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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Police (10/12/06)

TITLE: Amro bil mahroof
By Helen Paynter
10/14/06


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1999

Malalai sponged her daughter’s forehead. Two restless days had transformed her from a lively 11 year-old into a sunken-eyed husk. Malalai knew she dared delay no longer.

‘Amina,’ she whispered, ‘Amina.’

Pale eyelids flickered.

‘Amina, we must get you to hospital. You must get up and let me dress you. I will help.’

‘Can’t.’ The words were mouthed, not spoken. ‘Can’t move. Can’t go out.’

‘We must.’ Cold fear was settling in Malalai’s heart. ‘Amina, sit up.’ She took the child’s hand and hauled. Desperation lent her roughness.

Amina shrieked with pain. ‘You’re hurting me! Mother, leave me to die.’

Malalai shook her head. ‘I will not. Now lift your arms. Here’s your burqa.

She pulled the voluminous blue garment over her daughter’s rigid frame, straightening it around her shoulders and adjusting the mesh over her eyes before quickly pulling on her own. Then she pulled Amina to her feet, slipping her arm around the slim waist, and feeling the reflex tightening of the abdominal muscles as she did so.

‘Now, Amina, lean on my shoulders. I’ll take your weight.’

They staggered to the door. Bracing herself, Malalai opened it and they shuffled into the Afghan sun.

The street was almost empty. Once they saw the blue ghost of a woman scurrying behind her husband. Later a bearded man passed them, appraising them from hooded eyes. Women unaccompanied by a male relative were breaking the law and outside its protection. If amro bil mahroof, the religious police, didn’t pick them up, any man with evil intent might do so with complete immunity. Malalai shuddered, and they hobbled on.

A few minutes later they came to a familiar house.

‘Mother, Janan lives here. He will help. Please let’s stop.’

Malalai put her head down and continued her limping progress. ‘Be quiet, Amina. You know the penalty for being found with a man you’re not married to. Have you forgotten Safia?’

‘But she deserved what happened to her. She committed adultery.’

‘Did she?’ Malalai’s voice was angry. ‘She was found drinking coffee in her cousin’s house. That was the sum of the evidence against her. Amro bil mahroof stoned her to death. Now use your breath to walk.’

The hospital was an unnerving three quarters of a mile from home. Amina flinched at every step. After half the distance, it was plain to Malalai that her daughter would never complete the journey. They subsided to a gasping halt at the roadside.

Malalai surveyed the road in desperation. The sun was at its height, and even those who were permitted to travel were now sheltering indoors. She looked down at her daughter. Amina’s breathing was shallow and ragged; her skin bluish. Malalai made up her mind. Bending down, she took the child in her arms and rose unsteadily to her feet. Driven solely by love and desperation, she stumbled on.

The hospital was old and scruffy, with peeling paint and empty windows. To Malalai it was a sweet haven. She placed Amina tenderly on the steps and pushed open the ancient doors a crack.

Two men bore down upon her.

‘Who are you?’

‘What business do you have?’

‘You’ll have to leave.’

She turned from one to the other, her head spinning, shivering despite the heat of the day. ‘Please, my daughter. She’s very sick.’

‘A woman.’ He spat the words out. ‘We don’t treat women here.’

‘Find a woman doctor.’ The other grinned through gap teeth.

‘There are no women doctors! Women aren’t allowed to work,’ she spat.

‘Don’t speak to me like that, whore!’ He clouted her face with the back of his hand.

‘What’s the problem?’ A door opened, and a young man in a white coat put his head round the corner. He raised his eyebrows at the sight of a woman, but approached gently.

‘Please sir, my daughter. She’s sick. I think she’ll die.’

He looked at her gravely. ‘Let me see.’

Malalai laid Amina gently on the examination couch. The doctor approached hesitantly and examined her through her burqa as if she were an unexploded bomb. She lay, semi-conscious, moaning.

‘Appendicitis. I’m so sorry. There’s nothing I can do.’ He rose and backed away hurriedly.

‘But she needs an operation!’

The doctor nodded. ‘Yes, she does. But not here. Amro bil mahroof would never permit a male doctor to operate on a woman.’ He glanced towards the door shiftily. ‘I’m sorry, but you must take her away now.’



Although the fall of the Taliban in 2001 lessened the suffering of women in Afghanistan, they still remain without many of the privileges we take for granted. This story is dedicated to all who live under an unjust regime, especially women oppressed within a police state.


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This article has been read 1434 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Kristie Derksen10/19/06
This was really well written! It is so sad to think that people are suffering for no reason other than their gender. Thanks for the story.
Lynda Schultz 10/19/06
This took me back to our mission's women's hospital in Pakistan - a ministry which grew out of this same terrible gender bias. I stumbled over the use of "subsided" - a minor detail, but somehow it didn't seem to be the right word to me. However this was a great job.
April Bailey10/20/06
Wow! I was quite riveted by the story and angered by the injustice. Well done!
Sue Dent10/20/06
Excellent depiction of a horrid situation. The only problem I had, if you can call it that, was that the woman was backhanded though she still wore her head covering and she saw her daughter's skin had a bluish tint though she too was covered. However, this did little to take away from this disturbingly true depiction.
Amy Michelle Wiley 10/21/06
Wow. Very powerful, gut-wrentching story. Thank you for the prayer reminder. Seeing the blue skin through the covering made me stumble, too, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this entry in the winner's circle.
Joanne Sher 10/22/06
SO powerful and moving and amazingly masterful - I think I have a guess who wrote this - and if I'm right, I must say this is ANOTHER of my favorites of yours! I was engrossed and engaged from beginning to end! I'm putting this in my favorites!
william price10/23/06
A very sad story. Told very well. Its a shame the law enforcement there is set up to enforce such ungodly laws.
Sharlyn Guthrie10/23/06
What a gripping tale of oppression, and a clear reminder not to take freedom for granted! Your writing is superb.
Bonnie Derksen10/23/06
I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for the "insider's" perspective. Something we so take for granted, freedom to walk with our heads held high, without fear of being arrested or charged. It was good to be reminded of how we are blessed and out of that blessing to pray, pray, pray
Jan Ackerson 10/24/06
Heartbreaking, and painfully well-written. I'm moved almost beyond words. Thank you for writing this.
Donna Haug10/24/06
We hear in the news all the time about the Taliban and the religious police - but your story has brought it down to 'REAL' people who suffer 'REAL' descrimination and suffer. Thanks for opening our eyes.
Teri Wilson10/24/06
Helen, I love everything about this entry. It is a devastating story and incredibly written. Absolutely wonderful.
Helen Paynter10/24/06
Yes, I noticed the skin colour problem after I sumbitted. Perhaps her hands were blue?!
Thanks to everyone for the encouraging comments.
Beth Muehlhausen10/25/06
Gripping, terrible, haunting, compelling, emotional....so many adjectives! Excellent flow and dialogue.
Val Clark10/26/06
How much we take western laws for granted. Thanks for taking the time to give us such a well drawn and compassionate glimpse into what life is like for those who live in less enlightened places.
Jessica Schmit10/27/06
hey helen, haven't been here for a while, but wanted to send my congrats! Way to go!