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A fabrication against Islam

Jan 04,2023 - Last updated at Jan 04,2023

While condemning the Taliban's latest misogynist policies, Western governments, aid agencies and media have ignored rulings and statements by eminent Islamic scholars and key organisations which should but do not influence Afghanistan's rulers.

The Taliban's bans began as soon as the movement took power in 2021 when girls were denied secondary education. Last month, the Taliban expanded this prohibition to women at university and, reportedly, told pupils and teachers in girls' elementary schools not to return to classes.

This was followed by a ban on women employed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). CARE, Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee responded by suspending humanitarian services for deprived Afghans. They jointly declared, "We cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff.” They pointed out that women workers enabled them to reach "millions of Afghans in need since August 2021" when the Taliban seized power. The International Rescue Committee said it employed 3,000 women who constitute 40 per cent of its staff. These agencies argued the ban "will [also] affect thousands of jobs in the midst of an enormous economic crisis”. They demanded that "men and women [should] equally continue our [missions] in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban economy ministry claimed in a letter circulated to all NGOs that female staff were not "observing the Islamic hijab [head covering] and other Islamic Emirate laws and regulations", and warned the ministry would close down any NGO which does not abide by the order.

The latest prohibitions have followed the demand for adherence to the Taliban dress code and bans against women in employment, women entering entertainment parks, gyms, public gardens and travelling without a male relative outside their home towns.

The university education edict defied censure from the Cairo-based senior Sunni authority on Islam, Grand Imam Ahmad Al Tayeb of Al Azhar Islamic heritage institution. He declared that the ban is “un-representative of Islamic Sharia [canon law] and radically contradictory to Koranic teachings”. He called on the Taliban to reconsider the decision and said the prohibition is "shocking to the consciences of Muslims and non-Muslims" and should "not have been issued by any Muslim".

He declared, "Islam firmly denounces such banning as it deprives the legal rights ensured by Islam for men and women alike. So, claiming otherwise is a fabrication against this upright religion.”

He argued that the ban on education conflicts with Islam's call for both men and women "to seek knowledge from cradle to grave". He argued the ban ignored 2,000 sayings of the Prophet Muhammad as well as "historic roles women have assumed in education, science, and politics". 

The Grand Imam declared that "if there are issues with the environment or curriculum that some might find problematic [as the Taliban claim], the solution is to fix the secondary problems, rather than create larger ones by halting education of the mothers and sisters and daughters of a 'society". He added: "As a general rule, educating women [contributes] to any society's growth and prosperity."

The Abu Dhabi-based Muslim Council of Elders opposed the ban, stating that "Islam liberated women from pre-Islamic traditions that deprived them of their rights and rendered them unable to function".

As the ban on women attending university had been expected, the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain met Taliban acting foreign minister Amir Khan Mutaqi in Doha in November and called the movement to include women fully in Afghanistan's life.  As GCC members use Sharia as the basis for their laws, they urged the Taliban to make a reconciliation plan that “respects basic freedoms and rights, including women’s right to work and education”.

Other scholars have pointed out that Prophet Muhammad's first command to his followers was, "Read!" a skill unavailable to the illiterate. He was quoted as saying, "Acquisition of knowledge is binding on Muslim men and Muslim women." He proclaimed: "The best gift from a father to his child is education and upbringing." One of his most well-known statements is, "Seek knowledge even as far as China." The Prophet saw the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage, as an educational opportunity. His wife, Aisha, was a key source of his pronouncements.

His words are certainly familiar to Taliban clerics, including the figure who has taken the decisions on the treatment of girls and women.  He is the reclusive religious scholar and Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, who is in his 70s and was based in Quetta in Pakistan for decades. Since the Taliban took over, he has relocated to Kandahar but is rarely seen. He has the final word on policy.

He may have chosen Nida Nadim, an ex-governor and military commander, to be higher education minister as his goal is to uproot the system of modern secular education established in Afghanistan following the US occupation in 2021. Despite the mass of rulings to the contrary, he considers education for girls and women to be un-Islamic and against Afghan traditions. Since his appointment, Nadim has revoked academic standards and administrative rules and appointed unqualified Taliban fighters to official and teaching posts at universities. Before denying them university education, he also barred women from engineering, agricultural and scientific courses of study and confined them to teaching, nursing and medicine in order to provide females to deal with females, thereby maintaining the strict separation of the sexes.

The ban on higher education coincides with the widespread movement in Iran led by educated Iranian women who are calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Since the Taliban returned to power last year, security forces have suppressed limited protests by women against the movement's return to practices of the first period of Taliban rule from 1996-2001.

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