Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Taliban Bans Women from Universities: Why it’s not Surprising

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam 21 December 2022 Muslims Need To Question the Theology from Which Such Ideas Spring Up Main Points: 1. Yesterday, the Taliban barred women in Afghanistan from accessing higher education 2. It is now increasingly clear that the notion of a good Taliban was a chimera 3. Such regressive ideas about springs from Islamic jurisprudence 4. Deoband in India, from where the Taliban derives its inspiration, also holds similar views regarding women 5. Without questioning the dominant Islamic theology, a resistance against such antediluvian ideas cannot be mounted ----- Female students in front of the Kabul Education University ---- When time to withdraw the American-led forces came close in Afghanistan, we started hearing about ‘good Taliban’, though that was not for the first time. We were told that Taliban 2.0 was different from its earlier version, that the ‘new version’ was reformed and hence sensitive towards the question of women’s dignity and empowerment. The gender question became important in Afghanistan because under the earlier Taliban regime, women were restricted to their homes, and their education and employment was deemed as satanic. In the interregnum, when the US-led forces overthrew the Talibs, women gained some ground they had lost during the Islamist rule. They were allowed to go back to schools and universities and many gained employment and public visibility. The new version of the Taliban, which came to power in 2021, promised to keep these gains and not go back to their antediluvian ways. The western world agreed. Not because they necessarily believed in the Taliban but because the pressure to withdraw was so much that they readily accepted whatever the new regime was offering. For some months, the Taliban kept their promise but eventually the Islamists within them started putting curbs on women. After all, the women’s question is fundamental to any Islamists politics. A sophisticated body of Islamic jurisprudence deals with women’s place in society and it was only a matter of time when the Taliban would renege on its promise. We now understand that their promise of protecting women’s freedom was just a sham. The mediatized creation of the ‘good Taliban’ was a myth that no one believed in. In the end, it is the women of Afghanistan who are bearing the brunt of this so-called Islamic revolution. The method was for all to see. The Taliban has been putting curbs on women’s freedom ever since they came to power. In March this year, they barred girls above sixth grade to access schools. The schools did eventually open but only after the Taliban had made ‘suitable changes’ like segregated classrooms. Then in May 2022, they ordered girls and women to cover up in a Chadori (head to toe Burqa) which they thought was ‘traditional and respectful’. Women could not show their faces in public and in case of any infringement, the regime decided to punish the closest male relative of the women. They were to be fined or even fired from government service if ‘their women’ went without the Chadori. It should have become clear by now that for the Taliban, women were the property of men (fathers and husbands) and that’s why they sought to punish men for not keeping their women in control. Women protested, which is a rarity in that country, but the protest was brutally broken up by the regime in August this year. They were demanding the right to education and employment, which should automatically come to them as citizens. But not in Afghanistan, because the regime never thought of them as citizens but merely appendages to men. In the meantime, the Taliban continued restricting women from public spaces. Female students at the American University of Afghanistan ----- The latest in the series of restrictions announced yesterday is that women will not be allowed to access universities, which closes the avenues of higher education and any future employment for them. This is not a temporary measure as the regime has not given any time frame after which women will be allowed back into higher education. They have not cited any reason except that it is being done in ‘national interest’ and for ‘women’s honour’. Probably for the first time, we have an articulation of national interest without the interest of women involved and women being honoured by being debarred from universities. It's clear that only fools really believed in the promise of a ‘good Taliban’. Only the gullible thought that the regime had the capacity to reform itself. The Taliban wants us to believe that there are other pressing issues plaguing the country such as food shortages and a collapsing economy that demand more attention. These issues do exist, but many a times citing their primacy acts as a deflection from the women’s question, which should not be any less important than reviving the economy. The reaction to this regressive move will be condemnation from international quarters, particularly the western world. But then the Taliban know that such sanctimonious condemnations will not have any bearing on them. Till the time there is any real pressure brought on the regime, nothing much is going to change in terms of how they treat their women. But why is the Taliban depriving its women of fundamental rights to education? Where does this belief that women’s rightful place is within the home come from? To understand this, we have to get into Islamic theology and jurisprudence, which treats women as nothing more than an appendage of men. The Taliban springs from the ideology of Deoband. In 2010, the famous madrasa at Deoband issued a fatwa debarring Muslim women from working in government or private sectors. The fatwa read: “It is unlawful for Muslim women to do job in the government or private institutions where men and women work together and women have to talk with men frankly and without the veil.” Now one can certainly put a spin by saying that the fatwa does not debar women from working but only wants them to be properly veiled (including the face) and not talk to men “frankly”. The problem is that this fatwa puts a majority of work situations outside the pale of women since most spaces today are mixed. If one follows the spirit of this fatwa, then the only working spaces left for them would be teaching all-women classes or giving gender segregated training in fields like pickle making, etc. And that’s precisely the problem: Deoband and its attendant theology treats women as lesser human beings who are neither fit nor competent to work alongside men. To make things clearer, here is another gem of a fatwa from Deoband issued in 2008: “It is not a good thing for women to do jobs in offices. They will have to face strange men (non-Mahram), though in veil. She will have to talk and deal with each other which are the things of Fitna (evil). A father is committed to provide maintenance to his daughter and a husband is asked to provide maintenance to his wife. So, there is no need for women to do jobs which always pose harms (sic) and mischief.” The fatwa underlines the thought process, and makes it clear that women do not have any independent volition under the Islamic law. According to this idea, since men are the providers, women should always be under the custody of men. To some extent, it seems the Islamic law also treats women primarily as sex objects, whose presence can corrupt or entice men. Why else would women become a source of Fitna simply because she is interacting with men? The Taliban are only being true to what they were taught in their Deobandi madrasas. They are only implementing what they think is the divine ruling on how women should be treated. If we are really concerned about the plight of women in Afghanistan, let’s question the theology from which it derives its legitimacy. Any other attempt to understand the plight of Afghan women will be an exercise in pure deception. ----- A regular contributor to, Arshad Alam is a New Delhi based independent researcher and writer on Islam and Muslims in South Asia. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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