KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 2 November 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.


TERRITORY. On a visit to Northern Afghanistan, to the town of
Khwaja-Bahawudin, close to the border with Tajikistan, Keston News
Service spoke to Northern Alliance leaders and others about their
interpretation of Islam, comparing this with the way the religion is
practised across the border in the former Soviet Central Asian republics.
�The Taliban believes in an over-strict Islam,� Northern Alliance foreign
minister, Abdullo Abdullah, told Keston on 24 October. �We are for a
gentler, more enlightened form of Islam�. Yet a representative of the
Afghan women�s movement declared that �it would be a great
exaggeration to say that the influence of Islamic radicals is insignificant
on Northern Alliance territory�, and Keston witnessed a public flogging,
as well as discovering that there is a ban on listening to music in Khwaja-



by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service

How does religious life in the part of Afghanistan controlled by the
Northern Alliance compare with the Islamic model of development that
local Muslims have tried to apply in some of the former Soviet republics
of Central Asia? An investigation into the Islamic model of development
in Northern Afghanistan is also of interest in that this region is populated
by Tajiks and Uzbeks, i.e. the same nationalities that inhabit the
neighbouring Central Asian republics. Indeed, during the civil war in
Tajikistan, a camp in this part of Afghanistan was used by fighters of
Tajikistan�s Islamic Revival Movement.

Between 22 and 29 October, Keston visited the northern town of Khwaja-
Bahawudin, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Tajik border. Although the
town has a population of around 10,000, since the start of the military
operation launched by the United States and Britain against the Taliban
regime, this town has in essence become the Northern Alliance�s
temporary capital. The majority of ministries are situated here, among
them the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the department for the
assistance of virtue and prevention of vice.

�The Taliban believes in an over-strict Islam,� the Northern Alliance�s
foreign minister, Abdullo Abdullah, told Keston in Khwaja-Bahawudin
on 24 October. �We are for a gentler, more enlightened form of Islam.
Thus, it is unacceptable for us to use flogging as a punishment or to cut
hands off. We do not see it as a sin if Muslims listen to music and allow
their daughters to study in school. The Taliban is imposing not an Islamic,
but a medieval way of life. As a result, their regime has become a real
burden on the inhabitants of Afghanistan.�

�If hunger drives someone to steal, then according to Shariah law he
should be pardoned. The Taliban has brought the population to absolute
poverty and cuts off the hands of people who have turned to crime in
desperation,� an official at the Northern Alliance�s department for the
assistance of virtue and prevention of vice, Jalal Fahri, told Keston on 26
October in Khwaja-Bahawudin. He maintained that there has not been a
single instance of chopping off hands for theft on the territory controlled
by the Northern Alliance. Fahri admitted that the Northern Alliance
allowed offenders to be punished by flogging (on 25 October, Keston saw
a drug trader being publicly flogged on Khwaja-Bahawudin�s central
square), adding that the shame to which the offender is exposed by
flogging is of great importance. Before it is carried out, the mujahaddin
lead the criminal through the streets and beat him with their guns. Fahri
maintained that public execution is carried out only in exceptional
circumstances in Northern Alliance-controlled territory. �The relatives of
the victim decide what to do with the murderer. And if they want to kill
the criminal publicly, then we cannot overrule their decision,� he told

During the period between the first and second war in Chechnya (1996-
99), the relatives of victims also publicly executed their murderers, as
they do in Afghanistan.

Keston formed the impression that both Fahri and Abdullah were
deliberately trying to give the western media a picture of the Northern
Alliance as proponents of a moderate, enlightened Islam. After numerous
conversations with local residents, Keston discovered that there is a ban
on listening to music in the town. Moreover, the first order issued by the
late commander Ahmad Shah Masoud�s forces after they had seized
Khwaja-Bahawudin was a ban on the singing of songs by women. Sayid
Ismail Ibrahim, imam-hatyb at the town�s central mosque, justified the
ban. �According to Islam, one of the worst sins is to encroach on a
person�s consciousness,� he told Keston on 27 October. �When someone
listens to music, his state of mind changes.�

The views of people like Sayid Ismail Ibrahim have even greater
significance because the mullahs are practically the only teachers of
children in Northern Afghanistan. The main subject taught in the
madrassahs (religious schools) attached to mosques is the recitation of the
Koran. In Khwaja-Bahawudin�s central mosque, Keston spoke to Sayid
Ismail Ibrahim�s 16-year-old pupils. The youngsters could read neither in
Tajik nor in Uzbek, but they could recite the Koran in Arabic - without
understanding it. The result of this system of education is that the
overwhelming majority of the population of Afghanistan remains
illiterate. According to 1992 estimates by the United Nations, around 80
per cent of Afghan men were illiterate, and 96 per cent of women.

�It would be a great exaggeration to declare that the influence of Islamic
radicals is insignificant on Northern Alliance territory. It�s another matter
to say that here people treat those who break Islamic law far more
humanely. For example, if the Taliban arrest a person for listening to
music, they punish him with a flogging. Here, they are more likely simply
to reprimand such a person,� the head of the Women�s Association of
Afghanistan, Farkhnas Nazi, told Keston in Khwaja-Bahawudin on 25
October. She added that the harshness of Islamic law largely depends on
which field commander controls a particular territory. Local people told
Keston that in several regions of the Panjshir valley (controlled by the
Northern Alliance), there is a ban not only on drinking alcohol, but also
on smoking.

According to Nazi, the most difficult position in Northern Alliance
territory is occupied by women, who are in effect second class people, yet
she believes that it is not the Northern Alliance authorities who are
responsible for this, but the population as a whole. �Our nation is
uneducated and blindly follows ancient traditions,� she told Keston. �It is
very difficult to convince such people that a woman should have the same
rights as a man. For example, I cannot go to the market without wearing a
yashmak, otherwise I am immediately surrounded by a crowd of people
who start insulting me.�

Nazi studied in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and possibly because of
this she uses Soviet methods in her battle for women�s rights. On 8 March
2001(International Women�s Day, celebrated in socialist countries), she
organised a women�s demonstration demanding a ban on polygamy and
early marriages (in Afghanistan girls get married at 13 or 14 years old)
and access to education for women. About a thousand women took part in
the protest. The Northern Alliance administration did not break up the
demonstration or punish those who took part.

In regions of the Central Asian republics where followers of Islam have
succeeded in taking power, they have practically created a carbon copy of
the Islamic model of development characteristic of the territory controlled
by the Northern Alliance. Indeed, as neophytes, they have operated even
more radically than followers of Islam in Northern Afghanistan. In 1991,
in the town of Namangan, one of the regional centres of the
Fergana valley, a movement called Adolat (Justice) unexpectedly
emerged. Young men wearing green bands appeared dealing at their own
discretion with those they felt had broken the law. The punishment for the
thieves and prostitutes they captured was quite bizarre from the point of
view of western jurisprudence: they were sat facing backwards on a
donkey and paraded around the town or tied to pillars on squares where
passers-by spat in their faces. The accused were also beaten with whips in
mosques. The undisputed leader of this 'Islamic police' was then 24-year-
old Tohir Yuldashev. In its early days, Uzbek president Islam Karimov
looked favourably on Adolat�s activity, but quite soon began to realise he
was no longer boss in Namangan. The Adolat activists were arrested and
received lengthy prison sentences. However, Yuldashev and several of his
supporters managed to escape from the country, going on to form the
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in exile with the aim of creating an
Islamic state in Uzbekistan by force.

In autumn 1993, armed detachments of the Tajik opposition escaped to
Afghanistan. Most of the refugees settled in the north of the country in
territory densely populated by Afghan Tajiks (the area was under the
control of Ahmad Shah Masoud). In 1996, detachments of the Tajik
opposition managed to force their way from Afghanistan and drive
government forces out of the Karategin valley in Tajikistan�s south-
eastern mountainous region. The Tajik opposition field commanders set
up a far harsher regime in the territory they had seized than that they had
observed in Afghanistan. Under threat of punishment, the Tajik
mujahaddin forced all the local people to pray in the mosques five times a
day. Women were obliged to keep their heads covered in public places.
Several field commanders shaved the heads of women who dared to
appear in public without their heads covered. Listening to music and
singing were forbidden. The sale of alcoholic drinks and cigarettes was
categorically banned. Offenders were beaten in the mosques, for some
reason not with whips (as is the custom in Shariah law) but with a device
made out of a hand grenade launcher. Offenders received 20 blows for
smoking, 40 blows for drinking alcohol, and 100 blows for adultery.
Those found to be spying for the Dushanbe government were hanged by
the mujahaddin on the villages� central squares. The laws were
particularly harsh in Kalaikhumb district, part of Tajikistan�s Gorno-
Badakhshan Autonomous region which borders Afghanistan, where in
contrast to other regions of Pamir Tajik Sunni Muslims live (the Pamir
people are mostly Ismailis, a movement closer to the Shi�ite branch of
Islam). Here, offenders were put in an iron barrel and the barrel was
whipped for a period of several hours. After such a sentence, at best the
person was shell-shocked, while at worst he went mad.

However, such measures gradually mellowed on territory controlled by
followers of Islam because, in contrast to Afghanistan, the new regime
did not have the support of most local residents. Similar harsh measures
were also in effect during the Tajik civil war and wore down residents of
territory controlled by Islamic radicals. But after a peace agreement was
reached in December 1997 between the Tajik opposition and the
government, not only civilians, but also many fighters began to protest
against such harsh measures. Keston visited the Karategin valley of
Tajikistan in November 2000 and can testify that even then most local
people (including those who fought in the Tajik opposition) had come to
the conclusion that Islamic values should not be inculcated by force. As a
result, just one of the 1996 laws remains in force in the Gorno-
Badakhshan Autonomous region: the ban on the sale of alcohol. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.

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