Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Scotsman And An Afghan Walk Into A Bar

From "The Places in Between," by Rory Stewart, pages, 122-123:
How much do you pay for a wife in Scotland?" asked Dr. Habibullah.
I told him.

"What is your religion?"
"Jesewi--Christian," I said.
"You believe in God?"
"One God?"
"Would you marry your mother's sister's daughter?"
"I don't think so."
"How about your mother's brother's daughter?"
"Your father's brother's or your sister's daughter?"
"No, not them either."
"Then who would you marry?"
"Probably someone not related to me."

Silence. Habibullah's questions suggested he was interrogating a Stone Age tribesman about kinship structures, but these were not anthropological questions. They were religious questions. Islam, much more than Christianity, is a political and a social religion. Clear rules govern who and how you can marry. In this region most people married their first cousins.
A tall beared man came running after us. He ignored my greetings entirely and asked Dr. Habibullah, "What religion is he?"
"He's a Jahdui--a Jew," said Dr. Habibullah.
"No, no, I'm an Esawi--a Christian."

Dr. Habibullah turned around, looked at me, and then said to his friend, "I can't work this out--is there a difference?" Many people who fought in the holy war against the Russians must have known less about other religions than Dr. Habibullah. The man led him aside and whispered to him, and then we were on our way.

"That man was a mullah," said Dr. Habibullah. "He said that you can marry our daughters--you are a type of Muslim."


Naj said...


This cousin-marrying, I think has more anthropological roots than religious ones.

It is more about keeping the family's blood and or wealth intact and encapsulated, than about the rule of whatever God. To put is simply, to marry outside one's clan would create geo-political complications! And if you are familiar with old aristocratic societies or feudalist or nomadic ones, you would instantly know what I mean. ;)

Even before Islam came to Iran (Persia), kings marry their sisters to keep their blood pure! (this practice was forbidden to non-royals though, so I think they settled for cousins instead!!!)

MarcLord said...

Hi Naj!

Good to see you. Yes, although I framed the title in terms of a joke, Dr. Habibullah is a real person who is highly respected in Afghanistan amongst many clans for his fighting in the holy war and his ability to treat . His mother was from Dahan-e-Rezak. So he asked these questions honestly, and thought deeply about the kind of place Rory must be from. He must have thought it a complicated and dangerous place, as any visitor to parts of Edinburgh on a Saturday night would agree.