|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
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.