The radical Taliban organization’s statement that it will respect women’s rights “under Islamic law” does not say much in itself. It is evident that the prospect of a dramatic deterioration in the lives of Afghan women is evident. What is not clear is how it will play out.
Islamic law, also known as sharia, is understood quite differently around the world. It is a kind of moral benchmark based on the Koran – the holy book of Islam – and on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. In a way, how the Bible inspires certain Constitutions.
“The key question is how Sharia law will interact with other legal systems,” says Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior analyst at the Brookings Institution. It can influence a new Constitution or be used in its place, for example. Islamic law can also only be applied in certain areas, such as marriage and inheritance, without determining the criminal sphere.
Felbab-Brown cites examples of how predominantly Muslim countries understand Sharia law. On the one hand, there are more open countries, such as Indonesia, where women have access to education and the labor market. By the way, Afghanistan’s current constitution already includes Islamic law. At the other extreme, there are countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are more conservative.
When they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban implemented a very radical and violent version of Sharia law, including the stoning to death of women for adultery. According to the Taliban’s understanding of Sharia law, women could not study, work, wear high heels, work, wear high heels, show their faces in public, and walk the streets alone. But the organization, which has just returned to power in the country, has shown some signs of change.
Felbab-Brown says this time the country might look more like Iran than Afghanistan in the 1990s. In other words, it can have an authoritarian and oppressive system, but with significant concessions. For example, allow basic education for women and some political participation.
There are several ways to understand these transformations. A fundamental point is that Islam is not a monolithic religion. Like Christianity and Judaism, for that matter. The same group’s interpretation of Islam is not static either. Again, as in the case of Christian and Jewish groups.
The Taliban have their origins in the religious movement called deobandi, which emerged in the 19th century in religious schools in India. Hence the name Taliban, which means “students”. a traditional, literal and fundamentalist view of Islam.
After ruling Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and after two decades of fighting against US forces as well, the Taliban report that they may have revised some of their positions, such as extreme segregation between men and women. In contrast, it remains unclear whether the faction has changed its infamous take on the stoning of women.
Islamic law provides, in some respects, this punishment for cases of adultery. In the past, however, religious authorities have posed so many obstacles – for example, requiring the presence of four men of impeccable character as witnesses – that it has rarely been used. The Taliban of the 1990s facilitated these stoning. But now you can decide to make them more difficult.
Another important point is that even the members of the group do not agree on what Sharia means in practice. According to Felbab-Brown, there are wings that are more ideological, while the more pragmatic insist that the Taliban must change to link up with the international community.
Perhaps this explains how quickly the spokesperson for the radical organization has publicly declared that it will respect women’s rights – among other things, probably as a way to preserve access to some foreign capital and to the pathway. diplomatic.
In determining things like education, political participation and women’s clothing, “the internal debates are going to be quite intense, difficult and problematic,” says the Brookings analyst.
Felbab-Brown tells a story to illustrate the differences within the organization that is regaining control of Afghanistan. In 1996, when the Taliban took control of Kabul, some more radical members began to burn planes; they followed the anti-modern vision typical of the deobandi movement. At that point, the more pragmatic Mullah Mansur – who then led the Taliban, replacing Mullah Omar – ran to the airport to arrest them.
There must also be some variation between how Sharia law will affect urban and rural areas and different regions of the country.
This is what analysts have noticed in recent years, studying the portions of the country that were already under the control of the radical faction. In some of them, the Taliban have banned soap operas. In others, no. The same goes for the education of women: it has been banned in some parts, allowed in others, or censored in different ways.
“Everything will depend on the reaction of each local community against the rules imposed by the Taliban,” says Felbab-Brown. And how many people in every part of the country will agree or disagree with the group’s interpretation of Sharia law. “The Taliban are not an invading force from Mars. They come from local communities, many of which already practice Sharia law.