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How many knots for your problems?

During the first two Arabic months, Moharram and Safar (most recently mid-Nov 2012 to mid-Jan 2013 on the Western calendar), Shia Muslims go into a mourning period and the colour black comes into prominence. People wear black clothes. Arabic sentences written on black pieces of cloth are seen in streets, in the entrance doors of shops, and especially in mosques. During this two-month holy period, Shia Muslims attempt to find solutions for their problems. One of their solutions has always been quite strange to me.

It was the beginning of Moharram when I went as usual to the Afghan Student Union (in Mashhad City, Iran) to take part in a weekly English-discussion class. In the yard, there was a tree which had several pieces of cloth tied to it. Some of the cloths had two or three knots in them and some had many. While I have seen the green pieces of cloth tied onto the door handles of mosques or holy places before, this time it was different for me: this time, I was at a place where university students gathered. I have decided to write something about this tradition because it has found its way into a place where the younger generation is educated.

How many serious problems do you have in your life? An Islamic traditional solution recommends you to take a piece of cloth (green is preferred) and begin tying.

 If you have a problem, knot a piece of cloth to a tree. Each piece of cloth represents a problem in your life. The more knots it has, the more difficult the problem is. The tree can soon be covered in knotted green cloth as others join yours – each one representing a problem in some person’s life. After a while, you can come back and pull out the knots in your own piece if you are able to distinguish it from the others; or sometimes an unknown person comes along and tries to undo a random knot from a random piece tied to the tree (and it could be yours). If it unknots, the problem has been solved.

These photos were taken in the Afghan Student Union. Can you believe that educated young students still believe in such superstitious stuff? I have heard so many times that Afghan youth claim to do something for their country. I think knotting a piece of cloth is not the way. I believe that until the young, and especially the educated young generation of a society stop believing in irrational traditions, they will be unable to do anything for both their society and their own personal lives.