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Islam and the Taliban
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Asif Iftikhar)

Islam and the Taliban1

The Taliban says that democracy is a concept alien to Islam. The ideal way of setting up an Islamic government in our times is the one that it adopted for Mullāh ‘Umar’s government in Afghanistan. The constitution, the parliament, and elections are nothing but modern day shams. For its implementation, Islam does not depend on any of these mechanisms. Whatever interpretations have been accepted in the Ḥanafī law2 are final and authoritative. The opinions of its jurists have all been compiled in matters related to individual as well as collective affairs. These opinions and verdicts, in the Taliban’s view, are based on the Qur’ān, the sunnah (the Prophet’s teachings), ijmā‘ (consensus), and qiyās (analogy) and are contained in the manuals of fiqh (Islamic law) and in the fatāwā (verdicts) of “qualified” Muslim jurists. These laws and verdicts must be implemented. And this implementation does not require the approval of any parliament. The modus operandi recommended by the Taliban is that all institutions of the government be under the judiciary and the judiciary itself be in control of the ‘ulamā’ (religious scholars) as it is the ‘ulamā’ who are the experts in the understanding and interpretation of the sharī‘ah (Divine law). The Taliban believes that the last 1200 years of Muslim tradition stands in its support. In its opinion, after the appointment of Imam Abū Yūsuf as the qādī al-quḍāt (Chief Justice) of the Abbasid sultanate, the same modus operandi was adopted everywhere for the implementation of Islam. It was the Western colonialism that put an end to this tradition. Now, the Muslims are independent; therefore, this approach to running the affairs of the state in accordance with the sharī‘ah must also be restored.

The activism of the Taliban is for the purpose explained above. In this battle, suicide missions are its greatest weapon. The Taliban believes that this weapon is a special blessing of God to enable it to fight the armies equipped with modern technology. With this weapon, it believes that it can make any government in the world fall to its knees. The basic features of the strategy the Taliban has adopted thus far are:

1. Taking advantage of the love the common Muslims have for Islam and the sharī‘ah and also taking advantage of their general resentment against the atrocities, savagery, and ethical violations shown by the US, the Taliban should create and develop its supporters in the army, the police, and other institutions of the same kind in Pakistan so that the administrative leadership of these institutions lose the support of their own subordinates.

2. Ideological opponents should gradually be eliminated or forced to flee from the country. Furthermore, other people who have some degree of influence on society should also be eliminated.

3. Suicide bombings should be used to create such atmosphere of terror as would psychologically defeat the morale and spirit of the army, the police, and the administration so that they lose the resolve to offer any resistance.

4. Once the administration is driven back into compromises, negotiations with the government should begin so that it may accept Taliban’s conditions in the name of peace and virtually hand over the effective control and administration of the concerned area to the Taliban.

5. In areas under Taliban control, the same form of government should be depicted as had been witnessed by the world in Afghanistan. Then, in the same way, the Taliban should move into one area after the other.

This is the viewpoint of the Taliban and this is its strategy. I can say with full confidence on the basis of my study of Islam that this viewpoint and this strategy are not acceptable to the Qur’ān. It prescribes democracy as the way to run the affairs of the state. The Qur’ān (42:38) says: amruhum shūrā baynahum (the affairs of the Muslims are run on the basis of their consultation). ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Whosoever pledges allegiance to anyone without the collective consent of the Muslims presents himself for the death sentence.”3 It is true that, in Muslim history, monarchy and dictatorship have often been accepted forms of government. Some people also believe that the head of government should be a nominee of God Himself. However, the principle the Qur’ān spells out is very clear. What this principle entails in terms of its nature and foundation has been explained very aptly by a well-known Muslim scholar of our times, Mawlānā Abū al-A‘lā Mawdūdī. He says:

First of all, people whose interests and rights are directly affected by collective decisions should have the absolute right to express their opinions. They should be fully informed of how their matters are being dealt with, and they should be granted the full right to criticize those in charge of their matters for any mistakes or flaws. They should also have the right to change their leaders if they do not see any effectiveness in the efforts for their reform. Making people conform to collective decisions by stifling their voice, shackling their hands and keeping them in the dark is downright dishonesty, which no intellectually honest person can consider as compliance with the directive of amruhum shūrā baynahum.

The second thing that needs to be understood is that the appointment of the person responsible for the collective affairs of the Muslims should be with the free will of people. Support gained through coercion, intimidation, jobbery, bribery, deception or misrepresentation does not reflect free will. The rightful leader of the people is not someone who attains this position by hook or by crook, but someone whom they choose of their own accord.

The third point is that representatives of people involved in consultation with the head of the state should be appointed on the basis of the genuine trust of people. Obviously, those who have attained this position on the basis of coercion, bribes, lies and deception can never be deemed as worthy of this trust.

The fourth point pertains to freedom of expression for people’s representatives to present their opinions correctly and honestly in accordance with their understanding and conscience. If this aspect is missing and the representatives are bound by any fear, greed or group affiliation, the consequence will be dishonesty and betrayal rather than conformity to the principle of amruhum shūrā baynahum.

Finally, the unanimous or majority verdict of the consultative body should be accepted. The reason for this principle is that, if any person or group is given the authority to violate the collective decision, the whole process of consultation becomes meaningless. The Almighty Allah does not say: “In their matters, the Muslims are consulted.” Instead, He says: “Their matters are based on their consultation.” Compliance with this directive does not take effect by mere consultation. Compliance here requires that, in the consultation, whatever is decided by unanimous or majority verdict become binding.”4 

This extract clearly shows that it is consultation that should also be the basis for interpretation and application of any religious directive pertaining to the state affairs. Experts of Islamic sciences may proffer their opinions. It is their right to express their viewpoints, but their opinions become legally binding on people only when the majority of the elected representatives of people accept them. In the present-day state, the institution of the parliament is constituted for this very purpose. It is the right of the people to disagree with decisions of the parliament and to express their viewpoints to rectify its mistakes. However, no one has the right to violate the laws enacted by the parliament or to defy the system. Neither the ‘ulamā nor the judiciary is superior to the parliament. Each institution has the obligation to comply with the parliamentary decisions even if it has differences of opinion with it.

If this status of the parliament is accepted, the discussion on an “Islamic state” vis-à-vis a “secular state” also becomes irrelevant. Discussions as these were relevant in autocratic situations. Now, the objective of our efforts should be a purely democratic state. Once this state is truly formed, Islam will manifest itself in the system in proportion to the degree of people’s commitment to this faith. This is the natural way. Any deviation from it will lead only to hypocrisy, which we have been witnessing for the past half-century in Pakistan.

The real task of the ‘ulamā’ and reformers is to prepare the minds of the people for Islam through education and communication. They should call people to this message with sagacity and decency, they should face their questions and queries, they should cogently resolve people’s intellectual issues and explain to them not only the sharī‘ah but also the Divine wisdom in its directives. For example, they should be ready to explain what the relationship of the sharī‘ah is with the collective affairs of society and why the modern mind is impeded in understanding the wisdom of the Divine law. They should adopt such means and modes of communication as would bring out the wisdom and the meaningfulness of the sharī‘ah so that people are able to understand the underlying objectives clearly and become willing to accept these laws with heart, mind and soul. The responsibility that the Qur’ān lays upon the religious scholars is that of calling people to Islam and exhorting them to follow its directives (da‘wat-o indhār) – they have not been given the role of keepers of morals and, therefore, have no right to use groups of their followers to enforce their conceptions and interpretations of the sharī‘ah on people in their society through the force of guns. Not even the state itself has been permitted by Islam to use the force of law to coerce people into fulfilling any obligation of purely religious nature except the mandatory prayer and alms (ṣalāh and zakāh). The Qur’ān is very clear in this matter: regardless of what the adherents to Islam are responsible for in the Hereafter, the state cannot hold them responsible in religion beyond these imperatives.  Beyond them, suggestion and exhortation and education and training are the means that may be adopted to make the efforts for reformation of people. If some of the religious scholars are fond of politics as well, they can join political parties to become part of the parliament where they can play their role in legislation in accordance with its norms.

This is the position of Islam. The Taliban does not accept it. It insists that only its viewpoint is correct and that it will impose it on people through the force of guns. It has al-Qaeda’s backing. Supporters of the Taliban also join in from across the globe. Madrasah students, the ‘ulamā’, religious parties and radical Islamists generally agree with them in their objectives. Some differences are expressed with the violent militancy and suicide bombings of the Taliban, but nuances of this expression clearly reveal the inclination to condone these methods to quite an extent especially if they are deemed to be effective in defeating US designs and machinations and in realizing the dream to have the sharī‘ah implemented in society.

So, what is to be done now? The movement of the Taliban is an ideological one and is based on their understanding of religion. Attitudes aversive to religion, weapons and the patronage of an inhuman superpower as the US will not be effective against it. Organizing people power on the basis of correct interpretation of religion is the only effective means. Are our intellectuals, journalists, media people and lawyers ready to demonstrate the same resolve in organizing people for this purpose as they demonstrated in their movement for the restoration of the judiciary? What can check the rampage of the Taliban is the clear message that just as the people of Pakistan are not willing to accept the undue presence of the US in their land, they are also not willing to accept Taliban’s interpretation of Islam. We are Muslims. We wish to live as Muslims, and are willing to submit to each and every directive of Allah and the Prophet (Allah’s blessings be upon him). In our opinion, it is Allah and His Prophet who have themselves made democracy mandatory for us. We are willing to accept any change in our country through democratic means in a democratic environment. However, we shall not grant any person or group the right to impose his or their interpretation of religion on us by force.

We can hear the Taliban echoing its vision statement day and night. Are we also ready to show resolve in proclaiming ours day and night in every part of the country until the resonance of our voice makes the Taliban lay down weapons and accept the supremacy of the parliament in our collective affairs?

(Translated by Asif Iftikhar, Fellow, al-Mawrid, Lahore)




1. Editor’s Note: Renaissance has already published a number of articles and essays on issues pertinent to this essay title. Some of these include: “Murder, Manslaughter and Terrorism – All in the Name of Allāh,” ( “O Si Sic Omnia” ( “Establishment of an Islamic State,” ( “No Jihad without the State,” ( and “The Sole Ground for Jihād,” (   

2. Islamic law as understood, interpreted and applied in one of the major Sunni schools of thought. The Ḥanafī school is named after the Iraqi legal expert Abū Ḥanīfah (d. 767).

3. Bukhārī, No: 6442.

4. Abū al-A‘lā Mawdūdī, Tafhīm al-Qur’ān, vol. 4, (Lahore: Maktabah-i ta‘mīr-i insāniyyat, 1972), 509-510.

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