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Islam

The Taliban Emirate Galvanizes Islamists

Celebrations at the International Union of Muslim Scholars in Doha, invitations for tolerance in Abu Dhabi, no comment from al-Azhar. The Islamic institutions’ reactions to the new course of events in Afghanistan

Last update: 2021-09-28 09:02:33

Since the Taliban’s entry into Kabul, Western observers have mainly focused on the meaning of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the future of human rights, and women’s rights in particular, under the mullahs’ rule.

 

This article instead sets out to consider the viewpoint of Islamic institutions on the Afghan question as expounded in their declarations on the new Taliban rule. After all, Afghanistan is not just a geopolitical and humanitarian issue; in fact, if they keep their promises, the Taliban intend to give rise to an “Islamic emirate,” so we have to consider the religious factor too.

 

The International Union of Muslim Scholars, key institution in the Islamist universe not by chance based in Doha, has been very clear on this point: for example, one of its members wrote that “as an Islamic movement, the Taliban movement represents Islam and works to embody it in everyday life.”

 

The Union’s president, Moroccan Ahmad Raysuni, also expressed himself very clearly: immediately after the Taliban’s announcement that they had regained control of the country, his congratulations went to the Afghan people and their leadership for “freeing the country from the occupation forces,” “handing over power without allowing the country to fall into chaos and civil war” and “showing flexibility and openness in dealing with their neighbours and the outside world.”  

 

In other words, the International Union of Muslim Scholars has officially embraced the Taliban cause and is seeking to cut out a leading role for itself by offering its support to the new Afghan government. On several occasions, Raysuni has underlined that he repeatedly met the heads of the Taliban movement during negotiations with the Americans. He has credited himself with pushing the movement towards “the option of reconciliation, forgiveness, tolerance, peace and cooperation with all components of the Afghan people” to avoid bloodshed.

 

Raysuni has also publicly thanked the Qatar authorities for preparing the ground for the negotiations between the Talibans and the United States and invited all Muslim countries to cast a constructive gaze on the new Afghan situation and help rebuild the country.

 

Moreover, the International Union of Muslim Scholars’ action shows that Qatar’s mediation is not just political and military, confirming the small emirate’s central role in the Afghan game. As pointed out by Cinzia Bianco in an article in the Washington Post, the risk is that Doha’s reputation as both a political and religious centre will be bound to the choices and capabilities of the Taliban government.

 

For the Islamist universe, Afghanistan is a new test bed and an opportunity to demonstrate that after many setbacks, political Islam can rise again. No surprise then that, for the Union, the birth of an Afghan government marks the start of Islam’s rise in international politics .

 

This line is also shared by the grand mufti of the Sultanate of OmanAhmad bin Hamad al-Khalili, who congratulated the Afghan people on his Twitter account “for their conquest and victory over the aggressive invaders” and urged the Muslim peoples to remain united in order to “enjoin good and forbid evil as laid down in the sharia.” His hope is that the Taliban victory can trigger the “liberation of other occupied lands,” starting from Palestine and the Jerusalem Mosque.

 

Quite a controversial character, Khalili has been making quite strong declarations of late. While he embodied the traditional Omani line of neutrality for many years – he has held the position of grand mufti since 1974 – in recent times he seems to have made a U-turn. Just last year, first he congratulated Erdoğan for his decision to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and then he railed against the agreement signed by some Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel.

 

Among the religious institutions that have commented the Afghan question, some have preferred to keep a low profile and just make some circumstantial remarks.  

 

One of these is the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, an Abu Dhabi-based institution presided over by the prestigious Mauritanian sheikh ‘Abdallah bin Bayyah. Founded as a response to the International Union of Muslim Scholars, its goal is to spread a moderate vision of Islam and contrast the Islamist interpretations. At the end of August, the forum published a nine-point declaration on its site. Quite abstract and idealist in tone and contents, it essentially invited “its brothers in Afghanistan” to work to bring peace to their country and the world by allowing the spirit of tolerance and collaboration to prevail, preserving a good image of Islam, and using all the tools of Islamic law to arrive at governance solutions befitting both sharia and the contemporary era.

 

If we move to Egypt, the al-Azhar mosque and university’s position on the Afghan question is even more nuanced. Its weekly bulletin limited itself to communicating that the al-Azhar delegation of preachers and imams, who had been present in Kabul for several years, had been repatriated. Since 2009 the mosque-university had been involved in a cultural cooperation programme with the Afghan Ministry of Education in which some preachers and imams were sent to the Afghan capital to spread “true Islam.” Al-Azhar had opened an institute in Kabul to memorize the Qur’an and learn the Arab language, and the students who successfully completed all the levels could carry on their university studies directly in Cairo.

 

Unlike other institutions, al-Azhar has not explicitly commented the Taliban recapture of Afghanistan. In the past, its Observatory for Combating Extremism had distanced itself from the Pakistani Taliban, accusing them of deriving their ideology from al-Qaeda and committing dire acts in the name of Islam. Nevertheless, this judgement cannot be extended to their Afghan counterparts, owing to the significant differences between the two movements.

 

Indeed, for the Islamic institutions there is generally an essential difference between jihad groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, which are deemed an aberration to Islam, and the Afghan Taliban. Instead, the institutions consider them an Islamic movement to all effects, even though, depending on their points of view, they may or may not agree with their methods.

Since the Taliban’s entry into Kabul, Western observers have mainly focused on the meaning of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the future of human rights, and women’s rights in particular, under the mullahs’ rule.

 

This article instead sets out to consider the viewpoint of Islamic institutions on the Afghan question as expounded in their declarations on the new Taliban rule. After all, Afghanistan is not just a geopolitical and humanitarian issue; in fact, if they keep their promises, the Taliban intend to give rise to an “Islamic emirate,” so we have to consider the religious factor too.

 

The International Union of Muslim Scholars, key institution in the Islamist universe not by chance based in Doha, has been very clear on this point: for example, one of its members wrote that “as an Islamic movement, the Taliban movement represents Islam and works to embody it in everyday life.”

 

The Union’s president, Moroccan Ahmad Raysuni, also expressed himself very clearly: immediately after the Taliban’s announcement that they had regained control of the country, his congratulations went to the Afghan people and their leadership for “freeing the country from the occupation forces,” “handing over power without allowing the country to fall into chaos and civil war” and “showing flexibility and openness in dealing with their neighbours and the outside world.”  

 

In other words, the International Union of Muslim Scholars has officially embraced the Taliban cause and is seeking to cut out a leading role for itself by offering its support to the new Afghan government. On several occasions, Raysuni has underlined that he repeatedly met the heads of the Taliban movement during negotiations with the Americans. He has credited himself with pushing the movement towards “the option of reconciliation, forgiveness, tolerance, peace and cooperation with all components of the Afghan people” to avoid bloodshed.

 

Raysuni has also publicly thanked the Qatar authorities for preparing the ground for the negotiations between the Talibans and the United States and invited all Muslim countries to cast a constructive gaze on the new Afghan situation and help rebuild the country.

 

Moreover, the International Union of Muslim Scholars’ action shows that Qatar’s mediation is not just political and military, confirming the small emirate’s central role in the Afghan game. As pointed out by Cinzia Bianco in an article in the Washington Post, the risk is that Doha’s reputation as both a political and religious centre will be bound to the choices and capabilities of the Taliban government.

 

For the Islamist universe, Afghanistan is a new test bed and an opportunity to demonstrate that after many setbacks, political Islam can rise again. No surprise then that, for the Union, the birth of an Afghan government marks the start of Islam’s rise in international politics .

 

This line is also shared by the grand mufti of the Sultanate of OmanAhmad bin Hamad al-Khalili, who congratulated the Afghan people on his Twitter account “for their conquest and victory over the aggressive invaders” and urged the Muslim peoples to remain united in order to “enjoin good and forbid evil as laid down in the sharia.” His hope is that the Taliban victory can trigger the “liberation of other occupied lands,” starting from Palestine and the Jerusalem Mosque.

 

Quite a controversial character, Khalili has been making quite strong declarations of late. While he embodied the traditional Omani line of neutrality for many years – he has held the position of grand mufti since 1974 – in recent times he seems to have made a U-turn. Just last year, first he congratulated Erdoğan for his decision to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and then he railed against the agreement signed by some Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel.

 

Among the religious institutions that have commented the Afghan question, some have preferred to keep a low profile and just make some circumstantial remarks.  

 

One of these is the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, an Abu Dhabi-based institution presided over by the prestigious Mauritanian sheikh ‘Abdallah bin Bayyah. Founded as a response to the International Union of Muslim Scholars, its goal is to spread a moderate vision of Islam and contrast the Islamist interpretations. At the end of August, the forum published a nine-point declaration on its site. Quite abstract and idealist in tone and contents, it essentially invited “its brothers in Afghanistan” to work to bring peace to their country and the world by allowing the spirit of tolerance and collaboration to prevail, preserving a good image of Islam, and using all the tools of Islamic law to arrive at governance solutions befitting both sharia and the contemporary era.

 

If we move to Egypt, the al-Azhar mosque and university’s position on the Afghan question is even more nuanced. Its weekly bulletin limited itself to communicating that the al-Azhar delegation of preachers and imams, who had been present in Kabul for several years, had been repatriated. Since 2009 the mosque-university had been involved in a cultural cooperation programme with the Afghan Ministry of Education in which some preachers and imams were sent to the Afghan capital to spread “true Islam.” Al-Azhar had opened an institute in Kabul to memorize the Qur’an and learn the Arab language, and the students who successfully completed all the levels could carry on their university studies directly in Cairo.

 

Unlike other institutions, al-Azhar has not explicitly commented the Taliban recapture of Afghanistan. In the past, its Observatory for Combating Extremism had distanced itself from the Pakistani Taliban, accusing them of deriving their ideology from al-Qaeda and committing dire acts in the name of Islam. Nevertheless, this judgement cannot be extended to their Afghan counterparts, owing to the significant differences between the two movements.

 

Indeed, for the Islamic institutions there is generally an essential difference between jihad groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, which are deemed an aberration to Islam, and the Afghan Taliban. Instead, the institutions consider them an Islamic movement to all effects, even though, depending on their points of view, they may or may not agree with their methods.

 

The Italian original version of this article was published on September 10, 2021

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Oasis International Foundation
 
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