Art on Behalf of Humanity and Beyond

Homayun Alam

is a research fellow at Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. Dr. Alam is specialized on cultural Islam, Iran and Persian culture.
Art on Behalf of Humanity - mpc-journal.org  - Art on Behalf of Humanity - mpc-journal.org

Image©: Screenshot from AfghanstarToloTV/YouTube

An Afghani woman performed a heartbreaking song on “Afghan Star” in Kabul last week. “Afghan Star” is a young music show in Afghanistan, similar to the television pop music talent contest “Star Academy”. It is worth to share the story:

Talented participants from all over Afghanistan perform modern, folkloric, rock and rap music in Persian language and sometimes in Pashto and Uzbek-Turkish on TOLO TV, a partner of the “Deutsche Welle”.

While languages and accents have no borders, Sahar Ariyan, one of the few female participants on the music talent show, sang a heartbreaking song with her Iranian-sounding accent.

She sang about the stoning of a woman in Afghanistan in 2015 – Farkhoondeh. Ms Ariyan described how madmen chased Fakhoondeh in the streets of Kabul to inflict pain on her. At the end Farkhoondeh was killed dead and burnt on sight.

But what did she do? Farkhoondeh was caught after leaving a mosque in Kabul when she told the local Mullah not to frighten women by telling them that they are going to hell. She also told the Mullah not to selling necklaces on which verses of Quran are written. Following that brave action, the Mullah went in front of his mosque and yelled out loud “Farkhoondeh has just burnt the Quran”.

Men gathered around her, and began hitting her with punches, stones, sticks, even a car drove over her and broke her legs and arms. After that brutal action, she was dragged in the dry Kabul River and was stoned until she passed away. Farkhoondeh was a “Hafez of Quran”, and she studied this stuff of Islam, and worked on behalf of women. But this is not all.

The Afghan Star Process

The jury is constituted of singers looking for new talents in major Afghan cities. The Jury comes from diverse backgrounds – two ethnically Persian (Jooyandeh, Olfat), a Pashto (Mina), and the only female celebrity singer Ariyana Saeed, who is ethnically Persian.

In order to discover talents, they travel around the country – visiting cities such as Kabul, Mazar, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad – in order to listen to potential candidates for the show in Kabul. Following the process of choosing some thousand male, female, young and old contestants from different ethnicities, only 12 singers are invited to the final performance show in TOLO’s studio in Kabul.

There, the contestants practise with the jury members and other singers every day for the show. The show is aired on Thursdays and Fridays.

What happened?

On 29 January 2016, Sahar Ariyan performed a touching song about women in Afghanistan. She is a talented Persian (Tajik) singer from Kabul. The ethnically Persian Sami Hamed wrote the poem, which is in every sense endlessly beautiful but sad.

While Sahar Ariyan’s make-up on stage reminds us of Farkhoondeh, killed because she was falsely accused of burning the Quran, it is a form of protest.

On social media, reactions to the video went viral. Many people from all walks of life described how and why they fell into tears. The Persian poem reminded people of the status of women in Afghanistan, who are marginalised due to their sex.

Ariyana Saeed’s Anger

After the song, all members of the jury honoured Sahar Ariyan’s performance by their loud and prolonged applause. Similarly, the audience showed their respect to the late Farkhoondeh in particular, and the innocent women of Afghanistan in general.

Following the performance, Ariyana Saeed courageously said to the audience: ”My people, please have a look at yourselves. Only few women stood up for Sahar Ariyan’s unique performance. Are you scared or why do you not stand up for her…?”

While shedding tears, Sahar Ariyan responded: ”In the Afghani society unfortunately, in many ways and cases, women themselves don’t respect members of their own sex, so women crush down occasionally other women, that is reality.”

One of the member’s of the jury, Qeys Olfat, expressed his appreciation for Sahar Ariyan’s performance. He respectfully addressed Sahar Ariyan: “The reason why we three men stood up is your commitment Sahar.” The two other male jury members, Mina and Jooyandeh, expressed their wishes and sympathy for Sahar’s cause.

On Behalf of Humanity Beyond the Borders

The song received a wide audience beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The Iranian social media, like www.tavana.org , reacted to Sahar Ariyan’s performance by giving her fans (Iranians and Persians from Afghanistan) a platform to share their views.

 At 20 January 2016, seven staff members of TOLO were killed and dozen injured by the Taliban through an assailant attack. In the up coming week, 21 – 29 January 2016, the show of “Afghan Star” was cancelled and no more YouTube videos were uploaded. Subsequently, Sahar Ariyan and another male participant, Rashed Ariya, sang on behalf of freedom of speech, love, equality and dignity.

Gender equality is a very hot topic in Afghanistan. When female celebrities such as Ariyana Saeed or Shahla Zoland refuse to shake hands with men who dismissively speak against women, we should follow suit. On state level, the first women’s university is envisaged for 2016, and the construction of a building is scheduled to be built.


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