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RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

IN AFGHANISTAN

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This essay describes religious intolerance in the country under the former Taliban regime. Little information is currently available about the degree of tolerance and freedom in the country under its new administration

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Background:

Prior to the expulsion of the Taliban regime, the main form of religious intolerance in this country is perpetrated by the military theocracy upon its Muslim citizens. The Taliban movement is an extreme Fundamentalist group with Islam. 

In the late 1970's Communists seized control of the country and systematically dismantled many of the controls that the mullahs (Islamic clerics) had imposed on the people. They introduced many reforms, including education opportunities for women.

The Taliban Islamic movement organized a successful military attack on the Communist regime. They seized Kabul, the Afghan capital, on 1996-SEP-27. The Taliban announced their intent of establishing a pure Islamic society. It is modeled after their own interpretation of the teachings of the Qur'an the Muslim holy book, composed of the words of Allah. The basis of the civil law is the Sharia, an ancient Muslim legal code. Heavy restrictions were placed on the behavior of all citizens -- particularly women.

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Examples of limitations on personal behavior:

In 1996-OCT, Amnesty International accused the new Taliban rulers of conducting a reign of terror through house-to-house searches. 1 "Families are...afraid that their loved ones will suffer the brutal consequence of being found 'un-Islamic' by the militia." Some girl's schools were closed. In some areas, women are being confined to their homes. AI reported an incident in which an 8-year old boy was physically abused by Taliban guards. His crime was to play with a musical toy. Radios and cassette players were been seized in Kabul because they are un-Islamic.

According to some interpretations of Sharia law, based on the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, those found guilty of adultery are to be stoned to death. Sharia law is like the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) in this respect. A conviction requires a minimum of four witnesses. 2 One such execution was carried out on a couple in 1996-NOV. Nurbibi, a woman aged 40, and Turylai, a man aged 38 were stoned to death in a public assembly using palm-sized stones. Turylai was dead within ten minutes, but Nurbibi had to be finished off by dropping a large rock on her head. Mr. Wali, head of the Office for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prohibition of Vice expressed satisfaction with the execution: "...I am very happy, because it means that the rule of Islam is being implemented." These executions (as well as hand amputations for convicted thieves) are regarded as religious occasions and are not normally viewed by non-Muslims.

Strict interpretation of Islamic law by the Talibans calls for the death penalty for any woman found in the company of a man other than a close family member. A woman, Jamila, was found guilty of trying to leave the country with such a man. She was caught and stoned to death on 1996-MAR-28. 3

Other restrictions imposed on the citizens of Afghanistan include:
bulletWomen are not permitted to work outside their homes.
bulletSchools for girls have been permanently closed.
bulletOnce they reach puberty, females cannot talk to men or be in the presence of a man who is not a blood relative.
bulletA woman who leaves her home must have an approved reason.
bulletWomen must wear a head-to-toe garment called burqas when outside of the home. White socks were once common; they are now banned for being sexually provocative.
bulletMen are required to grow bushy beards, and must attend prayers at mosques.
bulletCards, listening to music, keeping pigeons, flying kites and other frivolous activities are banned.
bulletAid programs that brought relieve to tens of thousands of Afghan women are to be stopped; future aid must be routed through the women's male blood relatives.
bulletIn 1997-OCT, they ordered all pictures of people or animals destroyed, since they were deemed offensive to Islam.

Some Taliban mullahs have promised to relax restrictions as soon as the resistance within 10 northern provinces is overcome. However, they affirm that the continued restrictions on women will be necessary to prevent the country from falling into the pit of "evil and corruption" that the emancipation of women has brought to western countries.

The Taliban religious police warned the populace that they had until 1998-JUL-30 to get rid of their television sets. They were told that they should spend the free time thus generated to pray. In late July, the religious police invaded Kabul stores and destroyed dozens of television sets and video recorders. The offending devices were taken into the streets and smashed. Some shopkeepers complained that many of the TVs were for export and not for use inside the country. Music, other than religious songs; material published outside the country; and movie theatres have been banned.

Aid programs:

An aid program, which fed 8,000 needy Kabul children, was closed down in 1997 for two months because two male French workers for Action Against Hunger were found in the same compound as a group of 60 Afghan women. 4 The men were convicted and deported; an Afghan driver, a cook and a security guard were arrested, sentenced to jail terms and publicly flogged because they could have prevented the incident, but did not.

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Buddha statues destroyed:

On 2000-MAR-1, Reuters reported that the Taliban ordered priceless statutes throughout the country to be destroyed. The office of Afghanistan's supreme leader stated: "In view of the fatwa [religious edict] of prominent Afghan scholars and the verdict of the Afghan Supreme Court, it has been decided to break down all statues/idols present in different parts of the country. This is because these idols have been gods of the infidels, who worshipped them, and these are respected even now and perhaps maybe turned into gods again. The real God is only Allah, and all other false gods should be removed."  The destruction will be overseen by the Information and Culture Ministry and  the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Most notable are two immense statues of the Buddha, carved out of the solid rock of a cliff. They are 125 and 174 feet tall (38 m and 53 m). They date from the 4th and 5th century CE. Smaller tatues in the country's museums are also to be demolished. The European Union, Germany, India, Pakistan, Russia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and United Nations condemned the acts and appealed to the Taliban to reconsider. 

Egyptian Muslim intellectual Fahmi Howeidy said that the Taliban actions are contrary to the Islamic religion: "Islam respects other cultures even if they include rituals that are against Islamic law.'' According to the AP: "Heavily criticized for its restrictions on women and for its public executions, the Taliban is recognized by only three nations: Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia."

On 2001-MAR-11, the Toronto Star reported on a statement by Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan. He said that it is the sacred duty of Muslims in his country to smash stone "idols." He said: "Statues and things that represent living things, they are surely forbidden in Islam and they will be destroyed...The destruction has already been started." He also said that virtually all moveable Buddha statues had been smashed. He noted that not a single fatwa (religious decree) had been issued by any Muslim authority against the destruction of the statues. Pakistan sent a cabinet delegation to ask the Taleban to cancel the decree; they made no progress. The Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar said" "All we are breaking are stones. Only Allah, the Almighty, deserves to be worshipped, not anyone or anything else." In Toronto, Canada, 120 Buddhists assembled in the city square to protest the destruction. They carried banners reading: "Tolerance is a virtue," and "Save the venerated 160-foot Buddha statues.

It is interesting to note that one of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments also forbids the creation of statues which depict humans or gods.

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Changes after the terrorist attack on New York City & the Pentagon:

The organization that apparently organized the 2001-SEP-11 attack on New York City and Washington is the al-Qaeda (The Source) network. It is headed by Osama bin Laden, who has operated from within Afghanistan. The Taliban government refused to extradite bin Landen for trial. An anti-terrorism coalition headed by the U.S. supplied war materials and specialized support to the Northern Alliance, which had held about 10% of the country Afghanistan. The Alliance has since been able to retake much of the country. As of mid-NOV-2000, the Alliance is cooperating with the United Nations in the development of a new government for the country. Hopefully it will guarantee at least minimal religious and other freedoms to the citizens of Afghanistan.

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References:

  1. "Reign of Terror in Afghanistan," Reuters News Service, 1996-OCT-03
  2. "Afghanistan Execution for Adultery," New York Times News Service, 1996-NOV-06
  3. "Woman Executed in Afghanistan", Associated Press News Service, 1997-MAR-30
  4. John Burns, "Growing Fear, Frustration Mar Life in Afghan Capital," New York Times Service, 1997-SEP-24
  5. The Taliban Movement has a home page at: http://www2.unl.ac.uk/~hpm0beghs/taliban/

Copyright 1996, 1999, 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2001-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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