Love for books transcends political crises in Afghanistan

By Abdul Haleem and Jawid Omid

"I have been running this bookstore since the 1960s and kept it open for book lovers even during Taliban's brutal reign," Hajji Shah Mohammad, the bookstore owner, says.
   Mohammad's tale only shows that the culture of reading and love for books transcend political upheavals and the test of time.
   The two-room bookstore, in a dilapidated building in downtown Kabul, has served Afghan book lovers for more than five decades.

   Mohammad says his personal collection has reached 18,000 books on different subjects about Afghanistan. His collection, properly catalogued and displayed on shelves, includes books in Chinese and Japanese languages.
   Since opening his bookstore and modest library in the l960s, Mohammad has experienced ups and downs but because of perseverance and hard work he was able to survive Afghanistan's more than three decades of turmoil and political unrest.
   He has now opened his own website in order to cater for a more sophisticated clientele and in keeping with the times.
   "I have a website which is used by both foreigners and locals. Because of security problems, my clients, especially foreigners who cannot go out of their offices, just visit our website at their embassies and offices and order online and later ask their employees to collect the books they ordered," Mohammad tells Xinhua in an interview.

Afghan women attend a literacy class in central Bamyan province, 130km west of capital Kabul. The adult literacy rate in the war-hit country is 39% while the adult female literacy rate remains only 13 per cent. Hajji Shah Mohammad, a bookstore owner in Kabul, says nowadays, however, apart from his bookstore, there are about a dozen others in the capital. (Xinhua)

He said during the Taliban regime, his bookstore was vandalized by hardline militants who did not believe in the importance of books and reading materials.
   "The Taliban religious police came to my bookstore here one day in 1999, and burned several books which contained pictures of human beings and animals. Such pictures, and even that of a butterfly, were forbidden by the Taliban," he says.    
   The Taliban's six-year reign, which ended after the invasion of Afghanistan by US-led military coalition in late 2001, had banned photo shops, television channels, cinema, music and all forms of entertainment.
   The Taliban believe taking pictures is a breach of Islamic teaching and anyone caught taking photos of living creatures was punished. Only photos of passports and travel documents were allowed.
   Nowadays, however, apart from Mohammad's bookstore, there are about a dozen others in Kabul. There also are libraries, newspaper stalls, printing presses and photo shops.
   Some 70 television channels, more than 100 radio stations in Kabul and provinces and hundreds of newspapers, weekly and fortnightly as well as magazines, are in circulation in the post-Taliban period.
   Booksellers can now even supply import books for children. Television channels run animated clips of animals and other creatures, which were all banned during the Taliban regime.
   But suicide attacks by the remnants of the Taliban still pose a threat to the security of Kabul and the country in general.
   In mid-January, a suicide attack against a government agency near Shah Mohammad's bookstore left seven people, including the attackers, dead, and injuring 33 others. The attack also damaged a portion of his bookstore.  (Xinhua)