Taliban's gender apartheid is simply fanaticism

EVER since their coming to power in August 2021, the Taliban government has been imposing more and more restrictions on women.

Notwithstanding many instances of women's protests and street demonstrations in Kabul and elsewhere, there has been no let off. Thus, it is said that the Taliban are bent on turning Afghanistan into a big prison for women.

Beginning with banning girls from going to school beyond the sixth year in 2021, it was later announced that women would no longer be admitted into universities either.

Then, they banned government institutions from employing women into any position of responsibility. The Taliban officials also closed women beauty salons throughout the country.

The next announcement came earlier this year. The Taliban banned women from entering public parks and recreation grounds.

And then, a few weeks later they banned women, with or without their families, from taking boat rides in Band-i Ameer lake, a natural lake outside Bamiyan.

Then followed another ban on wood carving and sculptures of human figures and other living things, a line of work that employed many women.

Taliban officials even disbanded a wedding ceremony in Laghman province that included musical performances. They also imprisoned a Kabul musician and vocalist, Suhail Shaheen, while in the claiming that they were not against art and crafts.

The family and friends of Shaheen, held a demonstration that was joined by a large crowd in protest against his imprisonment.

A Kabul resident, Khalil Raghib, said in a TV interview that music and singing were a part of the culture of Afghanistan and banning them at weddings and other celebrations was excessive and unacceptable.

Afghanistan is a traditional Islamic country but its people have never banned music that is devoid of immoral practices.

The syariah also permits music and the arts that are observant of ethical principles and people's customary norms. Art and music that elevate but do not degrade the spirit bring beauty, which is an important part of Islam.

Note that Jameel (beautiful) is one of the most excellent names (al-asma' al-husna) of God. He loves beauty and desires that everyone tries to bring it out in oneself, one's environment and lifestyle.

In numerous verses, the Quran mentions beauty (zeena, husn, jamal) in God's creations including the human person, the Earth, animals, etc., and also proclaims that: "He has beautified everything He has created" (al-Taghbun, 64:3).

Singing, music and entertainment, and the good and bad in them depend on what they contain, their purpose and context. One cannot denounce all singing, whether accompanied by musical sounds or not.

Instruments have no intrinsic value of their own but the value in them can be ascertained by reference to the manner of their use, surrounding conditions and context.

There is consensus among Muslim scholars on the permissibility of song and music that celebrate weddings, births, Eid festivals, safe return of travellers and the like.

Some genres of poetry and songs praise God and pay tribute to Prophet Muhammad, pbuh (known as Na't, Munajat, etc) and some Sufi performances are accompanied by incantations and devotional practices with or without music and partake in devotional remembrance (dhikr).

Music and singing are permissible and moderation in them is advised. For the good therein touches human consciousness and emotions with the essence of beauty.

Yet, only in the last two weeks, the Taliban demolished a luxury hotel that had a wedding hall in the heart of Kabul just because it encouraged women's participation in decorative surroundings. Such retrogressive measures have earned the Taliban the epithet "enemies of women and beauty".

The only explanation the Taliban have given is that they are implementing their version of the syariah. The Taliban government have yet to announce any policy guidelines and their decision-making modalities.

They dissolved an elected Parliament when they came to power. There was talk last year of drafting a constitution but no further action has followed. To say that they are implementing the syariah is also less than satisfactory.

For other Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, etc., have not taken such measures nor have they advanced interpretations of the syariah to justify the kind of gender apartheid the Taliban have been implementing.

On the contrary, Muslim scholars from different countries have urged the Taliban government to put an end to their ban on female education.

This was the message during recent visits by delegations of the ulama of Pakistan, Indonesia and Britain, etc., that went to Kabul to persuade the Taliban to reopen schools for girls.

The syariah does not ban women and families from entering recreation grounds. One can even find affirmative evidence in the Quran and hadith that encourage recreation and health enhancing games for everyone.

Historically, it is well known that during the Prophet's time women were not confined to the home nor were they prevented from going to mosques, joining the Prophet's teaching circle, and engaging in family visits, etc.

The bans imposed by the Taliban are mostly sweeping and exceed the limits of moderation.

To ban girls from going to school simply violates the renowned hadith that "Pursuit of knowledge is an obligation of every Muslim" which naturally includes women.

* The writer is Very Distinguished Fellow at the Internal Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
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