A battered 28-year-old Hazara woman hides behind her veil at a women's shelter October 8, 2010 in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. She came to the shelter after spending five months in prison. She was attempting to divorce her 50-year-old husband.
Credit: Paula Bronstein

A sweeping fatwa issued by mullahs in Afghanistan's conservative north severely restricts women's rights, even forbidding them to wear make-up because it allegedly leads to adultery, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 

The eight-article religious edict will not be challenged by the religious establishment in Kabul, according to Reuters, citing Afghan President Hamid Karzai's top religious advisers. 

Issued late in June, the fatwa from cleric Zmarai in the Deh Salah area of Afghanistan's northern Baghlan province prohibits women from going outside without a male escort, reported Reuters. It also imposes new clothing requirements and bans the use of cosmetics by women because they are "un-Islamic" and supposedly discourage marital fidelity, said RFE/RL

The fatwa threatened women with "punishments" if they did not comply with the new rules and threatened violence if disobeyed: "If officials do react to our demands, we will start a jihad," Reuters cited the edict as saying. 

The Deh Salah region was a Taliban stronghold prior to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but RFE/RL said many of its 80,000 residents do not agree with the new decrees. 

"When these ulema [religious council] members give their opinions on cosmetic shops, can't they see that outside their homes and mosques there are drugs like hashish and opium?" an unidentified Deh Salah resident asked RFE/RL, adding: "Thousands of people are dying from drugs. [Afghanistan] has a thousand other [pressing] issues. They haven't issued decrees about any of these things."

The new religious regulations have already reportedly triggered violence, with Deh Salah mayor Abdul Rassoul killed on July 6 as he campaigned to close cosmetic stores. He was allegedly shot down by an angry shopkeeper, said RFE/RL.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, during which time Afghan women had virtually no rights. Some think the new fatwa is an attempt to turn back the clock. "They want to bring back the Taliban days," a cosmetic shop owner called Abdullah told Reuters.

"We are poor people and they have closed me down," he said, adding: "I want the government to take action or we are going to have mullahs running the place like the Taliban again."

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