The recent demise of Osama Bin Laden (couldn’t help but think when listening to Obama that night, “Those that live by the sword shall die by the sword”) on the Pakistan and Afghani border has renewed interest in al-Qaeda and their kin, the Taliban.

We have our men and women giving their lives in that region on a daily basis and in many instances, fighting against Taliban insurgencies.  Some may not need to know more than the fact that they are radical Islamists who systematically violate human rights.  Yet to make any lasting progress and attending peace, we must begin to have at least a rudimentary grasp of the cultural and historic constructs by which their very existence was created.

So who are the Taliban?

In brief, the liberation of Afghanistan from Soviet occupation in 1979, left a vacuum of leadership in an already war-torn country.

Afghanistan, primarily a Sunni country, had previously enjoyed but a fragile unity, offset by the realities of its multiethnic tribal society (Pathans, Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Persian-speaking Shiites in the West).

The mujahideen (Muslim militia) who were lauded the world over (the US providing arms and aid)  for driving the Soviets out, pasted together a mujahideen government which quickly fell prey to a bloody power struggle. Mujahideen leaders (or perhaps more accurately, warlords) vied for supremacy, resulting in more deaths and devastation than its liberation cost.

An 18 year civil war ensued between the ancient tribal, ethnic, and religious rivalries.

And then, the seemingly endless state of carnage and chaos was abruptly reversed.  As if out of nowhere, a band of students (taliban) from the madrassas (schools whose primary purpose is the teaching of Islamic law and related religious subjects) appeared in 1994 and within two years swept the country.

Denouncing the warlords, they claimed the mantle of moral leadership as representatives of the Afghan majority who were victims of the internecine warfare.  Although initially portrayed as young students from the madrassas with no military background, they were in fact a force of mullahs and taliban, religious leaders and students.  The mullahs were primarily veterans of the Afghan-Soviet war, who returned to the madrassas (the religious schools) with harsh battle experience but little in the way of real religious education.

Because little was known about the Taliban and they were portrayed simply as young students from religious schools, inexperienced in warfare and poorly armed, they were initially not taken seriously.  In time they proved to be a formidable force, feared by warlords but embraced by ordinary citizens.  They were hailed as liberators who secured towns and made the streets safe.

However, soon, the Taliban’s strict form of Islam soon became an issue.

Like al-Qaeda with its puritanical notions of Islam (known as Wahhabism, springing from Saudi Arabia), the Taliban segregated the sexes outside the home, closed girls’ schools, required that women be fully covered in public, and banned women from the workplace.  Television, cinema, and music were also banned.

Most austerely, they re-instituted ancient (hudud)punishments, taking only literal translations of the Quran and hadiths, such as amputation for theft, un-tried death for murder, and stoning and/or death for adultery.

This is a convoluted interpretation of Islam.

The notion of the law in Islam is expressed by two different but semantically related terms: sharia (the “way” or method set out by God) and fiqh (the “understanding” of application of this method in specific cases). While speaking about Islamic law, informed Muslims use the term sharia to connote the sacred law as a global concept or ideal, while fiqh is used to connote the ongoing interpretation of the law through the schools (four Sunni and one Shiite) of judicial practice.

From the earliest days of Islamic history, knowledge of the law was regarded by Muslims as essential knowledge, the very epitome of “science” (ilm) itself.  But the science of the law, like any other science, does not stand still.  Ideal principles are useless unless they are put into practice, and the changing conditions of Islamic society demanded new interpretations and applications of the way.  For this reason, the interpretative science of fiqh was developed in the first Islamic century (about 1400 years ago) .

Yet in the past century, Islamic law has been weakened considerably.  With the resented substitution of Western notions for Islamic conceptions of justice under colonialism, attempts by authoritarian regimes to bypass the judicial process, and the lack of standard religious training (makeshift madrassas an enormous problem) have conspired to undermine the status of fiqh.

A common belief fostered by the Taliban and modern political Islamists in general is that only the sharia-but not fiqh- constitutes the true law of God.  They actually want the elimination of fiqh (interpretation).  They see it as a source of dissension that undermines Muslim unity.

This negative view of Islamic jurisprudence is advocated by the Taliban and al-Qaeda and denies Islamic law the ability to adapt to changing conditions.

To eventually stunt the proliferation of this kind of radical fundamentalism, the only real deterrent is economic and social justice, education and equality. In the countries where fundamentalism has the greatest hold…Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia (to name but a few), the work towards freedom and opportunities made available for a better life will eventually out the propensity for extremism.

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4 replies
  1. beatnix
    beatnix says:

    Your piece makes sad reading. The suffering of the afghans seems without end, an oppressive marxist regime coupled with a brutal Soviet occupation to begin with, followed by a civil war, then governed by zealots who imposed their own brand of fanaticism on the country and now, caught in the middle of a war that is not of their making.
    Osama may be gone, americans may rejoice but the Wahabite ideology that made him what he was is still being actively promoted by it’s premier adherents,The Saudis. It’s an ideology that goes beyond simple anti-americanism, for the infamous attack of 9/11 on American soil and the others in Europe, there have been far more attacks in Muslim countries, in Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia,Somalia, Central Asia, mosques bombed, schools torched, Muslim scholars assassinated, attacks on minorities ect, ect. All carried out by these extremists all in the name of ” purifying ” the faith of Islam. This may come as a surprise to Americans but the radicals’ main aim is NOT chiefly the defeat of America but it is to take control of the muslim religion itself and to establish their odious ideology as the one ” true ” Islam as they have done in Saudi Arabia. It is a well known fact that the Saudis are funding and supporting these extremist groups in various parts of the muslim world, Somalia, Sudan, Central Asia, ect. In doing so they have created a monster that they could not control but one that still continues to serve their purpose. The US Govt would do well to reconsider it’s support of the Saudis. If not, then the killing of Osama bin Laden is devoid of any real worth, except for the dubious satisfaction of seeing him dead, nothing more.

  2. Taufiq Khalid
    Taufiq Khalid says:

    Dear Katherine,

    I have no suggestion to add to your timely piece and one which (I take presumption here, well, you know me!) I would love to link from my site. Its always good to hear your voice of moderation and reason, Nun Tuck. Not to mention your reader’s (Messrs Beatnix) elaboration which I do not disagree with. Hehehe… double negatives!

    I have been a busy beaver of late, and I love spending time here. You must write more and more… because again, you have written a piece that I wish I wrote instead. I am jealous that way!

    Have a great Sunday,


    • katmon1
      katmon1 says:

      Hello my friend Taufiq, Thank you for your kind words, and you know you always welcome to take what you like from my blog posts and link them to the Sinner’s Almanac, as we have a mutual admiration society here 🙂 . Moderation, inspiration and a sneaky bit of education…that’s my hope for Nun Tuck’s Almanac.

      Good to be a busy beaver…but you fortunately remain disciplined with your imaginative, witty, and inspired blog…I would like to do so too!!

      Great and measured comment from the UK (beatnix) had to post…You enjoy your Sunday, and I will enjoy mine after I finish with Saturday 🙂 …a world away and still next door! Peace, Katherine

      • Taufiq Khalid
        Taufiq Khalid says:

        Indeed, Katherine. Everything and everyone is just next door, in the true essence of things. Why, God Himself said that He is closer to us than our jugular!
        Peace in thy home always, Nun Tuck.

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