In 2012, I published a book on religion—The Religion Business: Cashing in on God. In the book, I included the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law as applied in Afghanistan when the Russian invasion force withdrew in ignominy in 1989 and seven years later, the Taliban regained control of the country. The rules were reprinted with permission from pages 247-9 of Khaled Hosseini’s excellent 2007 novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, Bloomsbury Publishing plc, about life for women in Afghanistan in the period 1960–2000. Although a work of fiction, the book is very factual about the laws imposed after the Taliban took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996.
Here are the Taliban’s rules at that time followed by my comments.
Our watan (nation, country) is now known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. These are the laws that we will enforce and you will obey.
- All citizens must pray five times a day. If it is prayer time and you are caught doing something other, you will be beaten
- All men will grow their beards. The correct length is at least one clenched fist beneath the chin. If you do not abide by this, you will be beaten.
- All boys will wear turbans. Boys in grade one through six will wear black turbans, higher grades will wear white. All boys will wear Islamic clothes. Shirt collars will be buttoned.
- Singing is forbidden.
- Dancing is forbidden.
- Playing cards, playing chess, gambling and kite flying are forbidden.
- Writing books, watching films and painting pictures are forbidden.
- If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed.
- If you steal, your hand will be cut off at the wrist. If you steal again, your foot will be cut off.
- If you are not Muslim, do not worship where you can be seen by Muslims. If you do, you will be beaten and imprisoned. If you are caught trying to convert a Muslim to your faith, you will be executed.
- You will stay in your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram (male relative). If you are caught alone on the street you will be beaten and sent home.
- You will not in any circumstance, show your face. You will cover with a burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
- Cosmetics are forbidden.
- Jewellery is forbidden.
- You will not wear charming clothes.
- You will not speak unless spoken to.
- You will not make eye contact with men.
- You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
- Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
- Women are forbidden from working.
- If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.
Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allahu-Akbar (God is Great).
Quite apart from the pettiness of some of these laws—‘don’t keep parakeets’ and ‘no kite flying’, for example—they go right to the heart of extreme Islam. The general aim is to subjugate and control the population, governing through fear and dogma. But for women, they go several steps further, advocating total subservience—no education, no job, no dressing up—and making no allowance for any who are not Muslim.
This is one of the major reasons why thousands of Afghans are now massing at Kabul airport, frantically attempting to leave their country of birth. Those who don’t or can’t leave Afghanistan face a life under these rules—a return to medieval barbarity (beatings, physical mutilation, public execution), subjugation and, with more impact on girls and women than on boys and men, control by religious extremists.