The Taliban’s first year of governing was a disaster for women and an affront to Islam

Introduction: “Equal footing as human beings”

“It is time for Afghan Women to be supported by the West and fellow Muslims…”

In this statement, Daisy Khan poses a challenge to the world community and to the Taliban to assure women their rights as Muslims and as human beings. She makes the case that the intransigence of the Taliban, on women’s rights in general and the education of girls in particular, is exacerbated to the point of a severe humanitarian crisis by the US freezing of the financial assets of the Afghan people.

Her statement should be of special interest to peace educators seeking to open discussion of the issues surrounding engagement of the West and the US with the Taliban. Like other advocates seeking to relieve the dire suffering and deaths from hunger, she supports limited engagement to negotiate that relief. Others, including the US administration that controls the Afghan assets (The US has provided some humanitarian aid through UNICEF and UN Women), oppose such engagement as capitulation to an illegal, authoritarian regime. Working through the arguments which support these opposing positions will provide both important learning about the situation in Afghanistan, the practice of the ethical and strategic reasoning required for the political efficacy of advocates of peace and justice, and a process of coming to their own position, perhaps a third one on this crucial issue.

Further, her proposal for support and advocacy by a coalition of Muslims and members of the Afghan diaspora to leverage the challenge to the Taliban’s incorrect narratives and to educate the rural base about women’s rights in Islam is the kind of inventive thinking peace education hopes to cultivate.  Learners might be encouraged to develop and evaluate other such proposals for actions to confront the present crisis.  (BAR, 8/29/22)

The Taliban’s first year of governing was a disaster for women and an affront to Islam

Today, the biggest dream for an Afghan girl is not how she can become an engineer or a pilot but of simply going to school.

By Daisy Khan

(Reposted from: The Hill.  August 24, 2022)

Last August, after 20 years of war, the Taliban felt vindicated as they drove U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and marched into Kabul, expecting a hero’s welcome. Instead, they witnessed droves of Afghan men and women chaotically fleeing for their lives. Overnight, the Taliban had to give up being warriors and try to embrace their new role as bureaucrats.

This year-long experiment of governing has been nothing short of calamitous for all Afghans, especially women and girls. Today, the biggest dream for an Afghan girl is not how she can become an engineer or a pilot but of simply going to school. Professional women with doctorates and businesses fear becoming invisible. With their wings clipped, they can neither explore nor soar.

The debate surrounding Afghan girls’ schooling has taken center stage this past year, so it is understandable why the U.S. and European nations, seeing no progress despite regular promises, have refrained from recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government in Afghanistan. But the more important question is why the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its 57 Muslim majority member states have followed suit.

Muslims worldwide watched on TV when the Taliban marched into the presidential palace. Their litany of decrees used “Islam, Islamic or Shariah law” framing. Their initial pronouncements on women were geared to appeal to the West: Women’s rights would be protected if they were within an Islamic framework, and girls’ education is an Islamic right.

As months inched by, it became clear that every announcement was a slogan with no substance. The distressing picture regarding women is one of the foremost reasons the OIC and its member states have not recognized the Taliban. The OIC issued a statement expressing its disappointment over the unexpected decision to maintain an earlier ban on girls’ schools.

With every false promise, the Taliban’s trust deficit intensified. By not keeping their word as the Quran 2.117 instructs, “Righteous are those who … keep the pledges they make,” the credentials of the Taliban are tarnished.

In March, I was part of an American Women Peace and Education Delegation that went to Afghanistan to meet with the Ministry of Education about reopening girls’ public high schools. We witnessed fissures among the Taliban. The ones we met said, “If we get the green light, we will open the schools next morning.” But alas, the more powerful faction, which views girls’ education as futile, seems to have won over — for now. This faction believes a girl should be educated up to the sixth grade. Her primary function is to become a mother. By eliminating high school education, advanced studies for women will disappear over time, along with opportunities for professional women.

Apparently this is how some in the Taliban want it. They consider secular education an affront to their rural way of life and a threat to their rural “Afghan custom.” Again, these customs are not found in the Quran or Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. They result from poor-quality religious education and ignorance of women’s rights in Islam, which Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque, affirmed in a tweet.

Islam commands men and women to acquire universal knowledge, sacred and secular, so they can be accountable and attain spiritual maturity. Women are granted the freedom to make choices in the selection of professions that best suit their capabilities, whether in the field of religion or in any other worldly fields such as law, medicine or engineering.

Therefore, girls’ education is of immense concern for Muslims worldwide. Prophet Muhammad said, “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” Early exemplary Muslim women were never shut behind iron bars or considered worthless creatures and deprived souls. They built impressive educational institutions and served in leadership roles as hadith transmitters, religious teachers, moral guides and political leaders.

Today, Muslims who deny education to women and girls must be challenged. It is a blatant breach of Islamic teachings, because lack of education limits self-actualization and any potential contribution women can make to humanity.

Today, Muslims who deny education to women and girls must be challenged. It is a blatant breach of Islamic teachings, because lack of education limits self-actualization and any potential contribution women can make to humanity.

The U.S. can play a vital role, starting with releasing tranches of the $9.5 billion of Afghanistan’s frozen assets. Some funds can be earmarked for teacher salaries and school reopenings. When I was in Kabul, a Taliban functionary said, “How are we supposed to do all this work [gender-segregate schools and pay teachers] when the U.S. has frozen all our money?”

Secondly, the U.S. can leverage its soft power centered around diplomatic confidence-building measures. Build a coalition of Muslim interlocutors — an international task force of Afghans in the diaspora who have direct links and a longing to return, members of the OIC, and Muslim women’s groups. Their aim must be to leverage the power of faith to combat this deep-seated social ill, challenge and reject the Taliban’s incorrect narratives, and finally educate the rural base on women’s rights in Islam, a suggestion the Ministry of Education endorses.

The quest for knowledge has propelled Muslim women to make remarkable advancements in all fields of knowledge, including education, mathematics and astronomy. It is time for Afghan women to be supported by the West and by fellow Muslims, so they no longer remain satisfied with the limits of corrupt custom, oppression and injustice but stand on equal footing as human beings.

Daisy Khan, Ph.D., is the founder of Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), the largest global network of Muslim women committed to peacebuilding, gender equality and human dignity. She formerly was executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Her memoir, “Born with Wings,” depicts her spiritual journey as a modern Muslim woman and circuitous path to leadership. Follow her on Twitter @DaisyKhan.

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