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Gunild Pak

Mahnaz Zahir Budri: Embracing the freedom America offers

Mahnaz Zahir Budri: Embracing the freedom America offers
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Published by Today's Dallas Woman
Mahnaz Budri is a survivor. Having escaped persecution in Afghanistan during the political upheaval of the 1980s, Budri managed to transcend social restrictions often placed upon women by Islamic fundamental extremists and build a new life in America based upon freedom, equality, peace, security, love, and respect.

Budri, 42, said she left her hometown of Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan, and came to America to become a citizen because she no longer had a country. Budri said she hopes one day, she and her Afghan husband, Aziz K. Budri, will have their beloved country of Afghanistan back. Budri wants to share the positive experiences and memories of her homeland with her three American born children, a daughter, age 11, and two sons ages 14, and 18. Her story of immigration to America is one of great struggle and personal suffering.

Coming from a large and prominent family in Afghanistan, Budri was directly affected by the political changes in the last three decades. Her paternal grandfather, Sayed Alem Shah, was a famous army general in Afghanistan, and her mother’s father was the mayor of Qandahar. Budri’s father, Sayed Zahir Shah, was an influential congressman in the northern province of Afghanistan. When King Zahir was overthrown by a coup d’état led by his cousin Daoud and supported by the Russians, Budri’s father was taken prisoner and served two years time in the horrendous prisons of Daoud’s reign.

In the years following the coup, Daoud refused to cooperate with Russian interests. He and 36 members of his family were massacred in their home by the communist army. During this time, Budri’s father was released and given a post as ambassador to Turkey. He resigned his post when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in the mid 1990s. Budri’s brothers were also imprisoned including her young brother who was in seventh grade when he was arrested and placed in jail.

The circumstances and pressures on the family eventually became too much to bear. Budri’s father encouraged his children to leave the country. Budri immigrated to America following her mother who was receiving medical treatment in Iowa. Her other family members dispersed throughout the world finding safety in various countries. This is her greatest sorrow. Budri said she misses her 15 siblings. Her family was very close. She said, “It has been difficult to be apart for so long.”

Today, Budri enjoys a comfortable and peaceful life in America. She and her family have found a home and community in Texas, which is open, friendly, and supportive. Budri works for the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district as a part time substitute elementary school teacher 3-4 days per week. She also volunteers as the social activities director at the mosque of the Mid Cities Islam Association.

Although she dresses modestly according to custom, Budri does not cover her head nor wear a veil as many Muslim women do in this country and in Afghanistan. She said it was a personal choice, “I am 100 percent Muslim, but I choose not to wear the veil.” She grew up not wearing the veil and said that true Islamic law does not force a woman to cover her head. A woman’s husband can ask her to do so, but he cannot force her. She said many of these choices must be discussed before marriage. If there is a disagreement between partners, Budri said, “The husband cannot kill his wife. He can only divorce her.”

Budri first met her husband, who is also from Kabul, Afghanistan, in Iowa. He was attending graduate school at the university and knew her mother. When she moved to the states to be with her mother, the two were introduced and eventually married. They moved to Texas to raise a family and have been married for 19 years.

Now on disability, Budri’s husband worked in employment management for a Fortune 100 company for several years. He is currently not working due to his medical condition, but plans to return to work upon his recovery. Since the 1980s, he has assisted the Afghan freedom fighters, soldiers wounded in the Afghan war with the Soviet Union. Under the office of former Congressman Charlie Wilson, Mr. Budri helped patients from Afghanistan receive medical care and housing in America. He assisted them with language translation and educated them about their rights in this country.

Mr. Budri also served on the board of the American Muslim Council and represented Afghanistan through advisory level posts within the U.S. government. He was offered high level positions in Afghanistan many times, but said he felt he could do more on this side of the world to help those in need.

“I am hoping to go back to work, because I would like to help as many as much as I can.” Mr. Budri is extremely against the Taliban and has opposed the actions of the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. “Most of the atrocities committed by the Taliban against the Afghan people were against Afghan women,” he said. “That’s not the Islam I know,” he said, “The Taliban has misrepresented Islam.”

Mr. Budri said that true Islam actually idealizes women because they bear and raise children. “Women are put on a higher pedestal than men.” Mr. Budri referred to a story of the Quoran, the holy book of Islam, which demonstrates the religion’s high regard for women, particularly mothers. In the story, a prophet is asked by several followers, “How can I go to Heaven?” The prophet answers, “Respect your mother. Heaven is under the feet of your mother.” Mr. Budri said that the Quoran does not say that men and women are equal, but it does allow for each the equal right to education and employment. According to him, the Quoran says, “Read.” It does not specify gender.

Mr. Budri describes his wife as very independent minded, and said he would not even think of trying to force her to do anything. He is very supportive of her decisions regarding how she chooses to practice her religion, whether she wishes to work or not, and how she raises their children.

Indeed, when it comes to decision making and parenting, Ms. Budri said she is usually in charge of the final decisions because her husband spent long hours at work while their children were very young. She said her children can speak Persian and can read some Arabic, but they are essentially American as they were born in the states. Budri remarked that her children have expressed interest in going to Afghanistan to assist the people suffering there, but they do not want to stay.

Budri said that America has brought many positive changes to her life and her family. “It is a convenient and easy life here. We are happy. People are very nice,” she said. The family attends a mosque where they have a supportive community of friends and associates. Her children benefit from the education they receive in America. However, she said that their social life is very limited.

Budri said she enjoys the freedom to practice her religion, stating that she has not had any problems since the September 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. by fundamental extremist terrorists. However, she has female friends who wear veils who remained hidden indoors for a week after the attacks for fear of retaliation. Since Budri does not wear a veil, she does not stand out as possible target of discrimination. She said, “I am not that strong.” Due to caution, Budri has made it a habit to find inconspicuous places to lay down her mat for prayer during the day. “Now, I go outside behind a bush to pray,” she said.

Budri does not agree with the idea that Christians are infidels according to Taliban rhetoric. She said, “To me, they are the people of the Book.” Budri follows a philosophy of religious tolerance, “Leave me with my religion and I will leave you with your religion.” Increasingly, the travesties and human rights abuses of the Taliban and Islamic extremists against women in Afghanistan have come to light. As a woman, Budri has found equality and respect in her marriage and in her community here in America. She said she raised her daughter and sons to respect men and women equally. She said, “I give the same rights to my daughter as to my sons.” Her children express great anger at the Taliban and its practices. “They know this is not true Islamic law,” she said. Budri added, “In the eyes of God, we are all the same.”

The people of Afghanistan are struggling and many are starving, said Budri. “There are many who are hungry, thirsty, and have no tent to live in.” She said, “My greatest wish for women all around the world is to remember the women and children in Afghanistan. They are really needy. We should feel their pain and suffering.”

Budri stated, “I hope this time, unlike past times, the international community does not abandon the people of Afghanistan. All Afghans have suffered in the past 23 years in general and women in particular. The past five years of Taliban rule has been extremely devastating to the Afghan women’s status. They have been reduced to non-beings and have been usurped of their fundamental rights — even those afforded them by the religion of Islam, a faith that al-Qaida and the Taliban were invoking and pretending to protect.”

Budri explained, “Women of Afghanistan, in the past five years, have experienced every imaginable socio-economic deprivation. They have been prevented from acquiring an education, a religious obligation in Islam. They have been banned from working, showing their faces or speaking aloud in public or leaving their homes without a male family member accompanying them. They have been beaten, imprisoned and even summarily executed.” The Taliban has sold some women to the rich Arabs for large sums of money, said Budri. “Women have been taken out of the country and have never been heard from again. In short, they suffered unspeakable atrocities — so horrific that one finds them difficult to believe,” she said.

“The oppressed women of Afghanistan need all kinds of aid. They need to resume their education. They need to go back to work. They need a voice in the future government of Afghanistan,” said Budri, “However, the country has been so badly destroyed and is devoid of infrastructure that women cannot be helped without rebuilding the country, a task that needs to begin immediately after the establishment of a new government.”

There are many organizations coming together to collect contributions to help the people in Afghanistan, but Budri warns, “Be careful to judge who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.” According to Budri, there are organizations, which raise money for humanitarian relief in Afghanistan, but some organizations are politically motivated.

Budri recommends that Americans interested in helping the relief efforts in Afghanistan check out the organizations collecting money very carefully. She states: “There are many women’s organizations both inside and outside Afghanistan. But we need to be careful whom we support. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) IS NOT a group that I would recommend This group of women and their mysterious spokes woman, Tabmeena Fariyal who in the past few months with her sleuth interviews has grossly misled the good hearted American people and has collected millions of dollars is nothing but a front for their communist organization and communist men. It would be a great mistake to aid this organization. After all, communists started the destruction of Afghanistan in 1978.”

Budri added, “[RAWA] is based on communist ideas. They have anti-women and anti-children ideals. They want to hold the donations collected until after the Taliban falls. Then they want to go in and take over the country.”

Budri suggested that the best children’s organization is “Help the Afghan Children.Org.” She said, “We have dealt with them numerous times and every cent of your donation goes toward the cause.”

Another helpful resource is Dallas International, a cultural organization based in Dallas and led by Anne Marie Weiss-Armush. The organization is a network of artistic and cultural groups located in the Dallas area. It provides a forum through which individual groups can connect with each other and the community. The organization promotes understanding and cooperation in personal relations, workplaces, and schools in order to fight prejudice and discrimination.

According to Weiss-Armush, Americans are really uninformed and uneducated about world affairs. “Education should never end,” she said, “Our principal interest in the Middle East has always been oil and gas. It is a policy ruled by corporate greed and national power games… in the wake of the disaster [of September 11], we are beginning to learn a bit about Muslims.” Weiss-Armush added, “ Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a spiritual and moral crisis because in our culture, we have emphasized materialism and economic concerns to the detriment of others.” She said, “The light of education is our best hope for world peace and understanding, and for a more just future for all our brothers and sisters.”

Weiss-Armush said, “Mahnaz Budri is an example of the brain drain that brings the finest of outstanding global leaders to this country. Through her persistent efforts, our windows of understanding are opened, and the tragic situation of Afghani refugees brought to North Texas is ameliorated.”

For more information on the history of Afghanistan and the plight of women in this war torn country, interested individuals can visit Afghanistan Online at www.afghan-web.com. Information on the treatment of woman under the Taliban and how Americans can help can also be found at www.feminist.org.

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