Understanding the Taliban and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

13 October 2021

Christian Concern’s Islamic Affairs Advisor, Sam Solomon, explains the complicated relationship between Afghanistan and the Taliban.

As the Taliban have re-emerged with a stunning victory from near obscurity fighting an insurgency war for 20 years, people may wonder: who are the Taliban, what is the reason for their victory against the mightiest armies on earth, and what is this ‘Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan’? Now even more importantly, what is the future outlook as events continue to unfold?

In order to answer these questions, one needs to understand a few things about this landlocked mountainous country. The picture below demonstrates not only the terrain but to a great extent the ruggedness of her people—a people comprising at least 14 ethnic groups and hundreds of tribal factions. In the recent historical jargon (in ancient history, they stopped the advance of Alexander the Great into Asia), they have already buried three ’empires’: British, Soviet and US! In all cases, Islam played the key role, and it is our opinion that it will continue to do so for many years to come. Understanding Islam becomes a key to getting to grips with what we see unfolding daily—but more importantly what we can project for the years to come.

The landscape of Afghanistan also reflects the ruggedness of her people. Photo by: R9 Studios FL

The word Taliban is derived from the Arabic word, Talib meaning students or seekers in both Arabic and Pashto. The Taliban rose to power in 1994, having fought the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1980s. Religiously they subscribe to the
Deobandi Islamist movement, which is, “an Islamic revivalist movement within Sunni Islam that formed during the late 19th century around the Darul Uloom Islamic Seminary in the town of Deoband, India.” This movement is centred primarily in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The Deoband Seminary was founded by a group of Indian Ulamaa (scholars) after the British had managed to crush an Islamic revolution in India in 1857 CE. Its establishment was a strong reaction against Western cultural and civilisational advancement in the Indian Subcontinent, aimed at saving the Muslims from the dangers of these influences.

These scholars fearing the assimilation of the Muslims drew up a plan to protect Islam and its followers. They established religious schools and Islamic centres—preparing ideologically trained students who would then go out and enforce Islam. 

Why are the Taliban hated and/or feared?

Due to their initial success in curbing lawlessness, stamping out corruption, and making the roads and the areas under their control safe for the economy to prosper, the Taliban were welcomed and admired by the locals.

But their implementation of strict Sharia law proved as tyrannical as it was ruthless, characterised by the oppression of women, which meant denying them the right to education and the right to employment, forbidding women to travel without a male relative and making it mandatory for all women to wear Burqas; by starving citizens through withholding food supplies from UN and other aid agencies, executing so-called criminals by stoning, amputations and public hanging, as well as massacring their opponents, and by banning and outlawing films, music and other non-Islamic cultural influences, and destroying historic artefacts like the Bamiyan Buddha statues .

However, the Taliban’s five-year brutal rule was then brought to an abrupt end by US-led coalition forces in December 2001, as they had provided safe haven for Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama Bin-Laden.

Despite their defeat, Taliban fighters subsequently regrouped as an insurgency and continued to battle to retake the country from the US, coalition and national Afghan forces ever since.

Photo by: Mark Knobil

Taliban rule

Some say that it will be few months before we know what kind of government we will have in Afghanistan. However, we already know what to expect from examining their ideological position and their track record twenty plus years ago.

From 1996 to September  2001, the country was under the rule of Taliban and they had renamed it the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.’ But, when they were defeated in 2001, the name was changed from the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ to the ‘Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’. The constitution of this ‘republic’ followed the basics of modern constitutions, but with the proviso that “all laws must be in accordance with the Islamic Sharia.” We note that Nations Online gives a rather positive description of the form of government before the Taliban reconquest:

“Afghanistan’s current constitution is considered one of the most democratic in the Islamic world. Since the adoption of the constitution in 2004, Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a presidential government system. The National Assembly (parliament) is the Legislature of Afghanistan, a bicameral body of two houses: the Wolesi Dschirga (House of the People) and the Meschrano Dschirga (House of the Elder). Head of state and the head of government is the President.”

Since the reconquest on 15 August 2021, the Taliban renamed it again restoring it back to the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’.

What is an Islamic Emirate?

An Emirate is a territory that is ruled by an Emir/Prince of the faithful Muslims—more specifically by Emir Al-Mu’mineen (Commander of the Faithful Muslims). This title is given to a high government official or high military general. The territory that the Emir governs by the Sharia is called an Emirate.

According to the Islamic jurisprudence, the Emir is nominated/chosen by a council of senior scholars of Islam, known as the Shura.

The legitimisation that the Taliban uses to justify its choice of the form of government (i.e. Emirate) is based on the Quranic text: 

“… Legislation (or rule) is not but for Allah …”  Q12:40

“… And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed – then it is those who are the wrongdoers [i.e., the unjust].” Q5:45

“… Those who do not judge according to what Allah has sent down, they are the defiantly disobedient.” Q5:47

But in the emirate — the Emir, the Commander of the faithful, is not in this position through elections, but is chosen by a limited group of Islamic scholars who are qualified to appoint him. They are members of the Shura, meaning the consultative council. In this Shura, there is seniority among the scholars. The top scholars among them are called Ahl Al- Hall Wal Aqd اهل الحل و العقد (Loosing and Binding). This term is used in the political aspects of Islam and refers to those who are qualified to appoint and depose the Emir on behalf of the Ummah (Muslim community).

The Emir has almost absolute executive, legislative, and judicial power and authority. There are NO provisions for ‘accountability’. 

Individual rights and freedoms are subject to the limits of the Sharia as determined by the Emir and the selected Ulama. So basically, he becomes a dictator. His sovereignty is manifested and established through the implementation of the Sharia so that all rights are limited and defined by the Sharia as interpreted by the Emir.

One of the major aspects of the government under the Emirate system is the department called, Al-Amr Bil Maaroof wa An-Nahi ‘an Al-Munkar الامر بالمعروف و النهي عن المنكر (commanding virtue and prohibiting vice).  This department and what it represents permeates throughout the Emirate system as being the main function of the government.

Virtue starts from religious concepts to all other activities: Islam is taught in every stratum of society —  proclaimed, promulgated, and propagated! The finality of Muhammad is paramount, obligating everyone to abide by his Sunnah (example or pattern). For example, Islamic diet is obligated; dress code is imposed, especially on women; opposite sexes cannot be seen together, with total segregation of opposite genders; Tawheed (Islamic form of monotheism) is the basic principle of an Islamic state, etc. 

As for vice, anything that is anti-Islamic is to be shunned, or banned. All Sharia principles are to be upheld and the violators or trespassers of this code will be severely punished publicly. 

Hence the Christian’s gospel cannot be declared, proclaimed or propagated as per Q3:19, “The religion unto Allah is Islam …” and Q3:85, “And whoever desires other than Islām as religion – never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the hereafter, will be among the losers.”

So we see that the fundamental difference between an Islamic Republic and an Emirate is unreconcilable. 

In the Republic the ‘citizens’ are ‘stewards’ of the law, but in the Emirate, they are the instruments of Allah to enforce his laws on Earth in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah with legendary levels of cruelty. Allah says in Surah 24:2 and others, “… and do not let pity for them make you lenient in ‘enforcing’ the law of Allah…”

The Sharia as used and implemented by the Taliban based on their Deobandi beliefs does not stop at a passive Emirate that is inward looking at the local Afghan population, but instead this population is to be considered part and parcel of the global Muslim Ummah and carries the obligation to Islamise non-Muslim communities. So we see, the two pressing questions to ask at this point are:

  1. Will the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan become a base of operation of Jihadist movements like Al-Qaeda or ISIS?
  2. Will it become a base for exporting Islam to non-Muslim societies through immigration?

As the Taliban live by prescription, no matter how savvy and sophisticated they may sound, and by renaming and restoring the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’, according to their beliefs and conviction, the answer to both of the questions above has to be a resounding YES. 

What non-Muslim experts on Islam and even Muslim pundits do not fathom is how these goals are to be accomplished. 

We note for example, that the powerful Taliban Blitzkrieg of the Spring/Summer of 2021, using hardly any advanced weapons, had followed established Islamic Jihad methodologies. This should have been predicted by the intelligence agencies of the West. But they did not predict it. Hence, understanding the ‘how’ is the key to predicting what will happen in the days and years to come.

But more importantly, what remains to be seen, even if our Western apparatus would understand the ‘how’: what will it take to counter this immense force?


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