In the aftermath of Western debacle, Taliban face dilemma over Islam by Ameen Izzadeen

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Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid (centre, holding shawl) a accompanied by officials to address a media conference on 31 August. 
Photograph: Wakil Kohsar/AFP

Plunged in extreme poverty with the United Nations warning that two thirds of Afghanistan’s people are facing starvation due to a prolonged famine worsened by political instability, Afghanistan won’t be the Islamic eldorado under the Taliban.

The Taliban could not even find among their membership experts who could run an airport after the last of the United States troops withdrew on August 30, a day before the deadline. They requested Qatar to send in a team of experts to help with managing the airport.

The Taliban are perhaps only good at fighting and giving Islam an extreme interpretation. This comes as no surprise when all what they learned at madrasas in Pakistani villages on the Afghan border was largely about jihad or holy war. The word Taliban comes from the Arabic root ‘talab’ — meaning seek or search. The Arabic word Talib means one who seeks knowledge. Hence Taliban refers to students in Pashtun, the majority language in Afghanistan.

It was unlikely that these Taliban madrasa students learned that the highest form of jihad was not conquering the enemy but conquering one’s own self. How could they learn Islam’s peaceful message or esoteric philosophy when the creation of the Taliban was part of a clandestine project Pakistan’s secret service Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) implemented together with the Central Intelligence Agency. The aim of the project was to bring political stability in Afghanistan and to end the civil war that erupted after the Soviet Union ended its ten year occupation in February 1989. The various Mujahideen groups could not agree on a power-sharing formula after the Soviet withdrawal and started fighting among themselves. The civil war coincided with the Soviet Union’s collapse that all of a sudden turned the petroleum rich countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia into a honeypot for US oil companies. They had plans to build pipelines across Afghanistan to draw the oil and gas from landlocked countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus region to the world market via ports in Pakistan.

In 1994, the heavily armed Taliban began their victory march, capturing the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. Within two years, Kabul fell to the Taliban, but the anti-Taliban Mujahideen regrouped themselves in Northern Afghanistan under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Masoud, the commander of the Jamiat-e Islami, to resist the Taliban advance. Two days before the terror attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, Masood was assassinated by al-Qaeda members, who were being sheltered by the Taliban.

“As regards the Taliban, many of their failures stem from their lack of understanding of Islam or their determination to implement a Deobandi version of islam which they learnt in Taliban madrasas”

What followed the assassination of Massoud and the 9/11 attacks was the 20-year occupation of Afghanistan by the Western forces. Their departure this week points to multiple debacles — they failed in their counter-terrorism war, they failed to entrench a culture of democracy in Afghan society, they failed to develop the country despite the 2.2 trillion dollars spent on the campaign and they failed in their global leadership.

As regards the Taliban, many of their failures stem from their lack of understanding of Islam or their determination to implement the Deobandi version of islam which they learnt in Taliban madrasas. Although Deobandism promotes religious conservatism, its origin has some connections to the Indian Independence struggle.

Early Deobandi scholars graduating from the Darul Uloom Institute at the Uttar Pradesh city of Deoband, were pragmatists despite their conservative understanding of Islam, according to the Hanafi school of thought. They even opposed the partition of the sub continent and promoted Hindu-Muslim coexistence within a united India. Later the Deobandi thoughts were also influenced by the rationalistic interpretation of Islam as propounded by the Maturudi tradition and the passivity of the Tabligh Jamath.

But over the years, Deobandism was also exposed to Wahhabism and Salafism and it became captive to extremism. It is worthwhile to mention here that during the Cold War and even after its end, Saudi Arabia exported Wahhabism to all corners of the Islamic world at the behest of the West. This was revealed by none other than Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman who is now implementing a programme to modernise Saudi Arabia and taking measures to clip the wings of the Wahhabi religious leadership.

Judging from the Taliban behaviour and their pronouncements since they recaptured power, they appear to be subscribing to Islamic ultraconservatism and extremism, however hard they tried to dispel the international community’s fears that they were a much reformed lot now and were willing to adopt a moderate version of Islam.
When CNN’s Clarissa Ward pressed a Taliban commander for a response regarding women’s rights, he said women would be allowed to pursue education and work provided they wore the hijab. When asked whether the hijab he was referring to was what she was wearing — Clarissa was wearing an abaya and covering her head just like many conservative Muslim women do — the Taliban commander said hijav also meant Niqab that cover the face. Clarissa tried to explain that Niqab or face covering was not compulsory in Islam or not part of Islam, but the Taliban commander argued back to insist it was. The interview highlighted the prevalence of extremist thoughts in the Taliban rank and file.

It appears that theTaliban leaders give little thought to the Islamic concept of Fard Kifaya — an obligation cast upon a community. Non-fulfilment of this obligation is regarded as a sin upon every member of the community.
According to this concept, members of a community are duty bound to produce teachers, doctors, judges and professionals and artisans representing every sector for the wellbeing of the community.

During the previous Taliban regime, UN officials unsuccessfully tried their best to convince the Taliban leaders to permit girls to go to school. Once, when some UN officials asked Taliban leaders whether they would take their wives and daughters, if they fell sick, to a male doctor, the Taliban leaders answered they would take them only to a female doctor. The UN officials then asked how they could produce female doctors when girls had been deprived of school and university education. The Taliban later grudgingly permitted home education for the girls.
Twenty years later, in the Taliban Islam, there is still no equal status for women. On Wednesday, a senior Taliban leader, with male chauvinism writ large in his face, told the BBC that women would not be included in the Cabinet but would be given low level positions in the government.

The type of Islamic government the Taliban will form in the coming days is still a puzzle. Some say they may adopt a model similar to the Iranian model sans its democratic features, for Taliban leaders believe democracy is unislamic.  They may adopt the Saudi model that existed prior to the ongoing reforms. Or will the Taliban government resemble the hell-on-earth caliphate the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi set up in parts of Iraq and Syria?

Whatever the model, the delay in the formation of the government indicates serious disagreements or rifts among Taliban leaders over the form of government. However, an announcement was imminent last night, according to reports.

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Disclaimer: In the aftermath of Western debacle, Taliban face dilemma over Islam by Ameen Izzadeen - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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