Will Religious Tradition Condemn the Taliban?

By: Rostayi

Opponents of the Taliban have employed various tactics to challenge their rule and weaken their foundations. A faction of these opponents believes that the most effective way to counter the Taliban’s behavior and beliefs is to expose the lack of religious legitimacy in their interpretation of traditional jurisprudence and theology. This proposal is reasonable and justified, as the majority of Afghans still adhere to traditional religious views and do not accept more humane interpretations of religion.

Opponents of the Taliban ideology argue that the Taliban have been successful in infiltrating the masses due to their use of language and literature that is familiar to them. In order to counter the Taliban’s religious propaganda, these opponents must follow the same path that the Taliban have taken in order to achieve success.

I would like to emphasize that using religious tradition to confront and coerce the Taliban is not effective. It is true that there are documents in the religious tradition that can be used to condemn the actions and thoughts of the Taliban, but the Taliban can just as easily use the religious tradition to justify their own actions.

In such a situation, it is very difficult to alleviate the confusion of the masses and explain their obligations. The masses, who typically lack proper comprehension and thorough analysis, are easily persuaded when they observe that the Taliban have a religious justification for their actions, particularly considering that the authority and control are in the hands of the Taliban and they can easily determine the life and death of people.

Nowadays, when conversing with publishers and booksellers in Kabul or the provinces, many of them express their dissatisfaction with the current business climate. Commonly heard remarks include: “The book publishing market is not thriving. The Taliban have imposed limitations on the sale of books and prohibited the sale of certain books that are in accordance with “Islamic values”. Importing books from Iran is subject to cumbersome and tedious restrictions. The Taliban have commanded that books written about Christianity, Buddhism, and Buddhism be taken off the market.”

Can traditional religious authorities condemn the Taliban’s behavior by arguing that it is inconsistent with religious principles and frameworks? Is it possible to make a religious justification for the Taliban’s strict treatment of books and booksellers within our religious tradition?

It is interesting to note that traditional books often discuss the use of paper from books as toilet paper. Some jurists have argued that books on magic, philosophy, and logic can be used for this purpose, as letters and words do not have inherent dignity, but rather are symbols that represent meanings. They argue that letters and words are only sacred when they represent honorable and respectable meanings, not when they contain content related to witchcraft, philosophy, and logic.

It is also noteworthy that the same jurists state that there is nothing wrong with deriving conclusions from the “altered” Bible and Torah (Muslims view the current Bible and Torah as being altered), arguing that these books contain words that are not beneficial and it is unlawful to utilize them, thus it is mandatory to dispose of them in any way, such as using them as toilet paper.

Legal scholars have long debated the responsibility of a ruler or judge in regards to books containing “falsehood and heresy”. It has been argued that when a ruler or judge believes that the publication and distribution of certain books will cause harm, corruption, and the deterioration of morals and religion, they have the right to prevent the publication and distribution of these books. If it is certain that the publication and distribution of certain books will lead to corruption and the weakening of people’s beliefs and morals, it is legally required to prevent the publication of the book.

They contend that preventing the publication of undesirable books is one of the objectives of Sharia, which is to safeguard religion. They further assert that Jihad against non-believers, executing apostates, and punishing heretics are among the steps taken to protect religion. Preventing the publication of false books is also included in the protection of religion. Ibn Qayyim, the student of Ibn Taymiyyah, considers burning or destroying misleading books as religious duties.

The jurists have argued that it is permissible or even obligatory to destroy the books of people of misguidance and heresy. To support this argument, they cite the example of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, who burned the Qurans that were in conflict with the Quran of Uthman, a notable companion of Prophet Muhammad, in order to prevent confusion and controversy among the Muslims. Ibn Qayyim then asked what the Companions would have said if they had seen books that actually caused people to be divided and quarreled.

The jurists in this group argue that banning books of heresy and misguidance is a form of punishment for those who propagate such beliefs. This is seen as the least severe of the punishments that could be imposed, as in the early centuries of Islam, those accused of heresy, such as Jad bin Durham, Jahm bin Safwan and Ghilan Damashqi, were killed without any objection from Muslim jurists. Ibn Taymiyyah stated that the spread of heresy leads to the corruption of religion, and thus killing heretics is comparable to killing those who wage war against Muslims, as speaking out against them is akin to fighting with weapons.

Muslim historians have provided numerous examples of Muslim rulers banning certain books, with religious scholars endorsing the actions of the rulers. For instance, inAlBadayah WalNahiyah by Ibn Kathir, it is stated in the chronicle of the events of the year 279 AH thata proclamation was made that books of theology, philosophy, and debates should not be circulated among the people.”

In Siyar Alam alNubala, Qazi Ayyad is quoted as saying that, in accordance with the ruling of religious scholars, the late sultan of Maghreb issued an order to burn the books of Muhammadi Ghazali, including “Iyāʾ ʿulūm aldīn“, and to prevent people from accessing them. Ghazali‘s opponents in late Maghreb argued that his books contained a mixture of Sufism and philosophy, which could lead readers astray.

AlMu‘tamid ibn Abbad, the former ruler of Seville and Cordoba, issued an order to burn the books of Ibn Hazm, as they contained insults and derogatory terms towards jurists and scholars.

Throughout history, countless lives have been lost in the name of fighting heresy and deviation among Muslims, and many sacred values have been violated. The tragedy of this situation is that there is no clear definition of what constitutesheresy“, allowing individuals to label the beliefs of others as heretical or deviant based on their own preferences and worldview. This problem is exacerbated when a particular group or faction gains power, as they can then easily eliminate their opponents by accusing them of being heretical, deviant, or misguided, and then physically eliminating them.

The purpose of this article is to emphasize that the most effective way to counter the Taliban‘s ideology is not to rely on the religious and theological heritage of Muslims. If we limit ourselves to this criterion, the Taliban will be able to use the religious tradition to justify their anticultural and anticivilizational behavior, which is unacceptable. We must adhere to the principles of modern rationality and challenge our preconceived notions in order to bring about any meaningful change.

Until a significant proportion of people in our societies come to accept that human dignity, human rights, women‘s rights, freedom of speech and opinion are universal values which must be accepted in order to live with dignity in the modern world, the prevalence of misanthropic and extreme interpretations of religion will not be eliminated. Until then, it will be a difficult endeavor to demonstrate that the Taliban‘s interpretation of Islam is at odds with religious tradition, as they also draw on this tradition to bolster their stance.