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What is Sharia Law and How Does it Affect Women?

Sharia law women
The Taliban is once again imposing its interpretation of the Islamic Sharia Law across Afghanistan. Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Taliban, a militant Islamist group in Afghanistan, have seized control of the country as the United States and its allies evacuate its troops from the region. A core dimension of the Taliban is its implementation of its own interpretation of Sharia law — a legal system derived from the Quran, the holy book of the Islamic religion.

The Quran is the compass of morality for Muslims, but when an aspect of life is not covered clearly in the Quran, Islamic religious leaders have free reign to determine how it should be addressed — which can lead to strict and divergent enforcements of Sharia law.

Sharia law can guide activities of all different scales in a Muslim’s life: from determining whether to drink alcohol to adjudicating financial, business, and familial disagreements.

Sharia is contextual and can take various forms specific to the five different schools of Islamic law: the four Sunni schools, Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanafi, and the single Shia school, Jaafari. Sharia is as complex and procedural as any other legal system: jurists determine cases with Fatwas, an equivalent to rulings.

While Sharia mostly spans moral and ethical behavior surrounding one’s spiritual commitment to Islam, it can also be used to rule on crimes. In Sharia law there are two different types of offenses: “hadd” offenses, major crimes that come with predetermined penalties, and “tazir” crimes, where the judge is given the responsibility of interpreting and determining the punishment.

The Taliban has brutally enforced Sharia law by publicly executing convicted adulterers and murderers.

The Taliban’s take on Sharia law is notoriously harsh for women

In early July, Taliban leaders who took control of the provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar issued an order to local religious leaders to provide them with a list of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 for “marriage” with Taliban fighters. It’s not yet known whether they have complied.

If these forced marriages take place, women and girls will be taken to Waziristan in Pakistan to be re-educated and converted to “authentic Islam”– the Taliban’s warped take on Sharia law.

This order has caused profound fear among women and their families living in these areas and forced them to flee and join the ranks of internally displaced persons, adding to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan. In the past three months alone, 900,000 people have been displaced.

Reminiscent of brutal Taliban rule

This Taliban directive serves as a stark warning of what lies ahead and a harsh reminder of their brutal 1996-2001 regime during which women were subjected to persistent human rights violations, denied employment and education, forced to wear the burqa and forbidden from leaving home without a male “guardian” or mahram.

Despite claiming they’ve changed their stance on women’s rights, the Taliban’s actions and latest efforts to commit thousands of women to sexual slavery demonstrate quite the opposite.

Furthermore, the Taliban have signaled their intention to deny girls’ education past the age of 12, to ban women from employment and reinstate the law requiring women to be accompanied by a guardian.

The gains made by Afghan women over the past 20 years, particularly in education, employment and political participation, are under grave threat.

Offering “wives” is a strategy aimed at luring militants to join the Taliban. This is sexual enslavement, not marriage, and forcing women into sexual slavery under the guise of marriage is both a war crime and a crime against humanity. Article 27 of the Geneva Convention states:

“Women must be especially protected against any attack on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any other form of indecent assault.”

In 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 declaring that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity.” It recognizes sexual violence as a tactic of war intent on humiliating, dominating and instilling fear in civilian members of the community.

How some regions of Afghanistan are resisting the Taliban’s version of Sharia law

While the Taliban’s siege of Afghanistan has been swift and almost all-encompassing, some regions of the country are mounting resistances to the militant group — especially against their form of Sharia law.

Ahmad Massoud of Panjshir, a valley in north-central Afghanistan, has led the resistance against the Taliban in his region 25 years after his father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, fought the group during their rise to power in 1996.

His uncle, Ahmad Wali Massoud — the brother of the elder Massoud — spoke to Newsweek about the younger Massoud’s fight to limit the Taliban’s Sharia law in Afghanistan:

“If the Taliban wants to have a Sharia law, their own interpretation of Sharia, they can do so where people are accepting them,” he said. “But they should not impose it in cities like Kabul. Or if Kabul has something like democracy election, human rights, women’s rights, media freedom, then they should not impose on the Taliban either.”

Wali Massoud believes that the government in Afghanistan should be decentralized and determined by the different ethnicities specific to each region of the sprawling, divided country. He and his family are opposed to national rule in Afghanistan.

“The structure of the power should be as such, and in a decentralized way, that every ethnicity can reach an inclusive government so that it could represent all the ethnicities of Afghanistan,” said Massoud.




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