By: Ahmad Shams
I had a dream of becoming a physician one day, my dream was inspired by the devastation and pain of a war that I grew up in. As a child born into a ruthless war, all I wanted was to heal the wounds of humanity in Afghanistan and save precious lives. On the morning of my final exam, I was really excited as I thought I had finally achieved my goal. I slept very little the night before because this final day was really important for me. When I made my way to the university, a nightmare, one of my worst nightmares, was waiting for me. A right to higher education had been officially abolished in 2022, Afghanistan, by the orders of the Taliban. These are the words of a female medical student residing in Kabul. There are thousands like her who were deprived of their basic human right to education by the Taliban regime. The group is notoriously known for its abuse of women rights in the past. Some people believed that the two decades long war had reformed the Taliban. Even the US administration reached an agreement with them in Qatar, in the name of peace. All this happened, besides the famous US narrative of ‘no negotiations with the terrorists.’ Qatar, which served as the recent FIFA World Cup venue, also hosted both the Taliban and the US officials for years during the so called peace talks that led to the Doha peace deal. If peace translates to safety and security, freedom of movement, educational and professional opportunities for women, Afghanistan is far from it. As per the Taliban, Islamic teachings does not allow women to intermingle with men or to attend schools, universities and bars them from any leading roles in the society. To the Taliban women are merely created to provide services to their husbands and bear children for them. This piece is aimed to dissect the Taliban argument in the light of the Holy Quran only, which is the base of Sharia law and no other example will be given either from the Sunnah or the hadith.
Upon reading the Quranic scripture one cannot deny that not only the Quran holds women in high esteem but also testifies to their magnificent contribution to the history of our planet. The Book asserts that the progeny of humans starts with Adam and his spouse being created around the wet soil by the sea in the beginning, but as one reads further into the chapters, one finds that creation begins for the second time, this time independent of a man, in the womb of Marry the mother of Christ. Furthermore, the author of the scripture seems to have an immaculate understanding of the science of sociology in forming a thriving society. This is evident from the following Quranic verse. “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.”[9:71] The subject matter of this specific Quranic verse is the necessity of a working relationship between a Muslim man and a Muslim woman for the prosperity of a society. It seems that the author understands that for any human society to thrive, it is essential that both men and women cooperate towards that goal. The said verse stresses the importance of an active dialogue between the two genders. If one takes women out of this equation it would not only render the verse meaningless but also makes it practically useless. For men and women to call each other towards good and forbid evil, an undeviating engagement between them is inevitable. Unlike the Taliban, the Quran does not believe in segregation of genders in any society.
The Holy Quran claims that Islam has been the only religion acceptable to God and every prophet that came after Adam was of the same religion. Muslim scholars across the planet in every day and age has testified to this fact, in the words of Quran “Indeed, religion in the sight of Allah is Islam.”[3:19] This verse implies that all the prophets mentioned in the Quran were indeed proponents of the same faith and their treatment of women both Muslims and non-Muslim is far from the conduct women receives from the Taliban. For instance, Taliban believe that women cannot leave their homes without a male companion and cannot partake in any employment without being accompanied to their work place by a male companion. In their argument, they turn a blind eye to the Quran and also to the miseries of those Afghan families who are left with no male bread winner due to the decades long war. In the chapter called Ta’ha, the author of the Quran Identifies sending a revelation to the mother of Moses, in the words of Quran “ And we revealed to the mother of Moses, suckle him: but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve.” [7:28] Further in the story, Moses’s sister, accompanies his casket to the palace of the Pharaoh, walking alongside the river all by herself with no mention of any male companion by her side. Quran portrays Pharaoh of the time, as one of the greatest enemies of God. However, Quran also narrates an interesting story of Moses’s mother taking employment at the palace of the same Pharaoh, to feed the Pharaoh’s adopted son. The Quran applauses the wife of Pharaoh and presents her as an example of righteousness to all the believers of all ages, for all genders in the following words ‘‘And Allah presents an example to those who believed: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said My lord built for me near You a house in paradise and save me from Pharaoh and his deeds and save me from the wrong doing people.” [66:11]
In undermining or rather damaging the Quranic narrative, the Taliban argument further stretches to a point where the group proclaims that no woman or man can even engage in a conversation if they are not family. This too, is a concept alien to the Quran. In the chapter called Al-Qasas, Quran illustrates a simple yet profound example of human values of compassion, charity and kindness, as the story of Moses unfolds. In the words of Quran ‘‘And when arrived at the spring of Midian, he found there a crowd of people watering their flocks, and he found aside from them two women driving their flocks back. He asked the women: ‘‘what is it that troubles you?’’ they said: ‘‘we cannot water our flocks until the shepherds take their flocks away, and our father is a very old man.” ‘ On hearing this Moses watered their flocks for them.” [28:23-24] in these verses a Prophet of God has encountered two stranger young women in trouble, He approaches them, engages them in a gentle conversation and helps them out of their unpleasant situation. Later in the story, these women come back to Moses and invite him to their home on the instructions of their father Shoaib (also a Prophet). Moses later marries one of these girls. Unlike the Quran, In the Taliban rule, no women can take up such a public employment as the daughters or wives of the Prophets did to help their families or hold a conversation with a stranger. In fact, both the women and Moses would have been persecuted if the incident had taken place in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
These illustrations are not exceptional or one-off events discussed in the Quran but it seems like the norm. The Quran has a whole chapter dedicated to a woman named ‘Mariam’ or Mary the mother of Jesus Christ. Another fascinating feature that can be found in the Book, is Allah’s direct revelations upon a woman, just like the revelations were made to the prophets. In the Quranic words “And mention when the angels said ‘‘O Mariam, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified and chosen you above the women of the worlds.”[3:42] The Quran identifies that Allah has been sending revelations to Mariam on more than one occasion. At one point God directs Mariam to get away from the society all alone, in order to give birth to Jesus, who would lay the foundations of Christianity. Another interesting story in that regard is narrated by one of the most prominent scholars of Quranic tafsir, Ibn kathir. In the tafsir of Surah Ibrahim, He notes, that Abraham takes his wife Hajar and his new born son Ismael to a barren valley with no signs of life, water or cultivation, a barren desert and by the will of God leave them in isolation with no human in sight, let alone a male companion. As their water reserves dries out the young Ismael starts crying and his mother runs between the two hills of Swafa and Marwa repeatedly seven times in search of water or seeking help. To honor her plight, the author of Quran makes it mandatory upon all genders of believers to walk between these two hills seven times during their journeys to the Hajj or Umrah (lesser pilgrimage).
In the Chapter called Al Naml the Quran sets up another great example of an empowered and enlightened woman, a woman holding a ruling position of a Queen, in the Quran she is known as a sovereign ruler of the people and land of Sheba. Rather than condemning her leadership, as the Taliban would have, the Quran glorifies her character and wisdom and might that she held in her lands. This gripping narration unfolds the diplomatic relations between a Prophet of God who is also a great King and the non-believing Queen of a non-believing nation. King Sulayman writes a letter to the Queen inviting her to Islam and later as a sovereign ruler and an Imperial guest to his kingdom.
It is evident from all these Quranic examples that, unlike the Taliban regime, Quran believes in equality of opportunities from all genders. In the Quran, women can take up employment, travel alone, hold open conversations with other genders, work alongside men, call all genders to the path of righteousness, be sovereign monarchs and hold administrative positions. Quran seems to believe that no society can flourish without empowering its women and treating them as equal human beings. If the Taliban or any other faction do not allow women to enjoy all the rights the Quran has given them, then they are nothing but an anti-thesis of the Holy Quran.
Author: Ahmed Shams
Currently studying the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law in Manchester. He has an
LLB (Bachelor of Law) degree from the University of London, LLM (International Business
Law) degree from Queen Mary University of London.
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