Birds of a feather, turn white together

The Blue Mosque in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, in war-torn Afghanistan, is an oasis of peace, famous for its shimmering turquoise facade as it is for the white doves that live there.

The mosque's attendants, like the one feeding the birds in the courtyard of the mosque on last Thursday, have raised the doves since the mosque was built in the 12th century.

Since then, the birds have become one of its famous symbols.

The shrine, located in a flower-filled park in the centre of the city, is believed by some to hold the remains of Imam Ali - the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law.

Afghanistan once attracted thousands of tourists before its decades of conflict began.

Legend has it that the doves are pure white because of the sanctity of the mosque, and that if a dove with a speck of colour flies in and stays, it too will turn white as snow.

Mazar-e-Sharif - the capital of the northern Balkh province - means "tomb of the saint" in Farsi. The city is the third largest in Afghanistan, with a population of about 700,000, and is located close to the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikstan.

About 10,000 white doves are said to roost atop the Blue Mosque's spiral minarets and arches.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Birds of a feather, turn white together'. Print Edition | Subscribe