By Dawood Mohammadi
On Monday June 4, 2018, Kabul saw a gathering of over 3,500 Afghan religious scholars. Such a large religious assembly (Loya jirga) to mull over national issues was unprecedented in the history of Afghanistan.
The Afghan Ulema Council (AUC) reviewed initiatives taken during 17 years of ongoing violence and issued the Kabul Fatwa. The AUC consulted with more than 5000 Afghan religious scholars in all parts of the country to prepare a final and comprehensive Fatwa against suicide attacks, targeting of civilians and denounced the violence. AUC is Afghanistan’s most respected and powerful Afghan Islamic scholars’ council.
Violence has for years plagued the country. Militants regularly use suicide bombers and claim that their fight is a holy war to bring about Islamic rule. Suicide attacks are often disapproved as fanatical and immoral, especially when civilians are killed, but the Taliban view it as their most effective weapon.
The AUC, founded in 2002, has a provincial council in all the country’s 34 provinces. Members of the council comprise 70 percent Sunni and almost 30 percent Shiite clergies.
On January 15, 2018, 1800 clerics in Pakistan declared suicide bombings as ‘haram’ –forbidden- in Pakistan. Afghan president Ashraf Ghani criticised the Pakistani fatwa for condemning terrorism only inside Pakistan and not extending the fatwa to Afghanistan.
The current Afghan conflict is not religious in nature. It has many other political, economic, and criminal dimensions. However terrorist groups in Afghanistan, like Taliban, IS-KP, and some other terror groups use the Islamic card to justify their violence.
During his visit to Kabul in late January 2018, Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised to convene a trilateral Ulema conference for peace, with Afghan, Indonesian and Pakistani religious scholars. His commitment raised hope for peace and stability in the war-torn country. Four months after his commitment, the Trilateral Islamic Scholars Conference for Peace, at the initiative of the High Peace Council - a government-backed independent organization which facilitates negotiations between the Afghan government and insurgents- and the support of the Indonesian government, was held on May 11 at Bogor Presidential Palace of Indonesia.
Despite Taliban warnings to the participants of the Bogor Conference, 70 religious leaders from the three countries declared all types of terrorism and suicide attacks to be unethical and against the values and principles of Islam in Afghanistan and the region.
HPC has similar plans to convene another such gathering of Islamic scholars from 37 countries. This global anti-Afghan war conference will be held in July at Jeddah, with the support of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and the Royal Saudi Arabian government.
Since its creation, the National Unity Government of Afghanistan (NUG) has used all available tools to reach a peaceful solution to the Afghan war. In the last four years, NUG officials held overt and covert meetings with the Taliban in other states with the mediation of Qatar, Pakistan and China.
The successful peace agreement by NUG with Gulbudin Hekmatyar – leader of the Hezb-e-Islami, a politico-religious Afghan party and a strong mujahid leader in the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s - shows the government’s willingness and sincerity for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
In a recent international conference of the Kabul Process, President Ghani proposed an unprecedented, historical and unconditional offer to the Taliban before 25 representatives of regional and global countries. Ghani’s offer was widely appreciated and supported at national, regional and global levels. After two months of silence, Taliban denounced Ghani’s peace proposal and announced spring offensive operation named “Al Khandaq.” Since their new operation started, Taliban targeted public places, like cricket grounds, mosques, markets and other public entities, where the majority of victims were innocent civilians.
From the start of their insurgency, Taliban used Islam and religious texts to legitimize and justify their attacks on public and government officials and blamed the Afghan government for being infidels and puppets of the West. Taliban originating from religious seminaries have a traditional monopoly over the interpretation of Islamic rules and texts. They interpreted Islamic texts according to their interests to legitimize and justify their cruelties and atrocities. Taliban imposed themselves on people as a religious group who fight for Islam and the protection of Islamic values and land from the foreign infidel.
Using religious texts as justification for violence produced numerous benefits to Taliban. People give Zakat, alms, tithes and similar donations to Taliban which, along with drug trafficking and kidnapping, is their main financial source. Their monopoly over the interpretation of Islam made people consider a donation and financial assistance to the Taliban as their moral responsibility and religious duty.
Labeling the current insurgency as a holy war also generated the human resources to wage war. Taliban urged and encouraged thousands of ignorant and uneducated youths to participate in the so-called sacred war against the Afghan government and foreign troops. Youths from rural areas unconsciously joined insurgent groups for the conduct of war as a religious duty.
The current Kabul Fatwa is a harsh strike on the legitimacy and holiness of the war in Afghanistan. Members of AUC have frequently declared the ongoing war against the people and government of Afghanistan as illegal and contradictory to the core principles of Islam.
“War in all its types is illegal according to Sharia and Islamic laws, and it is nothing but shedding the blood of Muslims,” the religious scholars said in the fatwa. Due to the AUC’s anti-war stance, many members were targeted and killed by Taliban. The Kabul Fatwa is unique because it urges only a peaceful resolution to the conflict, urging warring sides for a cease-fire and, for the first time at the national level, challenges the religious legitimacy of the war.
Questioning and delegitimizing of terrorism in Afghanistan and the region is a new trend in the counter-insurgency strategy. The fighting groups use religion to rationalize their acts, but a fatwa from a majority of religious scholars would have a constructive impact and depress the use of religion for the violent acts.
The Kabul Fatwa, Bogor Declaration, and the forthcoming Jeddah conference are the new strategies of President Ghani to create consensus at national, regional and global levels for a peaceful settlement of the Afghan conflict. The 26-page long Kabul Fatwa supports Ghani’s peace offer, denounces any sanctity for this war, declares suicide attacks as against the principles of Islam and urges warring sides to cease fire.
For the first time, the Afghan government, AUC and HPC have challenged and questioned the religious aspect of the current war through an Islamic decree issued by Islamic scholars at the national, regional and global level. This fatwa will impact the source of funding, donations and human forces for the Taliban. Now they will have to seek other factors and arguments to justify their armed struggle as its religious sanctity has been challenged by Islamic scholars.
(The author is pursuing his Master of International Relations program at South Asian University, New Delhi.He can be contacted at Dawood_mohammadi@hotmail.com)