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Pashtunwali is the indigenous honor code and religion of the ethnic Afghan people, otherwise known as the Pashtun people.


Who is a Pashtun?

Whether one is Pashtun or not depends on how one lives his or her life, more so than what they profess to be or even who their father is. This historically accurate precedent takes into account that even if born an ethnic Afghan, no one is Pashtun by default.

By orthodox Pashtunwali law, a person can be Pashtun only if his father was. This ancient law has assured the ethnic Afghans of being the world's largest patriarchal tribal group in existence.

However, in modern times Pashtunwali has become more of a cultural and legal supplement to the Islamic World's Sharia Laws. Pashtuns are almost exclusively Sunni Muslims, and the Pashtunwali has had a great impact on their interpretation of the faith.


Pashtunwali is not related or tied to Sharia(Islamic Law)

Are all ethnic Afghans also Pashtuns? Contemporaries may say yes, while the orthodox will often say no. For those who say no, the deciding factor is dependent on how one lives one's life. Many say that even if someone is born an ethnic Afghan, because this is requires no personal effort, that person is not a Pashtun without living according to Pashtunwali.

A Pashtun is an ancient religious, spiritual, and community identity tied to a specific set of beliefs, codes, and a linear record of history spanning over 5000 years. However today, a Pashtun is simply a member of the Pashtun tribe (the largest tribe in the world with 25-27 million members, and hundreds of clans, and sub-tribal groups).

Intrinsically flexible and dynamic, containing modern and ancient principles in one coherent set of teachings, Pashtunwali has core tenets including self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, and tolerance to all (especially to the stranger or guest). Besides the core tenets, Pashtunwali is unique to every Pashtun, and it is considered a personal responsibility to discover what Pashtunwali is.


  • faith - trust in God (known as the One, the Creator, or the Architect of the Universe)
  • objective truth - the belief in the objectivity of this world. In the world of the religious unknown it is just that, unknown. As such there is no accurate human definition for God – at least none that any human could conceive.
  • unity - above the languages we speak, above the bloods we keep, above the amount of money we make, Pashtunwali keeps us in due bounds with all fellow Pashtuns, humankind and God.
Pashtunwali unites the Pashtun as one people across the world. Where there is true unity, every effort to disunite us will only serve to strengthen the unity we have. What happens to one happens to all.
  • social justice - the belief that we are limited in knowledge (objective truth), and therefore should put human needs above anyone’s notion of deity and work for social justice.
  • freedom and independence - the belief that freedom in physical, mental, religious, spiritual, political and economic realms is for all to pursue, man and woman, so long as it is done without bringing harm to others. The free have nothing to gain of freedom without discipline. A free Pashtun who does not have discipline will certainly spin his own web of destruction.
  • proselytizing - Pashtunwali teaches that no one has the right to place demand upon others who are not their children regarding what to believe. Furthermore, no government or person has the right to put religion before God.
  • hospitality - being hospitable to all, especially guests and strangers, and, at times, even the most hostile of enemies is a key teaching. The exception that makes the rule is when one has come to take advantage of Pashtunwali for their own corrupt ends, bringing harm to you in the pursuit of their aims.
As an example, if one comes to your home purporting to seek refuge or comes offering aid, but then his actions reveal he is there to use your name, your hospitality, and Pashtunwali for his own agenda instead of actually seeking humble refuge or participation, he has lied to you. In fact, he has not come for what he said.
  • justice and forgiveness - Pashtunwali also teaches us if one intentionally wrongs you, you have the right, though not the obligation, to avenge this injustice in equal proportion. As long as you do not overzealously avenge the injustice done to you, whomever has wronged you may not avenge your justified reaction. If one has intentionally wronged you, and you did not seek justice nor he forgiveness, a debt, however understood, is owed to you by him. However if he continues to wrong you, or tyrannically wrong others, you are obligated to avenge the wrong doings until the person stops his activities. It should always be remembered, violence begets violence, long-standing cycles of violence cannot be broken until one or both parties stands morally superior to lead both out.
  • non-cooperation with evil - this teaches that non-cooperation with evil is a Pashtun moral duty just as cooperation with good is. Love is the ultimate weapon against evil that leaves you calm, organized, and ready to build when your oppressor has been defeated. There is no government or human derived system on earth that can stand up to non-cooperation.
Yours is the true non-violence, it is the non-violence of the strong, not the non-violence of the weak and starving.
-– Mahatma Gandhi speaking directly to the Pashtuns
  • good thoughts, good words, good deeds - it is necessary to work with good intentions, think good thoughts, say good things, and do good deeds. What one thinks will affect what one says and does. Thinking positively will result in positive action.
  • love - the belief that love is the greatest gift God ever gave, more than the mind or freedom. It is humanity's greatest merit, greatest ideal, and greatest evil when forgotten. Use it in all things.
  • brotherhood, sisterhood, friendship, and trust - the belief that fellow Pashtun brothers and sisters should be trusted and assisted to the greatest extent possible without bringing harm to oneself.
  • honor - the belief that Pashtuns should maintain their independent human dignity.
  • self-respect - the belief that individuals must respect themselves, and respect others in order to be able to do so, especially those they do not know and do not share common beliefs with. Respect begins in the home, with wives, mothers, and children.
  • sacredness of life - the belief that life is sacred and not to be wasted. To upset the balance of living on petty grounds is unwise.
  • compassion, understanding, and cooperation - the poor, the weak, and the challenged must be supported. Inclusion must be preferred to exclusion. To defend against tyranny, fascism and overzealous groups and to work smart first and then hard.
  • family - the belief that the family unit must be glorified under a sacred conviction of responsibility and duty with respect for wives, daughters, elders, parents, sons, and husbands. Also, recognizing that new wisdom is without the barrier of age or gender, encouraging good ideas through the support of elders creates the most enlightened community of all.
  • we are one family - the belief that fellow Pashtun must be cared for. There may be hundreds of tribes, but they have one destiny in union with each other.
  • knowledge - Pashtuns seek objective knowledge in life, art, science, and culture, which are considered fruits granted by God.
  • Pashtun history - great value is placed in Pashtun history, with all its depth and pluralism, tragedies and victories, spanning over 5000 years. It teaches us to keep the mind open, to continue the search for the truth, much of which has vanished under history itself.

Concepts in Pashtunwali

Some useful words that signify individual or collective Pashtun tribal functions are given below in Afghan. These Afghan words are common to ethnic Afghan and Pashtun society and language. The first four form the major components of Pashtunwali.

  • melmastia (hospitality) - to show hospitality to all visitors, regardless of whom they are, their ethnic, religious, or national background, without hope of remuneration or favor.
  • badal (justice) - to seek justice over time or over space to avenge a wrong. This applies to injustices committed yesterday or 1000 years ago if the wrongdoer still exists.
  • nanawatay (settlement) - derived from the verb meaning to go in, this is used when the vanquished party is prepared to go in to the house or hujra of the victors and ask forgiveness.
  • nang (honour) - the various points below that a tribesman must observe to ensure his honour, and that of his family, is upheld.
  • lashkar - the tribal army. It implements the decisions of the jirga.
  • jirga - an assembly of tribal elders called for various purposes whether waging war or composing peace, tribal or inter-tribal.
  • chalweshti - derived from the word for forty, this refers to the tribal force that would implement the decision of a jirga. Every fortieth man of the tribe would be a member. A shalgoon is a force derived from the number twenty.
  • badragga - a tribal escort composed of members of that tribe through which the travelers are passing. If a badragga is violated a tribal feud will follow.
  • hamsaya - a non-Pashtun dependent group who attaches themselves to a Pashtun group, usually for protection. The Pashtun protector group is called a naik. Any attack on a hamsaya is considered an attack on the protector.
  • malatar - literally, tying the back. This refers to those members of the tribe who will actually fight on behalf of their leaders.
  • nagha - a tribal fine decided by the council of elders and imposed upon the wrongdoer.
  • rogha - settlement of a dispute between warring factions.
  • hujra - a common sitting or sleeping place for males in the village. Visitors and unmarried young men sleep in the hujra.

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