Taliban Rulers Close Bath Houses

August 12, 2000

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Afghanistan's Taliban militia rulers closed public bath houses in the war-battered Afghan capital, saying Saturday that Islam forbids men to publicly display their bodies.

The 30 bath houses, where dozens of men would wash together, closed last week following an edict from the hard-line Muslim Taliban's religious police.

"Islam doesn't allow even men to expose their bodies in public,'' Ahmedullah Sahafi, a spokesman for the capital, Kabul, told The Associated Press.

The poorly lit bathing rooms accommodated 80 to 100 men - mostly the city's poorest, who do not have running water. Men and young boys wore shorts or tied towels around their waists while bathing in the giant tubs. Baths typically cost about 18 cents per person.

The Taliban, who have little money to run the war-torn country, say they will build small, single-occupancy public bath houses to replace them. Public baths for women were closed in 1996, when the Taliban took over Kabul.

The Taliban control more than 90 percent of Afghanistan and espouse a harsh brand of Islam. Men are forbidden to wear shorts or sleeveless shirts in public. They also are forbidden to shave.

Women are not allowed to work, girls older than 8 may not attend school and women in public must wear a burqa, a head-to-toe shroud that covers the body. State officials roam the streets looking for women violating the edicts; violators are publicly beaten.

Mohammed Zahir, a university teacher, lamented the loss of the bath houses.

"One by one we are losing all our facilities,'' he said.

Islamic scholars in neighboring Pakistan say the Taliban's laws reflect tribal traditions more than Islamic tenets. But the Taliban remain undeterred, despite bitter criticism from the international community.

"We can't allow anything which is contrary to Islam,'' Sahafi said.

Many neighborhoods in Kabul are without running water. The city's infrastructure was destroyed during a bitter civil war between warring Islamic factions who ruled the capital between 1992 and 1996. A drought has compounded the problem.

Abdul Qayyum, who owns a public bath house, said people prefer collective bathing to individual baths.

"My business has suffered badly since the ban,'' he said. "People don't like cubicles, because they are cold and have limited water supply.''

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