Sharia law: What do the Taliban’s religious rules mean for Afghan women?

A Taliban spokesperson said the group is committed to the rights of women “within the framework of Islamic law” – so what does that mean? Katie Strick dives in


By Katie Strick


Evening Standard (26.08.2021) – – The Taliban will respect the rights of women “within the framework of Islamic law”. So said the militant group at its first press conference last week. But what does that mean — and how could the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law affect Afghan women and girls?


What is Sharia law?


Islamic law, or Sharia law, is the religious set of rules forming part of the Islamic tradition, based on the Koran (Islam’s central text) and the rulings of Islamic scholars. It can affect every aspect of daily life for Muslims, but it is vast and open to interpretation. Put simply, Sharia (meaning “way or path”) law is the Islamic legal system, acting as a code of conduct for Muslims and in some countries upheld in court. Under this law, offences fit into two categories: tazir and hadd. Tazir crimes are at the discretion of a judge, while hadd crimes — such as theft, adultery and the drinking of alcohol — are seen as the most serious and a crime against God. In some countries they are punishable by amputation, flogging, stoning and execution.


What were the rules the last time the Taliban were in power?


The Taliban upheld a strict interpretation of Sharia law when they controlled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. Women were effectively put under house arrest. They were prevented from going to work, attending school over the age of 10 or accessing healthcare administered by a man. They also had to wear the burka and cover their faces in public from the age of eight and be accompanied by a male guardian if they wanted to leave the house.


Will it be the same this time?


It’s too early to say. The Taliban’s spokesman avoided answering any specific questions on women’s rights under his government in last week’s briefing, failing to expand on dress codes and roles women will be able to play in the workforce.


But the group did not deny the possibility of bringing back violent punishments such as stonings and public executions. “I can’t say right now, that’s up to the judges in the courts and the laws,” Suhail Shaheen told the BBC. He added: “The judges will be appointed according to the law of the future government.”


Earlier that day, the group said it wanted women to join its government, but many residents do not trust this after the Taliban’s recent plans to end mixed-gender education. Earlier this month, the group also escorted nine female bank employees in Kandahar home and told their male relatives they could take their places, fuelling fears that their return to power will undo the last 20 years of progress.


“I don’t believe what they’re saying,” a female Kabul resident told the BBC after the group’s promise to respect women’s rights. “It’s a ruse and we’re being lured outside to be punished. I refuse to study or work under their laws.”


Photo credits: Reuters