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Teaching The World Since 1945


The Jirga Class Exercise: A Thousand Splendid Suns

James Bradford


A jirga (council) is the primary form of conflict resolution among Pashtun tribes in rural Afghanistan. It is essentially council in which men meet to discuss and resolve key issues that affect them, their families, their tribes, and their nation. It functions largely according to the dictates of Pashtunwali.

Today we will hold both a jirga and a loya jirga (grand council) regarding the context of the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

For today, you and your group will address a common problem (found listed below) and come to collective decision.

1: Break into groups 4–6. And then pick an elder to act as the final judge of the jirga, and the main representative during the loya jirga.

2: The remaining members of the group must take up a different position (it works best if you play along, and argue along the lines of your choice). When arguing, it is important for every member to give substantial evidence as to why their point is most valid, citing specific events from the novel. The elder is required to take notes of arguments and proof of each member.

3: After each group elder has come to a decision (about 15 min), we will convene for a loya jirga where you will present your case to me, the supreme elder (I'm kind of making the supreme thing up for my own fun, its generally egalitarian in nature). I will decide what is most compelling.

**There are some key ideas here: first, come to a collective decision. The jirga is inherently democratic and equal, so if an elder makes a decision that the group does not like, they may lose legitimacy and you may override the rule of the elder; second, if people can not provide evidence to support their position (essentially make a good argument with evidence form the book) they lose legitimacy, and may be exiled from the group (not in reality, but symbolically for fun).

***What is the most important theme of A Thousand Splendid Suns

  • Loyalty
  • Patriarchy
  • Political Power
  • Love/Betrayal
  • Sacrifice
  • Knowledge/Education
  • Religion


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