HBO’s “Love Crimes of Kabul”

Love Crimes of KabulHBO is set to air “Love Crimes of Kabul” at 9pm tonight as part of their documentary films summer series. This intimate documentary goes inside Badam Bagh, a women’s prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, to tell the stories of three women who are being accused of committing “love crimes” or more commonly termed, “moral crimes”.

Among the prison’s 125 female prisoners, those who are there for “moral crimes,” are accused of things that, in most societies, would be termed rebellious at worst. These women, therefore, find themselves at a complex intersection between religion and the law, where the application of rules is often ambiguous and where marriage can make the difference between freedom and imprisonment.

The documentary follows three of such women prisoners accused of “moral crimes”. The first is Kareema, a 20-year-old woman whose crime is having premarital sex with her fiancé.  The second woman is 23-year-old Aleema, who is accused of running away from her home. The third and youngest woman of the three is Sabereh, who is accused of having premarital sex with a boy she is in love with.

As the documentary develops the stories of these women, and the viewer witnesses snaps of the court trials, what we know of as Shariah becomes severely distorted by a male-centered fiqh of the Islamic legal tradition. Furthermore, we see how cultural and societal injustices propagate the misuse of power among male elites in addition to wedging these women between a rock and a hard place, where neither option of freedom or imprisonment translates to complete autonomy as we know it.

Kareema, who is now pregnant with her fiancé’s child, awaits trial for the crime of having premarital sex. Her situation is unique in that she went to the police herself after fearing that her fiancé, Firuz, would turn back on his promise to marry her. They were both detained. The only way to escape a harsh prison sentence of 15 years is to get legally married to Firuz while they are both still in prison.

What the viewer witnesses as Kareema’s case unfolds, is how strongly these women are up against many elements that work to their disadvantage and how hard they are willing to fight. The documentary shows how Kareema fiercely negotiates her dowry, asking for a large sum so that she will be able to support herself should Firuz divorce her later. Despite an aggressive, and often bordering on catty, display of refusal, she was unable to attain a sufficient amount because of the economic standing of Firuz’s family.

As the documentary films both Kareema’s and Firuz’s parents, the viewer catches a glimpse of how ethnic divides play a large role in the settling of the dowry and standard of living that a woman can expect to attain. Firuz is Pushtun while Kareema is Hazara. His father says that Pashtu women do not lose their honor and that, “she [Kareema] is not worth what [dowry] she is asking for,” because she is from a tribe considered to be lesser.

Aleema is charged with running away from home. After breaking her 4pm curfew she did not return to her parents’ house for fear of being beaten. Instead, she went to the house of another woman named Zia to seek refuge. Zia has a married son named Mohebullah, but the implication is that Aleema went to Zia’s house because she was having illicit relations with Mohebullah.

Again in this case, to reduce her sentence, Aleema must choose marry Mohebullah. Mohebullah, who is also in prison, says that, he must now marry Aleema out of honor, because they got each other arrested. Zia also agrees that Aleema must marry her son

Here we see a sort of power play between the two women. Zia sees it fit that Aleema marry her son to restore their family honor and Aleema questions whether marrying a man who is already married will make her happy. She also questions whether Mohebullah can support her financially. In the end, despite a prison counselor telling her that, “a bad husband is better than no husband,” she boldly decides to remain in jail for her sentencing period, rather than to marry Mohebullah and be released. She says that she can hold her head up high because she knows she did nothing wrong.

Sabereh, the youngest of the three, was eating a meal alone with a boy she fell in love with and someone told on them. Although she is accused of having premarital sex, she maintains that she is a virgin and after being examined by a doctor, her virginity is confirmed. However, this is not enough for the courts who then say that they found evidence of sodomy.

Sabereh’s father pleads with the court to acquit her and even pleads with the boy’s father to allow his son to marry her so that both will be released. She is sentenced to three years in jail after the boy’s father refuses to allow them to marry.

Although all three women are victims of the system, they are not depicted as dejected women who have simply accepted their fate. Each one demonstrates a passion for fighting against the injustice they have been dealt and each one is privy to their civil, human and religious rights, however unattainable they may seem to be. Even within the limitations of severely corrupted systems of society and governance, we can see a spark of autonomy from within towering structures of despotism.

Each case brings up challenging and problematic issues, ranging from gender roles and religious interpretations to the functioning of tribal societies, economics, the aftermath of war and how to nation-build along severe ethnic divides. Though these issues candidly coalesce into an often-debilitating circumstance for Afghan women, the message is clear, however unintended it may be: the ways Afghan women negotiate their place in Afghan society are complex.

A Potential Burqa Ban at the Federal Level in Switzerland
Happy New Year! + Taking a Break
No Culture for Niqabis
The Latest on the Headscarf “Situation” in Switzerland
  • clare

    That sounds a lot better than I’d initially assume, based on the niqab poster and past documentaries about Muslim women…
    also, sorry to nitpick, but in the last sentence, it should be “their place in Afghan society are complex” yes?

  • Sohail Ahmed

    Iam not Islamist or jihadist but i also don’t want to read or see Kareema, Aleema and Sabereh getting pregnant before marriage in media.
    I dont want Women Of Afghanistan to be disrespected in front of entire media for their moral activities
    PRISONING such women is the best way to decrease sexual activities in such Afghan women and the fear of getting prisoned will stop them to do such actions.
    I can only suggest a bill to be passed that men should also be prisoned for betraying such women in their love

  • Melinda

    Great review. Not a fan of the poster though…

  • Carina (Reading Through Life)

    I saw this at HotDocs film festival back in May. It was okay-ish … to be honest, some of the girls come across as so catty that I didn’t feel any sympathy (never mind empathy) with them at all. I think that it might have worked better if the filmmaker had perhaps chosen to follow the stories of different women, maybe at least one who didn’t come across as so bitchy and inconsiderate of those around her? There weren’t really any “truly innocent” women in the film, at least that’s how I felt, so it was a lot harder to get into their stories.

    • Fatemeh

      @ Carina: Uh, so only “truly innocent” women deserve to have their stories told? Only “truly innocent” women have stories worth hearing? Calling these girls bitchy and not “truly innocent” sounds like a lot of fucked up victim-blaming to me: “Well, she sort of deserved it because she was bitchy and had pre-marital sex…” NO.

  • cmoore

    So, I just finished watching this film. What a horrible, terrible, and fucked-up society these women live in. Religion, no matter which one, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, etc., seek to punish those who don’t follow their doctrine to the letter. There seems to be NO room for those of us who DON’T adhere to their “law”. There are more atrocities committed in the name of “religion” than can be counted on both hands. Absolutely disgusting…

  • Eriic


    Your response is a pretty clear example of what is wrong with the society shown in the film. Putting women in jail for things that aren’t even crimes is ridiculous. It merely represents the ideas of repression that most societies have realized are wrong. In fact, if you want to know real morality, then perhaps countries should look to countries that treat women as more than simple property and don’t use ancient, outdated social practices to determine whether or not a girl sits in jail for 3 years because she was eating with a boy.

  • Kareem

    Assalaam Alaykum:

    c’mon already – why not a documentary on the women who have been imprisoned in Afghanistna, Pakistan, and Iraq by the occupation forces for simply supporting (or being accused of) supporting the resistance? They are in far worse position, and it is they who are being punished unfairly, for they were not the ones who went the lands and countries in which stations like HBO exist and are aired…in order to interfere the culture, society, wealth, resources, and geostratigic advantages of the western nations!! It isn’t they who are enacting sanctions and dropping bombs on the peoples of the west – which do not differentiate between man and woman, adult and child, or innocent and guilty.

    We can never know the full stories of these particular women because HBO can neer be trusted as a fair conveyor of the truth, particularly when it comes to Muslim issues. When HBO and all the other networks do documentaries exposing the crimes of their own people, nations, and governments – then and only then can we begin to consider them fair, reasonable, truthful, and objective. The moral code in Islam is well known, and it based on the Quran and Sunnah. There will always be minority opinions with regards to how to re-interpret the shariah and alter the established fiqh, but the mainstream opinion on these matters is clear – particularly with regards to the punishment of those who engage in actual sexual intercourse before marriage. That isn’t going to change. The review above states that this fiqh is male-centric, and the historical tradition is male-centric…but that has always been true, and is true of other religious and secular traditions as well. You can’t change Islam just because you feel that you are enlightened by 21st century ideals concerning gender equity as propagated by the west. But the huge moral collapse of the western societies as a result of ever-increasing gender “equality” shows the fallacy of such idealism. As I once heard someone say, the feminists (in the western world) won the battle, but lost the war. The more rights that have been given to women in the west (in terms of political and cultural rights)…the more women in general have been exploited, abused, and objectified. This system, this culture, this way – is a colossal failure, and it thus, should not be the standard used to judge or analyze other nations and cultures.

    Afghanistan in particular is not under and Islamic system in the complete sense of that term right now. It is among the poorest nations in the world, an epicenter of the drug trade, and in a state of full-scale war. Hence, your not going to get an accurate understanding of Islamic Shariah by taking a handful of case studies from such a war-torn land. Let the foreign forces leave, let the foreign actors end their meddling in this land, let the country rebuild and find sustenance outside of the poppy trade, and let Muslim scholars from around the world arrive and help/advise the Islamic government (one that is not a puppet of anyone, and one that adheres fully to the Quran and Sunnah above any nationalistic charter or constitution). Then, you will truly and clearly see the justice of Islam.

  • Duff

    @ Kareem
    Why are you tarring every single Afghan woman with the same brush and calling them ‘muslim’? Why is every Afghan subjected to Islam-derived laws whether or not Islam is a part of their lives? For all we know, these women who committed the ‘crime’ of premarital sex may not even believe in Islam, or may just find Islam extremely unimportant. Yet they are punished by the full brunt of Shariah law as if they are practicisng believing muslims, when that may not be the case.

    Firstly stop generalising and assuming all Afghans are muslim. And secondly how do you reconcile the idea that people who may not even believe in organized religion or the legitimacy of Shariah, are being punished by it- that secular people are being brutally dealt with by religious laws?

  • S.B


    I totally agree with you Duff. Just because you are born with a “Muslim geneology” (can’t believe I heard someone actually use this term!) doesn’t mean you are Muslim, ie. you don’t have to actually believe in Islam or even know the slightest what the religion is all about. I would even say that most afghan women have not learnt much about Islam, rahter they are tought how to be submissive women for their husband’s, father’s, brothers’ and sons’ personal pleasure. I am a proud Muslim women, but if I had grown up in Afghanistan under the same circumstances afghani women have; I would probably flee from “Islam” as one flees from fire… That is the sad part

    So you mean that the male-centric, misogynist fiqh which has evolved during the last couple of hundred years (due to cultural, social and ecenomical decline) is the only and truly “right and correct”? The world changes, as does fiqh and the interpretation of is (in opposition to certain peoples belief that fiqh and interpretations are static)… I, and I believe along with the majority of women, would prefer you to keep the misogynist version of Islam to yourslef.

  • S.B

    @ Kareem

    One think I forgot. It is very interesting how certain Muslims, predominantly male ones, always try to shift the focus to one certain area of women-issues or “Muslim-issues” from the other which obviously does not fit ones personal agenda. Just because you highlight the fact that Muslim women ARE opressed in Muslim societies does not mean we have to ignore the fact that Muslim women are imprisoned and tortured due to their faith – or vice versa. Remember I saw a short video with some arab shaykh sending “a message to Obama” how Muslim men care for their women, protect their women, see their women as the most precious one can imagine, that Muslims have gone to war due to the honour of women… I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yeah, all that sounds nice in theory… but the really interesting is whether you can see all that “theoretical talk” in practice. And also, who are deciding what is “honourable”, “Protection”, “love”, and whatnot? The women…. or the men? I would say, the women are not asked whether they view their “honourable treatment” as such or not… I know for sure, not a single woman here in the west I know – whether they are “liberal” or most conservative, without the hijab or covered completely in niqab and the whole outfit – who would want to change their life with one of the afghani “honourable treated” women’s.

  • Kareem


    Fiqh doesn’t change – to be honest. There are different interpretations and it can be applied in different circumstances…for we do change as does the world around us. But we can’t just invent a new fiqh whenever we feel like it or whenever we think it to be more convenient. If we don’t hold true to some basic sources – namely, the Quran and the Sunnah…then what we are really doing is inventing a new religion and not just a new fiqh. From the Quran to the farewell sermon of the Prophet (saaws) – it is clear that there are rules and regulations that govern the relationship between men and women within society and within the household. The western perspective on the other hand, has been rebelling against this concept for centuries, and has sought (though failed miserably in the process) to create an illusion of gender equality while judging both men and women uniformly, adjoining the same rights upon both men and women equally (which differs from equality itself, for a prerequisite of equality is fairness…something that doesn’t exist in the sexually open and exploitative, non-misogynistic west). If you want to believe that Islam is misogynistic b/c it allows a man four wives (but not a woman), or that the testimony in an Islamic court between a man and a woman are not equal…then that is your prerogative and your opinion, which you are entitled to. But don’t say that this is “my” Islam or that we are talking about some sort of foreign creed that evolved over time and became male-centric and male-dominated (whereas originally it was not). Islam is what it is. There is room for disagreement and there are differences in fiqh, but there are also constants and things which are as clear as can be. Believe or disbelieve…but be honest. That isn’t asking too much.

    As for what else you say: it is certainly my belief that women in general – are treated better in Muslim societies, with greater honor, with greater respect, and with greater dignity as compared to the surrounding, non-Muslim cultures (and the western world in particular). It isn’t the women of the Muslim cultures (this being distinct from secular cultures) who feel that they need to parade around the world with as little clothing as possible. It isn’t us who imprison and torture our own societies and progeny through the illusion of female empowerment! Giving women the types of rights that the western societies give them…only causes societal degradation, corruption, sexual exploitation and deviancy, break-up, divorce, heartbreak, eating disorders, homosexuality (yes – this is linked with the role women play in society), abortion and birth control, and the list goes on and on.

    If you want to talk about practice and not just theory, than don’t forget how, in the west and in other non-Muslim cultures…women also go to jail. women also commit violent crimes. women are also raped. women are also beaten. women also abuse their men and others. women also fight (in the armed forces). women also do drugs and drink alcohol, and are tortured (particularly prisoners of war). Take a look at the statistics and tell me – which nation leads the whole of the world in the number of women who are beaten? Which nation leads the world in the number of people (men and women) who are imprisoned? Which nation leads the world in the number of reported rapes?? Even if these numbers were *equal* between Muslim nations and western nations (they are not)…that still would drive home the point that these things occur for very specific reasons which transcend both western values and Islamic values. So sometimes, we are forced to stick with the “theoretical” because that is the only way to make an honest comparison; that is the only way to honestly analyze what we are talking about. This is a Muslimah Media Watch website – right? So everyone who even glances by this site should know and be clear that, when something happens in a western country…like someone is raped or beaten. It is never said by the media that such and such christian or such and such westerner did this raping and beating. But something like that happens in a Muslim country (even though none of the Muslim countries abide by the Shariah)…the incident is always labelled as such and such Muslim committed such and such in the name of Islam or on account of being in a Muslim country/environment. RUBBISH! NONSENSE!

    Anyways, the bottem line is that indeed men and women in Islam are not equal and do not have the same relations as per western society. This is based on any truthful, honest, and objective study of the Quran and the Sunnah. You can still have disagreements on fiqh, but you can’t just change the religion as a whole. Men have certain rights over women, and vice verca, women have certain rights over men according to al-Islam. And in my opinion, that will always be superior to the grand *illusion* that men and women are equals in this world (we are certainly equal in the eyes of God – who judges us on our good deeds and our piety as opposed to our gender) and thus, should have equal (or as equal as possible) rights within society. The latter will be the destruction of society…as we have seen in Greece, Rome, Babylon, Ancient Egypt, Persia, the British Empire, and now, the American Empire (along with secular Europe and Japan).


  • Duff

    @ Kareem

    You still haven’t explained (as per your previous post) why you support such cruel punishment for ‘moral’ offences committed by Afghan women. Why in Afghanistan, are non-muslims/atheists/agnostics/secular/non-practising/irreligious people being punished by the laws of Islam (a religion in which they may NOT BELIEVE)? If an Afghan woman who does not practise and/or believe in Islam in the first place has consensual premarital sex, how can she be punished according to Shariah laws if she is NOT A MUSLIM. Last time I checked, the Quran/Shariah/Sunnah only applied to those people who believe in the religion, not those who don’t.

    And no, just because an Afghan woman is a Pashtun or has a ‘muslim’ sounding name or even a muslim family, does not make her a muslim by belief. How do you defend the use of Shariah law to oppress such women?

  • S.B

    Zabir, I did not read your whole reply but let me just sum up certain important things which would most certain disprove some of your claims.

    1. Usool al fiqh and fiqh are two completely different things. Their focus are totally different from each other. So yes, fiqh does change and one interpretation does not need to be the absolute truth just becuase someone presented it some hundred of years ago.

    2. As for your belief that women are treated better in Muslim societies, that is your opinion which you are entitled to. However, convicion is not enough. It is better to look at reality. As for statistics… They are relative. This should be common knowledge. Not to mention that ESPECIALLY in Muslim societies, where wife beating for example is more socially accepted, there are a lot of crimes against women which are not reported due to “shame-culture”.

    I do not believe that one gender is superior over the other, nor do I believe that there exist a God that is mysogynist or has made one gender to be subjugated by the other. If you do, that’s your burden.

  • zabir

    Why are you using my name here I haven’t even made a comment here. Please correct this and dont use my name for something I haven’t said.

  • S.B

    sorry Zabir I meant Kareem :)

  • lamusulmane

    Let Allah decide who should be punished. The hypocrite judges…. dig deep and you will find moral issues with them. sleeping with boys is so common in afghanistan… and i wonder how many judges have baccha bazi.
    so please educate the women first to be independant, earn money.
    Putting someone in jail for sleeping with a men or a women is ridiculous.
    Allah is forgiving, so let us be tolerant with US MUSLIMS and respect everyone that does not share our belief. There is a reason why God made different people, with different religions and different colours. He has the ultimate knowledge. I believe in Allah and his rahman.

    all the so called virtuous people here think they will be better in the after life. purify your heart n intentions first. Stop judging… the world would be in a better place.


  • Camjade

    I watched this program last night and was shocked at how women are treated, particularly by their own families and each other, in these situations. My heart breaks for some of these women. It is sad that Aleema fully expects her family to “quietly drown her” when she gets out of prison. It was shocking to hear the gentleman at the end of the film completely change the circumstances in which Sabereh was found by her father into a situation quite disgusting and completely unbelievable, given the society she is growing up in – especially for the situation he described as taking place in her own family’s home. I wish I could help and thank God I was born in Canada.

  • Camjade

    Salam – truly? Baccha bazi? Are these boys willing participants? How is this behaviour legal or accepted? Amazing how little we know of the world.