Sonnets for the Mujahideen

The militant movement has a little-examined sensitive side.

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Poetry of the Taliban is the first-ever English-language collection of verse from the Afghan militant group. Edited by Kandahar-based researchers and journalists Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, the book is an attempt to broaden international understanding of what historian Faisal Devji refers to in the introduction as the Taliban movement’s “aesthetic dimension.”

Afghanistan, like other Muslim countries in the region, has a long tradition of popular verse, and the Taliban — both its official leadership and individual fighters — have embraced the form. Despite the group’s austere interpretation of Islam, which extends to a complete ban on instrumental music, recordings of poetry recitations are frequently traded between fighters on CDs and MP3s and often serve as soundtracks for the movement’s propaganda videos.

Shakespearean love sonnets they are not. But those expecting doctrinaire propaganda might be surprised by the range of the verse in the book. “The Taliban are known not only in the West, but in much of the Muslim world, too for their strict conservatism rather than for any delicate feelings of humanity, yet the poetry associated with them is replete with such emotions,” Devji writes.

Yes, there are paeans to the glory of the battlefield and vicious parodies of enemy leaders, but also a surprising emphasis on comradeship and some chaste and ambiguous references to romantic love. In its ideology, the poetry tends more toward Afghan nationalism than global jihad, with frequent reference to past invaders, from the British in the 19th century to the Soviets in the 20th.

Poetry of the Taliban is currently on sale in Britain and will be published in the United States on July 17. Here are six examples from the collection:

May I be sacrificed for you, my homeland

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your high, high mountains,
For your flowerlike chest and pines

May I be sacrificed for you, my homeland, each region of yours is beauty,
Each of your stones are rubies, each bush of yours is medicine.
Each village of yours is a trench, and every youth of yours is sacrificing for you,
Each mountain and hill of yours is a calamity for your enemies.

May I be sacrificed for your dusty deserts and green valleys,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for you; I will sacrifice my head and property for you,
I will give you my body’s blood in order to make you fresh and thriving.

I will murder all the enemies of your religion and prosperity,
I will gradually make you the holy necklace of Asia.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed, for your hot trenches,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your Helmand, your chest,
For your mountains, Uruzgan, your Kandahar-like trenches,
For Zabul’s trenches and Ghazni’s honorable battlefields,
For Gurbat, Gurbat Wardak, Maidan and Lowgar.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your great youths,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for you while my homeland, Kunar is alive,
Your youths from Paktika and Farah are heroes.
Your people from Nangarhar and Laghman are successful,
You have trained famous sons.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your dry ruins,
For your flowerlike chest and pines.

May I be sacrificed, sacrificed for your Hindu Kush and Mahipar,
For your Shamshad, Shah-I Kot, Spin Ghar and Tur Ghar.
My ditch-filled country! You have trenches all over.
Your body is Maiwand, Maiwand, you are Habibi’s beloved.

May I be sacrificed for your burnt wounds,
For your flower-like chest and black pines.

Transcribed from a recording made during the 1990s


Your love aside, what else is there?
It is like approaching the desert.
Like the dust on your footsteps.
Look! The crazy one lay down.
In your love up to the sky
Means rising from the earth.
Those who burn with the fire of zeal
Are shackled at this time.
Your cheeks in the spring,
Red like flowers.
Admonisher! Give us advice!
My head has burst.
With the heart, I behave correctly with everyone,
But they cheat me.
Your eyelashes never miss
When they are turned against someone.
Your looks have grabbed my heart,
Its heart’s habits are like that of a thief.

—Pordel Pustan

Dec. 23, 2007

Condolences of Karzai and Bush

O hello, my lord Bush;
Now that you’ve gone, who did you leave me with?

My slave, dear Karzai!
Don’t be upset; I am handing you over to Obama.

These words make me happy.
Tell me, how long will I be here?

Karzai! Wait for a year;
Don’t come till I send someone else there.

Life is tough without you my darling;
I share in your grief: I am coming to you.

As for death, we’ll both die;
Alas, we’ll be first and next.

Give me your hand as you go;
Turn your face as you disappear.


Sorrow takes over and overwhelms me;
My darling! Take care of yourself and I will take care of myself.

Mountains separate you from me;
Say hello to the pale moon and I’ll do so as well.

—Author unknown

Dec. 18, 2008

How many are the NGOs!

Wasting time, they merely sit in their offices,
How many are the NGOs!
Their salaries, more than ministers’,
How many are the NGOs!
Wasting time, respecting recommendations,
Those who have no recommendations are forgotten.
How many are the NGOs!
When you are interviewed, they ask for recommendations.
During interviews they make tension suddenly;
How many are the NGOs!
When there is a vacancy, boys are appointed;
They will not admit that they are over-aged,
How many are the NGOs!
If the applicants are girls, they will be admitted without interview;
Women in large numbers but men are few.
How many are the NGOs!
Most people who broke with the government move to NGOs;
The reason is, salaries are in dollars,
How many are the NGOs!
People come from here and there taking salaries in dollars;
They don’t work in the government because they have their hearts broken,
How many are the NGOs!
If someone gets to be head of an NGO, then he is rich,
So they enjoy a better living situation than Karzai.
How many are the NGOs!
Perform the tricks, spend large amounts;
It is not clear where these people come from;
How many are the NGOs!
A meddler strolls around with his bodyguards;
That Afghan doesn’t think about the situation:
How many are the NGOs!

—Matiullah Sarachawal
Dec. 23, 2007


Hot, hot trenches are full of joy;
Attacks on the enemy are full of joy.
Guns in our hands and magazine belts over my shoulders;
Grenades on my chest are full of joy.
They enemy can’t resist when he sees them;
Black hair and stiff moustaches are full of joy.
He who fights in the field is manly;
Houses full of black-haired women are full of joy.
We become eager two times after hearing it:
The clang, clang and rockets are full of joy.
Leave the lips and spring, O poet!
Poems full of feeling are full of joy.
Jawad, I say, on the true path of jihad,
All kinds of troubles are full of joy.

May 21, 2008

Night Raid:

Those who have ruined my life’s harvest
Made a night raid on my home again.
The Red armies came and returned defeated;
They left the destroyed Afghan valleys behind them.
In any direction that I look, I see the deserted garders;
The unity of my home has been hit by separation.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

What complaint can you make of the Red, this is their rule;
The forest wolves will always eat meat.
What else should humans expect from the wolves?
They have hit my mount and Hamun’s as well.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

Somebody extended the hand of the cruel onto my lap,
That’s why there is no respect for the country’s Ulemaa’.
The turbans fell from the heads of our elders today,
They have set our people on fire.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

The house of my history and culture was looted today,
Each slave is now riding me.
The teeth of the East and West have become like pliers on my muscles.
I have stepped into his hall in his presence.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

Wise up, O Afghan!
This scene of grief is made for you.
Be zealous and grab him by his neck,
This is seared on your heart from the history of yesterday.
Who made a night raid on my home again?

—Author unknown

Aug. 8, 2008

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