As residents of Afghanistan's western Herat Province face high unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, and acute hunger, the Taliban authorities have cut off their access to a local delicacy -- lamb testicles.
The recently announced ban on the sale of testicles of sheep and other animals has infuriated local business owners and customers, who say the Taliban is focusing on trivial issues while avoiding more pressing problems.
"I’m surprised that the Taliban are focusing on small issues such as banning the sale of sheep testicles. It is a really small issue," a Herat resident told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity on November 6. "We have many bigger problems in Afghanistan, such as poverty and the closure of girls' schools."
The country is suffering from a major humanitarian crisis brought on by severe drought and the spread of disease, and has been identified as a "hunger hotspot" by the United Nations.
Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, nearly 700,000 people have lost their jobs in Afghanistan and nearly 90 percent of those employed earn less than $1.90 a day, the International Red Cross reported earlier this month.
The ban on the sale of animal testicles was issued verbally in September by the province's branch of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which is responsible for enforcing the Taliban's hard-line interpretation of Islamic Shari’a law.
The head of the ministry's department in Herat, Azizul Rahman Mohajer, said the decision was based on a decree issued by Islamic religious scholars who forbade the eating of animal testicles as a "prohibited abomination."
Under Islam, the consumption of animal testicles is considered “makruh,” literally detestable. While frowned upon, eating or selling the delicacy is not haram, or forbidden. Before the Taliban takeover, butcher shops sold sheep testicles and restaurants cooked the delicacy, although often out of public view.
Sheep testicles, often prepared as kebabs known locally as kalpura, are not a staple food but a delicacy that is believed to improve virility in men.
According to the Herat Butchers Union, lamb testicles had been supplied to more than 1,500 local butcher shops prior to the ban. But butchers have now been forced to throw them away.
The new restrictions have harmed local businesses and taken away livelihoods in a province already suffering from economic hardships and job losses since the Taliban retook power.
Many in Herat reportedly have turned to dangerous hard labor at artisanal coal mines to make ends meet, and have complained of worsening health services.
Khair Mohammad, who runs a kebab restaurant in the provincial capital, also named Herat, said he has lost significant revenue since he stopped preparing lamb testicles three weeks ago.
"Every day, 20 to 50 customers used to eat 'sheep egg' kebabs for breakfast," he told RFE/RL. "Now we reject all who come to buy sheep eggs, and if we sell them, we will be punished."
Mohammad said he had personally been jailed for violating the ban.
Herat is enforcing another obscure ban that has apparently not been introduced nationwide.
In October, Taliban authorities in the province banned hookahs, or shisha, saying the popular tobacco-smoking pastime was banned under Islam.
Local barbers have also reportedly stopped trimming beards out of fears that doing so might anger the Taliban.
The Herat resident who spoke to RFE/RL said that locals are suffering, and that the Taliban has failed to address real problems associated with the country's political and economic turmoil.
"It is very important that the Taliban focus on these issues, not on matters like people’s hair, beards, or even sheep testicles," the Herat resident said.