GHAZNI, AFGHANISTAN—Outraged by the recent loosening of dress codes in her country, burqa wearer Uliya Salah condemned fellow Afghani Raheela Asaad Monday for appearing in public wearing an upper-face-revealing chador.
"Just look how she dresses, the bridge of her nose visible for all the world to see," said Salah, watching Asaad walk past her in downtown Ghazni. "Has she no shame?"
Not wanting to risk the chance that a stranger might be forced to hear a woman's voice, Salah whispered her indignant remarks through the small mesh square in her garment.
"Perhaps one could wear that sort of thing in the deepest recesses of one's home, where even male family members are not allowed," Salah said. "But doing so in public like that is outrageous. The harlot may as well strip off her veil and reveal her hair to the world."
As a strict follower of Pashtun traditions, Salah said she finds it laughable that Asaad considers herself to be a devout Muslim.
"[Asaad] is clearly pursuing her darkest passions," Salah said. "Now that the Taliban is no longer here to protect their virtue, many of the women in the city have begun to walk around in shockingly immodest garb, shamelessly wearing next to nothing on their hands."
Asaad's garment was not only too revealing, Salah said, but it also bore numerous decorative touches—a mark of the sin of vanity.
"Did you see that small line of embroidery at the border of her veil?" Salah asked. "What is next? A series of stripes at the hem of the garment near the ankles? I pray to Allah that I never see the day."
Salah has been in a near-constant state of outrage since Nov. 13, when the Taliban was ousted from her village. On that day, emboldened by the Northern Alliance victory, hundreds of women threw off their conservative burqas in favor of skimpy, low-cut chadors that exposed portions of their faces.
"It is sinful for a woman to tempt a man by revealing the color of her eyes to him," Salah said. "But the women around here leave nothing to the imagination. The pupil, the iris, the cornea… It's all right out there in the open for men to ogle."
Now that dressing less conservatively no longer carries the risk of public whipping, Asaad said she may wear jewelry or Western fashions beneath her chador.
"It is an important part of both my religion and my culture to observe full hajib," said Asaad, who has worn traditional garb since she was 13. "I keep my body covered when in the presence of men. In the mosque, I am careful to keep my eyes lowered at all times. But it would be nice to wear something different once in a while, like a shoe with an attractive but respectful heel."
Salah was outraged by the notion.
"Only whores of Babylon wear heels!" Salah said. "Under the Taliban, it was illegal to wear high heels or any other shoe that produces a sound when walking, because a man must not hear a woman's footsteps. What is this world coming to?"
Asaad said she is eager to return to her old life, before she was confined to her house and only allowed outside when escorted by a male relative.
"Of course, there are many things women should not do, like watch television or go to dances or read Western fashion magazines," Asaad said. "But I did miss being able to leave the house."
Asaad said she also hopes to return to school-teaching, which was her occupation before the Taliban forbade women from working.
"I taught math and reading and other subjects to young girls," Asaad said. "I taught them how to read the words of the prophet Mohammed and how to be a devoted follower of Islam."
Salah questioned Asaad's claims of devotion to Islam, citing a scandal in which she was involved last year. In May 2000, despite restrictions against women being examined by men, Asaad was caught attempting to see a male physician for treatment of kidney stones. It was only through a large bribe to Taliban officials and a three-month period of seclusion in a neighboring village that she escaped execution.
"It makes me sick to look at women like Raheela Asaad," Salah said. "She deserved no less a punishment than death for her blasphemy."
Despite the scandal and her liberal interpretation of Islamic law, Asaad said she is not ashamed of her actions.
"I am proud to be a modern woman," Asaad said. "I believe that women should be allowed to attend the university, so long as the school provides a separate area for women to sit in and they do not speak to the instructor before being spoken to. I even think it is acceptable for a young woman to ride a bicycle, provided she is out in the country where no man can view it. This is the 21st century, after all."