Afghan malangs: Keeping the country’s mystic roots alive

Published: April 20, 2014
SHARES
Email

The malang was a friendly old man who took my hand and looked at it for a few minutes. He then told me that I would have a bright future.

The malang was a friendly old man who took my hand and looked at it for a few minutes. He then told me that I would have a bright future. The malang was a friendly old man who took my hand and looked at it for a few minutes. He then told me that I would have a bright future. PHOTO: FILE

In Afghanistan, there is a special group of people called the malangs. This is an Afghan word which describes men who live a very austere and dangerous life and who are happy with the hardships they endure.

malang is somewhat like the Afghan version of a shaman.

They have been part of the Afghan society for centuries and have been forced to live an extremely hard life. These harsh circumstances are not just because of the wars; these people are neither accepted nor respected in the Afghan society.

The main reason behind such ill treatment is that in mainstream Islam, shamanism (or anything like it) is not considered an acceptable practice. Since a majority of Afghans are Muslim, the unpopularity of malangan is understandable. However, the Afghan people have not entirely shunned them. They live by a system where they do not bother these malangan as long as the malangan don’t interfere with their lifestyles.

Shamanism came to Central Asia with the Turkic people. When the Turks invaded the Central Asian steppes in the sixth century, they brought their shamanistic beliefs and ancestral cults to the mountains of Central Asia and hence, to Afghanistan. Most of these shamans claim Islamic titles for themselves but since they are not part of the religion directly and never had anything to do with Islam, giving them such a title has never even been considered.

Shamans or malangan are neither a vibrant stratum of society nor do they make a tangible part of the population. One way of explaining their existence could be that they are at the edge of the Afghan society – secluded, isolated and left alone to their own situations.

However, I think that it is important to know about them since despite all the turmoil of the war, they still exist in Afghanistan.

And that is something worth exploring.

I have met two malangan so far. I found the first one sitting in front of the Shah-Do Shamshira mosque in Kabul. He was a friendly old man who took my hand and looked at it for a few minutes. He then told me that I would have a bright future. This prediction, although a positive one, made me wonder whether the malang really had some hidden, inner talent to see my future by analysing the lines on my palm.

I met the second malang near Qargha, a lake in Afghanistan. He was walking barefoot on the street. I stopped him and asked if he would like to talk to me and he agreed.

He looked deep into my eyes and told me that I would have a big journey in the future.

I don’t believe in predictions and hence, I didn’t think that the malangan’s prophecies would be of any consequence. I still don’t believe that these people have any special ability. However, the fact that such people can live their way of life in such a war-torn country like Afghanistan is absolutely amazing in my view.

Millions of Afghans have died in the past while defending their religion and values. The existence of malangan, albeit filled with hardships, shows that Afghans are not intolerant people; they are not against different lifestyles. But they just don’t like it if someone tries to take over and implements or forces an idea upon them which clashes with their own belief system.

So, what do these malangan actually do? Well, usually they give advice about day-to-day matters.

People come to these malangan and tell them their dilemmas after which the malangan observe them, look at their palms or facial features and then give advice. If a person has a headache for example, the malang tells him which medication would be the best cure. If someone wants to know what will happen in the future, the malang will give his view about it which is usually his own opinion. However, many believe this advice to be a prediction which will soon come true.

A crucial point in this is that a malang asserts that he can read the future and this can, at times, be misleading. Those who believe this are even willing to pay money to the malang although this is usually not a big amount.

How the malangan have survived in the Afghani society, without jobs or any other source of income, is a big mystery.

Many Afghans say that the malangan are crazy. And this is why many people don’t take them seriously.

It seems to me that the malangan have no problem with this point of view because it is probably due to this very perception that they have survived in such a hostile environment. If the Afghans were to see the malangan as serious religious scholars or people who could bring a change and influence people, then they would probably be considered a threat and this would most certainly not be beneficial for their survival.

Whatever may be their secret, one thing is for certain – the malangan represent an ancient part of the war-struck Afghan land and being with them, one can feel the mystic roots which Afghanistan used to have.

Khaled Waziri

Khaled Waziri

The author is an Afghan-German journalist and blogger. He is currently reporting about the elections in Afghanistan,the withdrawal of the Nato/Isaf-troops and social issues in Afghanistan. He tweets @KhaledWaziri (twitter.com/KhaledWaziri)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sami

    Mr Khalid Waziri you are wrong when you stated that Malang is an Afghan Word. The Word “Malang” Have North Indian origins especially it is being used for centuries in Punjab and Sindh. Malaang is a word in Sindhi and Punjabi language since this region have long Sufi Traditions. This word was later adopted by Afghans as well but no Afghan language ever used this word before.Recommend

  • Mehreen Malik

    It is absolutely alright to give publicity to your culture but kindly dont snatch our culture and name it as your own. Afghanistan never have a Sufi Tradition and how can you claim that Malang is an Ancient word in Afghanistan.? It is like a Profanity that you dont want to give the credit to the Indian Sufis from where the Malangs are originated.

    It is just like Kabuli Pulao that you claimed in 19th century after learning it from Indians and one of the prerequisites of Kabuli Pulao is Basmati that Originated from Indian and Pakistani Punjab and it is an Irony for me that you local dish is produced from Imported Product from India and Pakistan?. Kindly stop owning this name Malang. Malang will remain an Indian word and Infact Afghans recently started using this name.

    Every Sufi Shrine in India including Kashmir, Sindh, Rajhastan, UP, Gujarat and Punjab etc use the Malang word but We are Sure it is an Indigenous word and we never borrowed from it from Afghans,

    Kindly please remember that People of Indian Origin are not Intellectually Bankrupt and they know their Traditions and Origins of the Word.

    Kindly Study Sufi History and Poetry and Malang word is common here in India in all Sufi Poetry. Kindly give the credit where the credit is due and stop owning this name for God’s sake,Recommend

  • Saad

    Interesting read. Thanks for sharing!Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Afghanistan had a Buddhist majority once. No horde crossed over to what is Pakistan today and looted and killed and plundered then.

    Only when the Demographics changed, the behaviour changed.Recommend

  • Asad Niazi

    Mr author, are you being naive, or you really don’t know about
    Tassawwuf and Sufi dervishes/malangs? They are not limited to
    Afghanistan only and they are not shamans for God’s sake. Tassawuf is an
    integral part of mainstream Islam and many great Imams were sufis e.g
    Imam Ghazali RA, four great Imams of fiqh , many tabieen, and taba
    tabieen and there followers till today. They live austere lives to draw
    themselves closer to Allah Almighty by training their nafs (suppressing
    their carnal desires) and practicing Zuhd (arabic word meaning
    abandoning worldly desires).

    Many great sufi
    saints who spread Islam came from Afghanistan e.g Sayyedena Ali Hajveri
    Q.S. Sayyedena Moinuddin Chisti Q.S. etc

    I don’t know
    what you understand as “mainstream Islam”. Most definitely it is not
    Wahhabism/Talibanism/deobandism. Islam is Shariah (Islamic external
    laws), Tariqah (spiritual progress to draw near to Allah / tazkiya tun
    Nafs/ Tassawwuf), Haqiqah and Marifa

    Recommend

  • Nazr

    The author is half Afghan, yet he doesn’t even know that “Afghani” is not a language; it’s the Afghan currency. Malang (Malangan; the plural form, not Malangs – just like we don’t have Talibans) is a Pashto word.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Isn’t shamanism in central Asia linked to the Zhun cult? Or was that under the influence of Turkic invaders?Recommend

  • Imran

    Afgans have died while defending their Religion and values…..hahahahaha.joke of the Day…Recommend

  • Nazr

    The author is half Afghan, yet he doesn’t know that “Afghani” is not a language, it’s the Afghan currency. Malang (Malanagan; as plural not Malangs – as we don’t have Talibans) is a Pashto word.Recommend

  • Khaled Waziri

    Dear Nazr,

    thanks for the corrections,but I didn’t make those mistakes.
    The editors have written the text different than I send it to them.
    As I am living in Afghanistan, I know very well that “Afghani” is the
    currency of our country. I have written always “Afghan”.

    It was the mistakes of the editors and I have already told them to correct it.
    Anyway thanks for reading my article!

    kind regards from Kabul
    Khaled WaziriRecommend

  • meher

    Are they in any way similar to Darwesh (s)???Recommend

  • Khaled Waziri

    Dear Meher,
    yes! Many Asian countries have mystic roots.
    As far as I know the Darwesh is popular in countries
    like Turkey or Iran. The Darwesh and the so called Sufi
    are related with each other as well. One of the greates Sufis
    in the history Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī
    is born in nothern Afghanistan,in a province called “Balkh”.
    He is known worldwide as “Rumi”.
    Even today one can visit the historical house of “Balkhi” as
    he used to be called in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been
    in war during the past centuries. Only the British Empire tried
    to conquer Afghanistan three times and they failed three times
    (First Anglo-Afghan War: 1839-1842,
    Second Anglo-Afghan War:1878-1880, Third Anglo-Afghan War:
    1919)
    So the people had not the capacities to
    care about their history, But now it’s changing.

    kind regards
    Khaled WaziriRecommend

  • Khaled Waziri

    Dear Faraz,

    yes you are right! It is linked to the Zhun cult as well,but as far as I know the Turkic invaders had the greatest influence in case of shamanism in Central Asia.But one can not reply to that with a clear “yes” or “no”,cause these are questions,which even historians weren’t able to answer clearly until today.

    kind regards
    Khaled WaziriRecommend

  • Samir tariq

    I never ever write negative comments about any article but for this one i can say one thing….when i read the title i was so interested in reading the article as sufism and tasawuf always interests me….but i was thorougly disappointed as the article has no soul no rhythm….it feels like an 8 year old boy is writing an essay about some silly subject such as “my first picnic” or “my trip to the zoo”….The prose is so weak with not even a basic story-telling structure of “head”‘ “body”and “tail”….what a wasteRecommend

  • WookieBrown

    Sorry, Mehreen, there is no such thing as ‘India’ in the ancient history. India, as a word, concept and identity, or a ‘label’, was invented by the British to re-write the history and identity of the sub-continent in post-Mughal era. In fact, Brits first mentioned India, as a word, in 17th century, driving it from the Greek word ‘Indos’ which Alexander The Great gave to modern-day Sindh and the river ‘Indus’. Yes, the entire ‘Indian’ sub-continent is named after Sindh which is home to great civilizations located in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

    People of Indian Origin are not Intellectually Bankrupt

    If people of ‘Indian’ origin are not ‘intellectually bankrupt’ then they wouldn’t label themselves Indians in the first place.

    As for Pulao, regardless of Kabuli or not, was first mentioned by Alexander The Great while he was in Iran, specifically Bactria province which is present-day Afghanistan. You should look up the history of Pulao before you Indianize it.

    p.s. I hope ET publishes my comment as it corrects false historical assertions.Recommend

  • WookieBrown

    Interesting, sami. Can you provide a source for your claims?Recommend

  • WookieBrown

    Ever wondered why Buddhists were driven to Afghanistan or East Asia in the first place? Tip: It had something to do with the hostility they faced on the sub-continent by Hinduism. Jainism experienced much the same but it couldn’t expand as quickly.

    I’d say when those, Buddhists, who were driven out of sub-continent by Hinduism into Afghanistan came back, some centuries later, to settle the scores, it represent a full circle. Call it Karma, 17 times over.Recommend

  • WookieBrown

    Dear Khaled,
    Please write more in ET and I’m sorry we weren’t a gracious host.

    Regards from Lahore.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Making up things, huh?

    There is no Buddhist Stiupa destroyed, just see what happened in Afghanistan with the Bamiyan Buddas. Even Emperor Asoka converted to Buddhism. Buddhism like any non-violent ideology, spread without violence. Hinduism accommodates even non-believers.

    Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism have all thrived in India. They are very similar to the core Hindu philosophy.

    Please ask the Zoroastrians why they fled their home and ran to India.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Zoroastrians

    One of India’s biggest Companies is owned by a Parsi. Now, they are almost extinct in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Khaled Waziri

    Samir, have you ever in your whole life heard about a “blog” ?? If you would know,what a “blog” is, you wouldn’t write such a nonsense. I will now explain to you the meaning of a “blog”.
    A “blog” doesen’t need any structure or whatever. That’s,why some people invented this thing called “blog”. A “blogger” has the freedom to write in whichever way he wants to write. That is the difference between a “blog” and the mass media or other media. “Bloggers” are not called “artists” without reason.Recommend

  • Ali

    The author wrote ****Millions of Afghans have died in the past while defending their religion and values. The existence of malangan, albeit filled with hardships, shows that Afghans are not intolerant people****

    How funny it is that the author has totally sidelined Afghanistans bloody, gruwsome and intolerant history by discovering a couple of so-called afghan malangs in Afghanistan.

    Now thats a major LOLRecommend

  • Mehreen Malik

    When i was referring to India then i was referring to India in terms of the current geography spanning the regions of the subcontinent India. You just reiterated my point. The residents of India span many regions. So I dont care about the history of the name India as it only refers to amalgamation of many Native connected nations in my explanation.

    .
    Also Harappa is in Punjab for your kind information not in SIndh. Moreover Indusvalley Civilzation was not confined to Sindh for your knowledge. Indus Valley Spans from North Indian regions Including Kashmir, Whole of Punjab and Most KPK regions. You are confusing Sindh and Indus in my view.

    Also I have studied Herodotus and other historians and i never found any reference of Pulao. You are absolutely wrong here. I challenge you to provide any True Authentic Greek reference for it. ??????

    It is my challenge from my side that kindly tell me a single reference in any book of Greek Historian where the Word Afghanistan or Pulao was ever used. Afghanistan is only a recent word as well for your info. No Greek Historian ever used such word.

    Also Alexander main fight “Alexander VS Porus ” had taken place in present day Punjab. Greek historians did talked about it along with the cuisine and you are Confusing the events of “Hydaspes” and Alexandria Bucephalous with Afghanistan that are actually hundreds of miles apart.

    Do you know Greek main cities like Alexandria Bucephalous, Nicaea were established in Present day Punjab. ?? The only point where cuisine was mentioned was from Bucephalous that is the region near the Present day Gujrat Punjab not in AfghanistanRecommend

  • WookieBrown

    There is no Buddhist Stiupa destroyed

    On the contrary, “[Indian] Historian S. R. Goyal has attributed the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from India to the hostility of the Brahmanas. An incident oft cited is the destruction of the Bo Tree and Buddhist images by Saivite King, Shashanka, persecution by Pusyamitra Sunga (185 BC to 151 BC) who detested the Law of the Buddha had set fire to the Sutras, destroyed Stupas, razed Samgharamas and massacred Bhikkus and even killed the deity of the Bodhi tree.”

    Quote from: http://asiantribune.com/news/2012/06/09/why-buddhism-prospered-asia-died-india

    The book being discussed in the passage is “A History of Indian Buddhism” by S. R. Goyal. What the passage doesn’t reveal is that the Brahmin Saivite King, Shashanka, killed the last Buddhist emperor Rajyavardhana and then marched on to Bodh Gaya where he destroyed the Bo Tree (Bodhi Tree). As the book isn’t available online, I won’t quote directly from it as there is no way to verify, though I have a copy of it and it documents the Brahmin campaign of hostility against Buddhism quite well. In fact, Goyal isn’t alone in holding this view. C. D. Naik in his book “Thoughts and Philosophy of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar” makes a similar contention concluding, “…majority of Hindus were Bhuddists. The feeling of hatred and abhorrence against the Bhuddists in the mind of the Hindus was created by the Brahmins.” Of course, these thoughts were echoed by Ambedkar himself in his book “The Untouchables”. For those unaware, Ambedkar wrote the Indian constitution.

    C. D. Niak includes a verse from Manu-smṛti (Laws of Manu) where Manu laid down the law of engagement with Buddhists, “If a person touches a Buddhist […] he shall purify himself by a bath.”

    Thoughts and Philosophy of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar by C. D. Naik (Page 223)
    Quotes from: http://books.google.ca/books?id=0Bo0Rjlp-0QC&pg=PA223#v=onepage&q&f=trueRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    India’s Constitution was written by someone whom you quote Dr.B.R.Ambedkar.

    He converted to Buddhism. What will happen if any Muslim converts out of Islam in Pakistan or Afghanistan? Lynched? Murdered by own family? In India they go only write India’s Constitutions..

    A Sikh is the PM of India today, has been for the past decade. Unthinkable in any Muslim majority country.

    Forget conversion, what will happen to any Ahmadi if he even calls himself a Muslim?

    India is far more enlightened and less violent than the Muslim world.

    I’ve compared the population before – 1.3 Billion Indians, 1.4 Billion Muslims. Who is more violent? Who is more undemocratic?Recommend

  • Sami

    Kindly study the Sufi poetry especially the Sindhi poetry. Mast Malang is very common in Sufi poetry. Especially the word “Mast Malangi” is very common there.
    I would rather call Malang a South Asian term for a dedicated type Sufi Followers. When i say South Asian region then i include Afghanistan in it as well. Malang like many other words are common throughout the South Asia.Recommend

  • Samir tariq

    So…2 points…firstly when you write on a social media platform, as a “blogger” try to learn how to take criticism gracefully instead of getting all touchy about it….Secondly, writing blogs might not exactly be a fine art (yet) but nowhere does it say that thorwing half baked, rhythm-less sentences one after the other qualifies as “good blog”..therefore i stick to my simple point as a reader that i found this particular article to be soul-less and shallow even though the subject had enough potential…try reading blogs by faraz talat, seemi sadia, mahwish etc right here on ET and you would probably learn a thing or two about how blogs can still have some story and structure while remaining Blogs..cheersRecommend

  • Faraz Husein

    Rightly pointed out Mehreen! it was basically a reciprocal relationship between India and central Asia including Afghanistan where rulers always came from there and ruled us and the process of cultural transformations and knowledge moved from here to Afghanistan and central Asia.Recommend

  • Faraz Hussain

    So rightly pointed out!!! The author seems to have a bias against Sufism.Recommend

  • Faraz Husein

    Mr Waziri, Please correct your knowledge on Sufism. You need a lot more to study. I find the whole Islamic spiritual as well as practical Tradition hidden in the philosophy of Islamic mysticism. Also, just because something was emphasized by Shamanism does not mean that it cannot come into other Religions like Islam. Islam and all other Religions do not have clear fixed boundaries, they keep on sharing and exchanging ideas and get merged with the local beliefs. you should look up to the beautiful divine beliefs of Isma’ili Muslims living in Gujarat India. This is the beauty, boundary creation is always a dis-intellectual claim.Recommend

  • Faraz Husein

    But you should learn to write better or at least in a meaningful manner Mr. Waziri.

    Regards from Karachi.Recommend