.

The position of women in some Islamic states has been an issue of debate. Some misconceptions have arisen, either from traditional practices which are claimed to be “Islamic,” but are only from prejudices. The real issue is how women are regarded in the Islamic faith, and when we look at this, we see that Islam gives women great social value, freedom and comfort. But unfortunately, a patriarchal culture and tradition dominates, and women are denied of their God-given rights.

The show’s female contestants have participated in the show have taken a stance against Islamic clerics, who insist that women should remain at home and never earn a living of their own. While men have a great amount of freedom, able to choose their career path and to wear modernised clothing; when it comes to women who attempt to exercise these same rights, it is a very big deal; she receives death threats, is abused or even black mailed.

Afghan Star has, in its own way, opened the road towards freedom for women in Afghanistan. It gives them a platform where their voices can be heard.

A version of this article originally appeared in Fanoos magazine. 

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