Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

What is Shariah Law?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Taliban seize of Afghanistan

The Taliban have pledged that women in Afghanistan will have rights “within the bounds of Islamic law,” or Shariah, under their newly established rule.

What is Shariah?

  • Shariah is based on the Quran, stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, and the rulings of religious scholars, forming the moral and legal framework of Islam.
  • The Quran details a path to a moral life, but not a specific set of laws.

Interpreting Shariah

  • The interpretations of Shariah are a matter of debate across the Muslim world, and all groups and governments that base their legal systems on Shariah have done so differently.
  • One interpretation of Shariah could afford women extensive rights, while another could leave women with few.
  • Critics have said that some of the Taliban restrictions on women under the guise of Islamic law actually went beyond the bounds of Shariah.
  • When the Taliban say they are instituting Shariah law, that does not mean they are doing so in ways that Islamic scholars or other Islamic authorities would agree with.

What does Shariah prescribe?

  • Shariah lists some specific crimes, such as theft and adultery, and punishments if accusations meet a standard of proof.
  • It also offers moral and spiritual guidance, such as when and how to pray, or how to marry and divorce.
  • It does not forbid women to leave home without a male escort or bar them from working in most jobs.

How has the Taliban previously interpreted Shariah?

  • When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned television and most musical instruments.
  • They established a department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice based on a Saudi model.

Restrictions imposed on Women

  • Restrictions on behavior, dress, and movement were enforced by morality police officers, who drove around in pickup trucks, publicly humiliating and whipping women who did not adhere to their rules.
  • In 1996, a woman in Kabul, Afghanistan, had the end of her thumb cut off for wearing nail polish, according to Amnesty International.
  • Other restrictions include a ban on schooling for girls, and publicly bashing people who violated the group’s morality code.
  • Women accused of adultery are stoned to death.

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