A Taliban fighter lays his AK-47 rifle down during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. 

Sacred Nation

Taliban’s 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' is based on specific ideology

The Taliban have announced a new interim government. Islam is the key pillar of the group's vision, but which interpretation of Islam will guide their governance?

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A Taliban fighter lays his AK-47 rifle down during Friday prayers at a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 10, 2021. 

Credit:

Felipe Dana/AP

This week, the world got a first glimpse into what a Taliban government in Afghanistan might look like.

The group named an interim government made up of 33 men, mostly from one ethnic group — the Pashtuns. Two appointees are Tajik, and one is Uzbek. No one from the Hazara community or any other ethnic group were included.

Related: Taliban names all-male 33-member interim government in Afghanistan

Even before the Taliban takeover this August, Afghanistan was an Islamic country. The official name of Afghanistan included "Islamic Republic."

But the Taliban follow a specific interpretation of Sunni Islam which, from now on, will be implemented across the country.

Related: Afghan journalist breaks down sociological makeup of today's Taliban

The World spoke to several clerics and scholars in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban’s takeover to get their takes on the version of Islam the group plans to bring to the country. 

The Taliban’s Islam

Taliban ideology is based on a specific version of Islam called the Deobandi school.

The Taliban's interpretation of Islam is different from the Islam that existed in Afghanistan in the past, according to Omar Sadr, who teaches political science at the American University of Afghanistan.

“The traditional Islam practiced in Afghanistan was quite different. It is an Islam as a faith for the majority of the people and that is different from Islam being as an ideology.”

Omar Sadr teaches political science at the American University of Afghanistan

“The traditional Islam practiced in Afghanistan was quite different. It is an Islam as a faith for the majority of the people and that is different from Islam being as an ideology.”

Sadr, who is also the author of a book on cultural diversity in Afghanistan, added that the earlier version of Islam in Afghanistan was influenced by Sufi schools or tariqa.

“Sufi tariqas were quite moderate, they were tolerant, they were accepting, they established a kind of order which was cosmopolitan and wherein it accepted diversity of the society and mutual coexistence.” 

Related: 'We are afraid': An Afghan women's rights activist is left behind

Deobandi Islam was founded in northern India, not Afghanistan. Islamic scholars say it came about as a response to British colonial rule.

One man who helped shape the movement was a scholar called Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, Sadr said.

“He was so much upset about how Muslims have been integrated within the Hindu community here and so he constantly wrote against all this and he preached that how we need to go back to Arabian model of Islam.”

After the partition of 1947, followers of Deobandi Islam began teaching it in Pakistan.

With the support of the government, Sadr said, schools began teaching it to students along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Some of those students went on to fight in Afghanistan.

Today, the Taliban call Afghanistan an Islamic Emirate. That means a religious leader or an emir will be the top authority and governance will be based on the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam — the Deobandi and Hanafi schools.

That will impact all sorts of things in daily life from banking, to how people should dress, to segregation of men and women in public spaces.

Friday prayer

One Friday in August, before the Taliban takeover, the atmosphere was already tense at one of Kabul’s main mosques. 

During Friday prayers, men, young and old, kicked off their shoes, rushed inside, rolled up their sleeves and got ready for the weekly sermon. 

Sheikh Abdullah Noor Ebad sat up front on a raised chair, holding a microphone that helps project his voice across the mosque as he prepared to preach. 

The men sat on the floor in rows. Off to the side, women gathered in a small room tucked away in a corner. 

During his sermon, Sheikh Noor Ebad was cautious with his words. He doesn’t mention the Taliban or the tumult that his country is facing.

Afterward, he agreed to answer a few questions from The World as long as they were read by a male. (Some conservative Muslim men prefer not to address women who are not related to them directly).

“This war in Afghanistan doesn’t have an Islamic justification. ... Fighting between Muslims is not justified. True believers don’t kill each other. They work on bringing peace.”

Sheikh Abdullah Noor Ebad, Kabul, Afghanistan

“This war in Afghanistan doesn’t have an Islamic justification,” Noor Ebad said. “Fighting between Muslims is not justified. True believers don’t kill each other. They work on bringing peace.”

Related: Afghanistan: Two decades of war and daily life in photos

Noor Ebad said he was a Talib himself at one time. He knows the teachings and went to the same type of Islamic schools as some Taliban fighters.

“But it seems like these men took away something entirely different,” he said.

Foreign interference

Masoudeh Jami, with the Jamiat-e-Eslah of Afghanistan, a movement that promotes Islamic thought and culture, told The World in an interview that the Islam she teaches to her students centers on peace and coexistence.

“In Islam, there is great emphasis on cleansing your heart of hatred against everyone,” she said, “but especially the faithful. So, it’s puzzling when the Taliban target and kill fellow Afghans.”

But for Jami, foreign interference in Afghanistan is what has made things worse.

“Extremism in Afghanistan was supported and funded by foreigners,” she said, “and that’s unfortunate because now some people say they want nothing to do with Islam.”

The US once supported Afghanistan’s Mujahideen in the 1980s. Pakistan has also shown support for the Taliban. 

Jami added that the role of religious leaders in Afghanistan is important moving forward. They should make sure people don’t lose sight of moderate Islam.

Related: Women's shelters in Afghanistan face an uncertain future

“After two decades of American presence, Afghanistan is a divided, heartbroken nation. ... It’s time foreigners leave so we can focus on healing.”

Masoudeh Jami, Jamiat-e-Eslah of Afghanistan

“After two decades of American presence, Afghanistan is a divided, heartbroken nation,” she said. “It’s time foreigners leave so we can focus on healing.” 

In the first few weeks of Taliban governance, however, Afghans have faced clampdowns on anti-Taliban protesters and restrictions on press freedom. 

Women have been told to stay home until the Taliban can determine how they can participate in public life.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Deobandi Islam in Pakistan. It has been corrected.

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