Islam provides women with education rights, financial independence, unilateral divorce, and guarantees their dignity, and the Taliban should follow these principles if they are sincere.
After the culmination of the United States' longest war, Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15. As a result, Biden faced the Saigon moment – with diplomats being airlifted out of the US Embassy – while many Afghans were likewise desperate to escape the country. On the other side, the Taliban tried to project a more tolerant attitude, unlike during their previous rule between 1996 and 2001.
To strike a moderate tone, the Taliban vowed to respect women “within the framework of Islamic law.” During their past governance, women had been suspended from work and girls were banned from school. Gender apartheid was codified. Naturally, people have had their reservations concerning recent promises given such a background.
But what does “within the framework of Islamic law” mean exactly?
Initial thoughts will likely revolve around modern-day patriarchal heaven that would not go amiss in a Hollywood movie. Regrettably, this comes from a lack of nuance and misunderstanding of the relationship between Islam and women.
From a religious perspective, the Prophet Muhammed says, "Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim." Today, 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are out of school, and 60 percent of them are girls. Moreover, while both partners should be free to ask for a divorce, the man-favoured system impedes Afghan women from exercising that right. The Quran also teaches that a woman has a right to work and keep her earnings. Still, the number of working women in Afghanistan for 2019 is 22 percent. Furthermore, the World Health Organization reveals that almost 90 percent of the women in the country were exposed to at least one form of violence. What happened to “paradise lies under the feet of mothers''?
This hypocrisy and the colonialist interference in the region have led to Morton’s fork situation for the women. When the Taliban talks about religious rules, the world seamlessly accepts their Islamic narrative. Subsequently, the image of an abandoned and to-be-protected Muslim woman conveniently remerges. As she is now in danger, her only salvation became another holier-than-thou.
The European Parliament stated that "For Afghan women and girls, this means systemic and brutal oppression in all aspects of life." Meanwhile, Greece completed its 40-km fence border with Turkey to prevent a possible migration wave. And Estonia, for its part, is ready to accept a whopping30 Afghan refugees.
Between the devil and the deep blue sea
In a similar vein, former US President George Bush criticized Joe Biden for the withdrawal, remarking that Afghan women and girls could "suffer unspeakably hard at the hands of the Taliban." That is ironic, keeping in mind his "war on terror" that killed more than 47,000 Afghan civilians (including women). Twenty years back, then-first lady Laura Bush said in a radio address that "the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women." Fast forward to now and there are bodies falling from planes trying to flee Kabul and Afghan women are at the bottom of the global gender gap report.
Now comes the White Feminism issue. In her recent book 'Against White Feminism,' Rafia Zakaria, an attorney and author, defines a White feminist as someone who "refuses to consider the role that whiteness and the racial privilege attached to it have played and continue to play in universalizing white feminist concerns, agendas, and beliefs as being those of all feminism and all feminists." At some point, the perception of a needy woman becomes more important than the woman’s existence at all.
Bringing this back to the region, the Taliban has emphasized that women would be expected to wear the hijab but not the burka. But that is not merely a religious symbol. Nima Naghibi, Associate Professor at Ryerson University, points out that the Western sees the veil as a barrier and way to the heart of the Orient. Indeed, Oriental men accept the veil as a national and cultural honor. Correspondingly, Deniz Kandiyoti, Professor at the SOAS University of London, says that conservative beliefs, shaped in the atmosphere of colonization, is the only way to resist foreign occupation and to preserve traditions. On that line of thought, "a woman's possible liberation" is perceived as an attack on the family.
Ultimately, Afghan women become victims that have to be rescued by people with white saviour complexes. Conversely, as the Taliban spokesperson said, "These are not our rules; these are Islamic rules," saying it is "for their security." Both sides benefit; the West has someone to save, and the Taliban someone to protect. Leila Ahmed, Professor at the Harvard Divinity School, explains that in such situations, women, stuck between their pious/nationalist identity and the West’s idea of women, have to choose "between betrayal and betrayal."
In the end, Islam itself provides women with education rights, financial independence, unilateral divorce, and guarantees their dignity. These principles are at the heart of Islamic rights and should guide the Taliban if they are sincere.
Aristoteles says, to hold women’s subjugation is a natural and social necessity. On the same line, the world still favours preserving that image. Hopefully, all the chaos could be a chance for the West and Taliban to reconsider their positions on Afghan women.