Afghanistan is a country divided into many tribal and ethnic groups. One aspect of life which unites almost all Afghanis, however, is the religion of Islam. Although there are sectarian differences, and variations in the practice of the religion, Afghanis are virtually all Muslims. There are only a few pockets in major cities of Hindus and Sikhs who came as traders. Thus, understanding Afghanistan today means looking at the religion of Islam, both in theory and in the way it is practiced in the country.
This of course, was not always the case. Afghanistan has been one of the trading and migration crossroads of Central Asia and has seen Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian kingdoms flourishing in its territory in past centuries. Buddhism in particular left a lasting imprint in the various cave temples and statues scattered throughout the country. The most famous of these relics were the statues at Bamiyan, which were recently blown up by the iconoclastic Taliban government in March 2001. Their rationale, of course, was the Islamic prohibition against graven images; this action which destroyed part of humanity's common heritage, was condemned by Muslim leaders from around the world.
Islam reached Afghanistan as early as 642 A.D., brought by Arab armies intent on conquest. In the Western part of Afghanistan, the princes of Herat and Seistan converted to Islam and their territories were ruled by Arab governors sent by the new Umayyad dynasty. In the east, cites which were conquered by the Arab armies, rose in revolt and returned to their pre-Islamic beliefs once the armies had left. It was not until the 9th and 10th centuries that the eastern area of Afghanistan became firmly Islamic with the conquest by Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, founder of the local Saffarid dynasty in the Seistan, who conquered the rest of the country in the name of Islam. This was followed in 900A.D. with the conquest of Balkh in Northern Afghanistan by the Islamic dynasty of the Samanids who ruled from Bokhara, and the conquest of Ghazni by a Turkish slave general. Ghazni then became one of the great capitals of the Islamic world under the leadership of Sultan Mahmud (known as Mahmud of Ghazni) who made numerous raids into India, returning with much wealth.
Today, over 99% of Afghanis are Muslims. The majority (about 85%) are Sunnis who belong to the Hanafi School of jurisprudence; the remaining 15% are Shi'a, most of whom are Imami with a smaller number of Ismailis. Sufism, the mystic form of Islam, is prominent among both groups.
Islam was begun by the Prophet Mohammad, who lived from 570 A.D. to 632 A.D. He was a member of a caravan merchant family belonging to the Hashimite branch of the Quraysh tribe living in the prosperous town of Mecca, in what is today Saudi Arabia. After marrying a wealthy widow for whom he had worked as a caravan leader and fathering several children (only one of whom, his daughter Fatima, would grow up and produce children), at the age of 40 he began to receive what he interpreted as a series of revelations from God, transmitted to him by the Angel Gabriel. These revelations continued for the next 22 years. They were written down only after his death and constitute the sacred scripture, the Quran (The Recitation). His first convert was his wife, Khadija, who convinced him that these utterances he was hearing were the divine word of God (Allah) and not a sign of madness. Converts grew slowly but, by 622A.D. they had formed a small but influential community in the town of Mecca.
At this time, Arabia was inhabited by many tribes and was a society centered on trade and war among these tribes. Mecca was one of the central cities and markets in the area. However, it had a special role as the home of the sacred Kaaba (a shrine housing many deities) and hence a great pilgrimage center. Moreover, there was a pilgrimage season during which tribes put aside their enmity and competition and gathered in Mecca for religious and social celebrations. Mohammad, convinced that he was speaking for God, denounced polytheism and the thriving pilgrimage business which accounted for much of Mecca's wealth. He accompanied his denunciations with actions, including the destruction of images. Thus, his messages of religious reform threatened the economy of Mecca as well as the political clout of its rulers. Fearing for his life, in 622 he left Mecca and migrated, with a group of followers, to the town of Yathrib, later named Medina, a town which had invited him to establish his community there. This event, known as the Hijra or Migration, denotes the beginning of a Muslim community-state and the Muslim calendar also dates from this year. The Muslim calendar is based on a 354-day lunar year and is not adjusted for the solar year; thus each year is 11 days shorter than the Western solar calendar and 33 Solar years equal 34 years by the Muslim calendar.
Settling in Medina, Prophet Mohammad soon established a flourishing community, and consolidated the political and religious leadership in his own hands. During this time, he engaged in a series of battles, eventually defeating forces sent from Mecca in 630 and returning there in triumph. His return was celebrated by destroying the images in the Kaaba and sanctifying it as a shrine to Islam. The pilgrimage, always an important part of Arabic tribal life, was reinstated and made one of the five pillars of Islam. It was during this time, as well, that Mohammad made many pronouncements regarding political rule, the relation of the state and the economy to each other, the role of the family and of women, the role of the army and how it should behave. Since he was entrusted with political as well as religious rule, many of his revelations deal with these practical issues. It was also during this time that he married a number of women, his first wife, Khadija, having died after 25 years of marriage. Of all his wives, only one, Aisha, was a virgin when he married her.
Prophet Mohammad died in 632 without leaving clear instructions as to who should rule his community after his death. The leaders who had known him banded together and elected one of their own, Abu Bakr, as the first successor or Caliph. Abu Bakr was one of Prophet Mohammad's earliest followers as well as being the father of Aisha, his youngest and favorite wife. Abu Bakr was followed by three other caliphs, all of whom had known Mohammed personally: they are collectively known as the 'rightly guided caliphs" and it is believed that, because of their close connection with Mohammad, they had special understanding of how to rule correctly. However, from the beginning, with the selection of Abu Bakr, a rift occurred among the followers. A minority group felt that the first caliph should be Ali, who was the Prophet's cousin and husband of his daughter Fatima. These supporters of Ali were known as the Party of Ali or Sh'iat-u-Ali (later called Shi'a). Ali became the fourth caliph in 656A.D. but his rule was challenged by relatives of the third caliph, Uthman of the Umayya family. Uthman had been assassinated by community members who were concerned about his nepotism and other actions. Umayya family supporters challenged Ali's rule and elected a rival caliph, Mu'awiyya. They eventually forced Ali to flee Medina and to settle in Iraq with his followers. Ali was assassinated a few years after this and was succeeded by his eldest son, Hasan, who ceded the caliphate to Mu'awiya. This effectively divided the Muslim community into two groups. The majority followed Mu'awiyya as caliph but a minority community remained centered in Iraq around Ali and his descendants. Ali was named the first Imam, Hasan his eldest son the second, and Husayn, his second son as the third Imam. The term Imam indicated that the holder was the spiritual leader of Islam, as contrasted to the more secular title of caliph.
After Mu'awiyya's death, a change took place in the institution of caliph as Mu'awiyya arranged for his son, Yasid, to succeed him, thus effectively ending the free election of caliphs and setting up the first Islamic dynasty, the Umayyad dynasty. Yasid attempted to force Ali's son Husayn to recognize his leadership of the Islamic community. Husayn led a rebellion in 680 against Yasid. He was killed along with many followers in the battle of Karbala in Iraq. Rather than uniting the two groups of Muslims, this battle and Husayn's death marked the permanent division of Islam in the Sunni and Shi'a and ended the period in which the entire Islamic community recognized a single caliph. The battle of Karbala also became a symbol of Shi'a piety and its commemoration the central Shi'a ritual.
Islam means to surrender or submit to the will of God and a Muslim is a person who submits. The tenets of Islam are often referred to as the 5 Pillars, although Jihad (struggle) can be added, making 6 Pillars. In order to become a Muslim all one needs to do is to recite the Shahada or profession of faith: "There is no God but God (Allah means The God) and Mohammad is his Prophet (Messenger)." The Shahada is the first pillar. If one recites this Shahada, with the intent of becoming a Muslim, then one is a Muslim and need not go through any other ceremony or be accepted by anyone. Once one accepts this faith, however, one is bound to follow the other pillars. Muslims believe that Mohammad was the last of a number of prophets sent by God to instruct mankind in the ways that God wants mankind to think and to act. Muslims accept other Biblical figures, such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as previous prophets sent by God. They feel, however, that God's message was corrupted over the centuries and Mohammad was sent to fix these errors and to complete the series of revelations received by Jews and Christians. Thus, Jews and Christians are considered to be "People of the Book" to whom revelations were also given; they have a special relationship to Muslims different from that of people who practice religions that are seen as idolatrous. The Muslims believe that God is distinct and nothing can be associated with him; thus Jesus is a prophet, but not the Son of God.
After Mohammad died, his followers compiled his words and edicts which they believed to come directly from God. This formed the holy scripture, the Quran, believed to be the literal word of God, transmitted through, but not invented, by Mohammad. Muslims often stress that Mohammad was illiterate, to show that he couldn't have composed the Qur'an. His followers also put together records of the Prophet's personal actions and behavior which is called the Sunna (from which the Sunnis take their name, as the group which follows the example of Mohammad). Other sayings and teachings, from Mohammad and from those who followed him during his life, are known as the Hadith (Customs). Together, the Qur'an (the sacred and unchanging word of God) and the Sunna, and the Hadith, constitute a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical and social conduct of life. Islam, therefore, is a system of action as much as a system of belief. Islam is a legalistic religion with God -given laws that apply to all aspects of life. Islam recognizes no distinction between religious and temporal spheres of life, no division between church and state. All human actions are to comply with God's will as made known through the Qur'an, the Sunna of Mohammad, and the Hadith.
Each Muslim, male and female, is equally responsible for carrying out the duties and rituals of the 5 Pillars. The creed, Shahada, should be recited daily, at the end of the daily prayers. Daily prayers, the second pillar, are said 5 times per day: at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall. In Islamic countries, a Muezzin calls the faithful to pray, often from the top of a tower, or Minaret; today, these calls are often recorded and amplified. Prior to worshipping, a Muslim must cleanse him or herself through ritual ablutions using water, or, if water is unavailable, sand or dust. The worshippers face Mecca, the holy city, Mohammad's birthplace and the site of the pilgrimage. Prayers are performed wherever a person is at the proper time; in many Islamic countries, shops close for the prayers. While people can pray in the mosque at any time, the noon-time prayers on Friday are the times when people make a special effort to attend a Mosque; at that time, weekly sermons are often given by religious leaders. Prayers are accompanied by ritual body movements, including genuflections and prostrations, and the words of the prayers are specified. Prayers in which a person seeks guidance or aid, should be offered separately from the daily prayers.
The third pillar is zakat or almsgiving. This is based on the idea that people really don't own things, that God owns everything and people are caretakers or custodians of God's goods. Thus, they must be shared with needy members of the community. Each Muslim must give a percentage of his/her total wealth, about 2 ½-3%, each year in Zakat. This is not seen a charity, but as an obligation. Zakat can be given individually but in many communities, it is collected by local leaders or governments and distributed.
The fourth pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadan. This fast commemorates Prophet Mohammad receiving God's revelation, the Quran. It is also a chance to practice self discipline that leads both to piety and to compassion, understanding how it feels to be poor and hungry. Since all Muslims able to fast do so together, it strengthens the sense of community of believers and the equality of all Muslims. Those who are sick, pregnant, nursing, soldiers on duty, travelers, and young children are exempt from the fast. All others are to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, or having sex from sunrise to sunset for this month. However, this month is often a time of joy and celebration as families gather in the evening to break the fast together. The month ends with a three day feast, Id al Fitr, which is the occasion for new clothes, feasts and family visits.
The twelfth month of the year is the time for the 5th pillar, the hajj or pilgrimage. At some time during their lives, all Muslims, both men and women, should make the pilgrimage to Mecca if they are physically and financially able to do so. The pilgrimage lasts several days, and involves a series of rituals in and around Mecca (non-Muslims are not allowed in this holy city), including worship at the Kaaba, and ceremonies at places associated with Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) and his son Ismail. The pilgrimage stresses the unity and equality of the worldwide Muslim community. Returning pilgrims are called Haji, and enjoy a respected status in their home communities. The Hajj ends with a feast of sacrifice, Id al Adha; the meat is shared with friends and neighbors.
Sometimes, Jihad, or the struggle for the triumph of God's word on earth is called a sixth pillar. This concept is often called the holy war, both among non-Muslims and among Muslim groups, especially extremist groups. Its basic sense, however, means the struggle of people to live a virtuous life, overcoming their own passions and difficulties to follow Islam. In addition to these specific duties, Muslims are to follow an ethical code which encourages generosity, fairness, honesty, tolerance, and service to benefit the Islamic community. It forbids aggressive, but not defensive warfare, robbery and lying. The Islamic code also gives explicit guidance on family relations, and forbids adultery, gambling, usury and the consumption of carrion, blood, pork and alcohol.
Since Islam is a religion that regulates all aspects of life, and recognizes no difference between the religious and the secular, it developed legal systems, called the Shariah, to put the ideas and beliefs of Islam into practice. Of course, many situations arose which had not been covered in the Quran, the Sunna and the Hadith. How to solve these problems, how to decide the correct way, was the basis of the legal systems and the reason for the development of the four accepted law schools. Essentially the law was developed by various learned judges and scholars (called the ulama) who tried to figure out the will of God. Problems were solved using four methods: reliance on the Quran and the Hadith, analogical reasoning (i.e. trying to find a similar situation) and consensus. However, by the 11th century, the majority of scholars felt that the "door of reasoned interpretation (ijtihad) of the Qur'an had closed" and the individual scholars no longer had the right to make their own independent interpretations of the Shariah (Law) in Sunni Islam. Thus, Sunni law became quite inflexible and still finds it difficult to deal with new and unforeseen situations. Shia law, on the other hand, is much more flexible and allows the use of ijtihad. Today, many Sunni scholars argue that ijtihad needs to be used again; this is one reason for the great differences found between Islamic scholars and societies today.
The division of Islam into the two sects: Sunni and Shia, began with political dispute over who had the right to succeed Mohammad and shape the community. However, these differences gradually assumed both theological and metaphysical overtones. The massacre of the third Imam, Husayn, was seen by his followers to be in part their fault as they had not rallied to support him. This guilt at their failure and the martyrdom of Husayn thus represents to the Shia both the illegitimacy of calliphal rule, and their own failure to bring about an end to this rule. This guilt has been passed down to all Shia followers to this day and is worked out at the annual commemoration ceremonies for Husayn.
The Sunni see themselves as the "Orthodox" followers of Mohammad, as the community of believers focused around the beliefs and actions of the Quran. They stress the community of all believers, and have no clerical hierarchy; each individual is in a personal relationship to God and needs no intermediary of any kind. They feel that only Mohammad received the word of God and thus all believers now have the ability to interpret and apply God's word. Thus, while the caliph was the political ruler he was not a priest and had no more legitimacy in applying the ideas of the Qu'ran and of Mohammad, than did anyone else. Any adult male who knows the forms of prayers can lead them and men are chosen to lead prayers by their knowledge and scholarship. A series of schools of interpretation arose in Sunni Islam, based on how to interpret and apply the Quran to new situations and to everyday life. These divided into four "schools of law" and, by the 9th century, these had become recognized as 4 legitimate interpretations of the ideals and laws of Islam. Which school a person followed, while theoretically a matter of choice, generally came down to the areas and country in which a person lived as rulers in each country adopted one or another of these schools. The school most prevalent in Afghanistan is the Hanafi School.
The Hanafi school was one of the earliest schools of Islamic jurisprudence founded. The founder was Abu Hanifa who lived in Iraq and died in 767A.D. He tried to seek new ways of applying Islamic tenets to everyday life and separated belief from practice, elevating belief over practice. He established the tradition of using analogical reasoning in interpreting the Qur'an (Qiyas), and in using the consensus of the scholars or religious leaders as evidence of the will of God (ijma). Thus he set up the basic four ways of deciding legal cases: the Qur'an, the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith), Qiyas, and Ijma. He also allowed local custom as a secondary source of law; thus, his school can be liberal in allowing different kinds of practice of Islam. This is one reason why Afghanistan has such good relations with the mystical Islamic order, the Sufis, who were often persecuted in other areas for unorthodox practice.
The Shia disagreed with the Sunni interpretation of Islam and felt that the blood relatives and descendants of Mohammad continued to have special powers to interpret God's will and they could not be mistaken. Thus, the true successor to Mohammad was his cousin, Ali, and the previous 3 caliphs were interlopers. This belief is seen in the Shi'a Shahada (Profession of Faith) which adds the phrase, "and Ali is the Saint of God" at the end of the Profession "There is no God but God and Mohammad is the Prophet of God." The blood relatives of Mohammad were called Imams and were seen as the only legitimate rulers of Muslims and the only ones who could interpret and apply the Qur'an. The first successor to Mohammad was Ali, followed by his sons and grandsons; soon the belief developed that Imams had existed since the beginning of time. The Imamate came to be seen as a gift from God to humanity, so that the Imam is both a guide to humans and a Sign from God; human history has always had, and always will have, an Imam. The first Imam was Adam, Mohammad was an Imam as were Moses, Jesus, and other prophets. The Imans were a light created before the creation which was embodied in each Imam and thus the Imams have secret knowledge of God, are appointed by God and are the most perfect of humans, being free from all sin. Thus, only the Imam can interpret the Qu'ran and only his decrees are without error. However, a problem developed as the Shia were persecuted by the Sunni Caliphs and several of the Imam were slain. Thus, the 12th Imam disappeared as a child. The majority of Shia believe that he hid himself away to escape persecution and was thus "hidden' (or "occulted") and is still alive on earth, waiting for the proper time to return and restore Shi'a to its proper place as the universal religion of God. These Shi'a are known as the "twelver" or Imami Shi'a and constitute the largest group and the most prominent in Afghanistan.
There are several other groups of Shi'a, which became important in history as several Shi'a dynasties ruled at different times and one other group of Shi'a is found in Afghanistan. this is a very small group called the Ismailis. The name comes from the 7th Imam (about whom there was a dispute as he died prior to having a son; this group felt that the line of Imams ended with Ismail and refused to accept that his younger brother was the next Imam. They are sometimes called the "Seveners" as they recognize 7 Imams. The Ismailis themselves divided into several groups (the most famous in European history is that which settled around the "Old man in the Mountains" who headed the "Assassins" which became notorious during the Crusades). The group that exists in small numbers in Afghanistan today consists of those who recognize the authority of the Aga Khan as their leader; they have close connections with other Ismalis in India and Pakistan who also recognize the Aga Khan's authority. In Afghanistan, these communities are generally quite poor and are not well regarded by the other Shi'a. The leader, called the pir, is followed unconditionally by the other members of the sect.
The Sufis are the mystical branch of Islam but they are not separate from the Sunni and Shi'a sects. Sufis belong to one or the other of these groups, mostly commonly the Sunnis as Shi'a is already quite mystical. While Sufis arose soon after the founding of Islam, and one of the greatest of the Sufi saints, the female saint, Ra'bia, lived in the 8th century, the great Sufi brotherhoods (tariqa) were not established until the 12th century. Essentially Sufis were disillusioned in the search for Truth by mainstream Islam with its rituals and laws regulating conduct. The Sufis want a more personal connection with God and thus seek to feel an ecstatic awareness of the presence of God. They use a variety of methods, including meditation, recitation of sacred phrases, breathing exercises, dancing, hymn singing, music, and physical movements.
The word Sufi comes from the word suf, Arabic for wool, and refers to the simple garments worn by the Sufis, who eschewed worldly goods. Sufi religious life centers around a learned religious leader or spiritual guide called a shaykh (pir in Persian) whose teachings guide students along the path that leads each to his/her own moments of intimacy with God. Relationships between the master and disciples are very close and many Sufi shaykhs had large numbers of followers. Often the centers of Sufi activity in which the brotherhoods lived and studied became popular social and cultural community centers which provided medical, education and welfare service for the surrounding community. These centers often became wealthy due to gifts from pilgrims and from endowments given by members and their families; in addition to providing social services they often acquired social and political power and were seen as threatening the established religious system. Consequently, Sufis were at times viewed as heretical by the Orthodox ulama (scholars and judges) and were persecuted; over time, they came to be tolerated as long as they lived by the Shariah laws of the land.
In addition to the practices described above, Sufis are famous for describing their personal experience in poetry and Sufi poetry is world famous. There are several acclaimed Afghan Sufi poets including Ansari (11th century) and Jami (15th century) both from Heart, Sanayi of Chazni (a12th century) and Rumi of Balkh (13th Century.) Rumi is also the founder of the order of whirling dervishes, and his poem, Mathnawi, is considered by many to be the greatest poem ever written in Persian.
Sufis are very important in Afghanistan, especially among the middle classes of larger villages, towns and cities and there is little hostility between the ulama (Sunni religious scholars) and the Sufi orders. In fact, many of the Sufi leaders are considered to be ulama themselves; Sufis are respected for learning and for possessing psychic spiritual power conferred upon them by God. They are also seen as more impartial than the mullahs (local religious leaders who are often not well educated) who often inflame minor tribal differences and thus are often called upon as adjudicators in the tribal disputes so frequent in Afghanistan.
Three different Sufi orders are prominent in Afghanistan and play an important role in present-day Afghanistan. The Naqshbandiya, centered around their school in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, are linked with the Mujaddedi family, leader of the mujahidin Jabha-I Nejat-I Melli party; the leader of this group, Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, served for two months as the first acting president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, established in April, 1992. The Qadiriya's headquarters are in Jalalabad and their leader, Ahmad Gailani is the leader of the mujahidin Mahaz-i Melli Islami Party. The Cheshtiya order, centered in the Hari Rud valley have kept aloof from politics, except in their own areas where they organized resistance against Russian occupation.
Until the end of the 19th century, Islam was seldom
used in a political way in Afghanistan and while Shariah courts
existed in urban centers in the 18th and 19th centuries, most
disputes and crimes were judged by the traditional tribal code
known as the Pushtunwali.
Amir Abdur Rahman, at the end of the 19th century used Islam in his attempt to unify the tribes of Afghanistan and decreed that all laws must comply with Islamic law, thus elevating the Shariah over customary tribal law. While this initially enhanced the role of the religious community leaders, as they became servants of the state, their religious role and function was weakened. Abdur Rahman's policies of secularization and unification continued; Islam remained central to the state but the religious establishment functioned as a moral rather than as a political influence. However, at times of crisis, Islamic groups rose up to challenge the secular state, especially reforms they considered to be Western intrusions opposed to the spirit of Islam.
While the 1931 Constitution had made the Hanafi Shariah the state law, this was changed in the 1964 Constitution which simply stated that the state should conduct its religious ritual according to the Hanafi School. The 1977 constitution declared Islam the religion of Afghanistan, but made no mention of the Hanafi ritual. The 1976 Penal Law Code and the Civil Law code of 1977 mandated that judges first use secular law in judging disputes and only appeal to Shariah law in cases not covered by the secular law. In 1978, the government of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan, established a secular state; this precipitated the nascent Islamist movement into a national revolt; Islam moved to the center of the power struggle.
As is common with the Islamist movements in other countries, the Afghanistan movement began among teachers and students in the universities. The liberalization of government laws and attitudes after the passage of the 1964 constitution, sparked reactions among students at Kabul University, both communist and Muslim. The Muslim Youth Organization set up in the mid 1960s soon gained support of the majority of students in Kabul and at other universities. These members became the leaders of the Afghan Resistance to Soviet occupation in the 1980s. With the takeover of the government by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan in April 1978, Islam became the common ground of those opposed to the Communist rule. The leaders of the opposition, the mujahidin were charismatic figures with a combination of religious and political followers. While these leaders had ties to specific regions, sects, ethnic or tribal groups, their rise to power was facilitated by their ties to foreign aid which contributed money and arms in the struggle against Soviet occupation.
The mujahdin were successful in the jihad against Soviet forces, but were never able to construct a modern political system based on Islam. The mujahidin leaders used traditional patterns of power, becoming new khans (warlords) or trying to adapt modern political structures to their tribal societies. Wealth, contributed by foreign aid, became the determinant of power. They united sufficiently to declare the birth of the Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1992. However, once the Soviets were gone, the foreign aid upon which they depended dried up and the government and military fought among themselves: extortion, kidnapping, burglary, hijacking, harassment, rape and drug trafficking increased.
This led to the emergence of a Muslim "student militia" in the fall of 1994 who vowed to end these abuses and to create a "pure" Islamic state based on their own interpretations of the Shariah. While many leaders of the Taliban (Seekers of Islam) were former mujahidin, their forces consisted mainly of young Afghan refugees trained in Pakistani madrassas (religious schools) run by very conservative Pakistan Muslims. With their headquarters in Kandahar, the Taliban swept the country, taking Kabul in 1996. The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until overthrown by American and allied forces in 2002, began by making Afghanistan safer and ending some of the previous abuses. However, their interpretations of Shariah became increasingly restrictive and aroused much opposition. Their policies of public executions, stoning for adultery, and amputation for theft; a ban on gambling, kite flying, chess; the prohibition of music and videos and pictures of humans and animals; of forcing men to grow beards; and of course, their restrictions against women, forcing complete veiling, dismissing them from work, shutting women's schools, and forcing them to remain at home, were condemned by many in Afghanistan. Many Afghanis, both rural and urban considered the Taliban Shariah laws as foreign deviations, opposed to Afghani Islam which has always stressed moderation, tolerance, dignity, individual choice and egalitarianism. Since the fall of the Taliban, different interpretations of Islam have again surfaced.
An excellent Web site with links to many articles on aspects of Islam is: The University of Georgia's Islam and Islamic Studies Resources
A good site for a discussion of women's issues, including the situation of women in Afghanistan today, is the Muslim Women's league of the US