Taliban, Friday Prayers, and Public Boycott
Since the Taliban assumed power, the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs has become one of the most influential ministries, taking steps to solidify the foundations of Taliban rule and propagate the Taliban ideology among the populace. This ministry formulates the content of the Friday sermon, and the preacher is not allowed to say anything beyond that. The content is intended to reinforce the ideology and stances of the Taliban. Therefore, the issues should be articulated from the Taliban‘s perspective. During the Friday prayer, people should also offer prayers for the stability and endurance of the ‘Islamic Emirate‘ as well as the success of Mullah Hibatullah.
The Taliban have taken steps to maximize the use of mosque tribunes in order to bolster their system and give it legitimacy. They do not permit anyone to criticize the existing order from the pulpits of mosques, and if someone does, they will face the consequences regardless of their opinion. The Taliban are aware of the significance of mosques and pulpits, and thus, they are determined not to make the same mistake as the republican system, which allowed preachers to express their views freely. During the republic, mosque orators were able to openly challenge the legitimacy of the government and send strong criticisms to the ruling system in order to stir up public sentiment against the republic. Bearing this in mind, when the Taliban came to power, they attempted to appoint renowned mullahs and prominent commanders from their team to speak in different mosques, replacing the previous mullahs. As a result, no dissenting voices can now be heard from the podiums of mosques.
The recent incident in Kabul has revealed the public‘s opinion of the Taliban. Since the Taliban forced the mullahs to pray for their Amir al–mumming, the mosques of Kabul city have seen a decrease in attendance. Some people are boycotting Friday prayers to express their disdain and animosity towards the Taliban and their leader, as they feel the spiritual nature of the prayer is being corrupted by praying for Mullah Hibatullah. Although these boycotts will not alter the situation, what other options do people have against such an oppressive and merciless government?
For over 1,400 years, Muslims have been gathering on Fridays to attend Friday prayers and listen to sermons. This practice began during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and in Islam, there is a great emphasis placed on the importance of Friday prayers. The Holy Qur‘an condemns those who left the mosque during the Prophet‘s speech and instead engaged in trade. The caliphs of Rashidun used to share their most important words with the people during the Friday sermons, and later governors also began attending the Friday prayer to give a speech and explain their policies. Friday prayer has always been closely linked with politics.
Friday prayers in large gatherings are utilized as a means for the advancement and reform of societies. It is a weekly platform that takes place every Friday in every neighborhood, providing an opportunity to discuss the issues of the day and devise both short–term and long–term strategies to better the state of society in all aspects.
Religion is a cornerstone of Afghan identity, and religious rituals and ceremonies are of great importance and significance in this society, so much so that they cannot be disregarded or overlooked. However, for these ceremonies to be more effective, certain points must be taken into consideration.
One of the issues that has caused Friday sermons to take an unfavorable direction is the presence of politics, with orators attempting to align themselves with the political power. This has resulted in scholars sitting on the pulpits being strangers to the masses who are suffering from poverty and oppression. Furthermore, the sermons for Friday prayers are often prepared by the government and distributed uniformly to all preachers, leaving no room for people‘s wishes and aspirations. Additionally, there is a lack of content and substance in Friday sermons, with many of those leading them being unfamiliar with religion and unaware of contemporary ideas and values. This lack of familiarity with both tradition and modernity can lead to unfavorable circumstances and provide fodder for social media users.
Many people find listening to Friday sermons unappealing, yet they feel obligated to do so due to their religious beliefs. I have asked numerous individuals if they found the sermons of scholars during Friday prayers to be captivating and delightful, but the majority of them expressed dissatisfaction with the content, claiming it to be tedious. Recently, the content of Friday prayers has been reduced to the repetition and criticism of words from a bygone era that have no relevance to the modern world. Preachers, however, view the lack of enthusiasm and interest in hearing Friday speeches as a rejection of religion, and thus accuse society of straying from the path. In actuality, it is the preachers‘ performance and the content that has caused the rejection of Friday sermons.
Another issue is that some preachers speak with too much emotion, which impacts the substance of their sermons. They attempt to communicate in a manner that is pleasing to the authorities and does not offend the public. It is akin to walking a tightrope, which can be precarious. The speaker should be aware that the audience has varying levels of intellect and backgrounds, as understanding the audience is one of the primary objectives of the speaker. Consequently, the speaker can select the appropriate language, expression, and topic.
Recently, Imam Abdul Hamid Ismailzai of Makki Grand Mosque has been garnering a large audience with his Friday prayer sermons. He has joined the recent movement in Iran, using the platform of the mosque to become a spokesperson for some of its supporters. Though Ismailzai was initially a strong supporter of the Taliban, his recent criticisms of their educational policy suggest that he is willing to change his views. This example demonstrates that the podium of mosques can be used as a double–edged sword, either to maintain justice and defend the oppressed, or to serve dictators and totalitarian systems. Unfortunately, many Mullahs in Afghanistan are currently using it as a tool of dictatorship. It is a sad reality that religion, which was sent to reduce the pain and suffering of people, has now become a means of oppression and suffering.