Taliban religious beliefs pose huge obstacle to modernization, respect for human rights including women’s rights


Bruno Philip, “Les talibans, pointilleux « imitateurs » du Prophète; Héritiers idéologiques d’une école coranique orthodoxe fondée en Inde au XIXe siècle, les nouveaux maîtres de l’Afghanistan associent un puritanisme religieux extrême et un « réformisme » social des codes de l’honneur tribal, Le Monde, le 6 septembre 2021 (03h57, mis à jour à 16h17).

Bruno Philip of Le Monde has written a deeply insightful analysis of the historical origins of the religious beliefs of the Taliban, which helps us understand why so many of their beliefs and practices take us back to the seventh century and the time of the Prophet Muhammed (530-632 AD or CE).

Philip’s article is of fundamental importance for understanding the internal constraints  within the Taliban belief system which pose huge obstacles to the adoption of measures protecting human rights including the rights of women.

These beliefs date from a time 1400 years ago, long before the Magna Carta in England in 1215, and over 1100 years before the Enlightenment in Europe and America, and the declarations of human rights in Virginia (1775) and in France (1789)–the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

This belief system is characterized by an extreme puritanism, and an obsessive imitation of the Prophet Muhammed in manners and dress (e.g., long beards):

Les talibans appartiennent à un courant doctrinal spécifique de l’islam et c’est ce modèle auquel ils n’ont cessé de se référer depuis la création de leur mouvement, en 1994. Puritanisme, lecture littérale du Coran, « imitation » stricte du Prophète, et cela dans les détails les plus triviaux − de la longueur de la barbe à celle du pantalon, ce dernier devant descendre à mi-chevilles, et pas plus bas : c’est le souci pointilleux de se conformer à ce point à Mahomet qui constitue leur strict credo.

Philip notes that the Taliban are under the influence of two strict schools of Islam:

Les talibans sont sous la double influence de l’école « deobandi », une madrasa fondée en 1867 dans le nord de l’Inde britannique, et du wahhabisme, forme officielle de l’islam en Arabie saoudite. L’école deobandi incarne un mouvement réformiste qui visait à propager chez les musulmans du sous-continent indien une version austère de la religion. Il s’agissait de « purifier » un islam jugé dévoyé en exaltant l’authenticité d’un retour aux origines.

Significantly, Philip points out that the expression of philosophical doubt may be considered a sin. He quotes the well-known Pakistani journalist Amed Rashid as follows:

« (L)es talibans ont clairement déprécié la tradition deobandi d’enseignement et de réformes en raison de leur rigidité, récusant tout concept de doute [philosophique], sinon pour en faire un objet de péché, et considérant toute possibilité de débat comme une hérésie en puissance ».

Finally, noting that the Taliban, though rooted in the traditional culture of the Pashtuns, have replaced the traditional jirga (assembly of leaders) with shura or councils made up of mullahs, and sometime oppose traditional Pashtun customary law, known as the Pashtunwali. These differences extend to some fundamental questions, such as the right of women to inherit property.

Philip concludes as follows:

Entre obsession du corps des femmes, puritanisme extrême et projet « national » transethnique pour un nouvel Afghanistan, les talibans n’ont pas d’autre horizon théologique que celui d’une « imitation » pointilleuse du Prophète, seule référence religieuse qui constitue le socle de leur vision du monde.

With their “obsession with the female body, extreme puritanism, and national trans ethnic project for a new Afghanistan,”

(T)he Taliban have no other theological horizon than than that of a punctilious “imitation” of the Prophet, the sole religious reference which constitutes the bedrock foundation of their vision of the world.

Philip’s insightful article raises fundamental questions about the viability of Taliban promises to form an “inclusive” government and to safeguard human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular.

It is perhaps highly significant that Mollah Baradar, the leader of the relatively more moderate and conciliatory faction of the Taliban, was passed over for the top government position and given only a secondary role in the recently-announced Taliban interim government.

The Trenchant Observer


The Trenchant Observer has been following Afghanistan closely since 2005, when he worked in Kabul as the Team Leader of group of six lawyers charged with advising the government on modernizing its criminal justice process to better meet international human rights standards.

The Trenchant Observer is an international lawyer with a historian’s eye.  A former Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, where he received the degree of Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law (S.J.D.), he is also a summa cum laude graduate of Stanford University, where as an undergraduate he received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the Best Senior Honors Thesis in History.

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

2 Comments on "Taliban religious beliefs pose huge obstacle to modernization, respect for human rights including women’s rights"

  1. Michael Mauldin | September 10, 2021 at 11:31 am |

    If religious orthodoxy
    From any and all conservative elements of religion we all would live in a very different world. The Taliban are just one such branch of a religion that now can have a whole country to practice their brand of religious beliefs.
    There are parts of Israel that are just as conservative and radical yet they have been kept in check by a bigger more liberal government…for now. They do allow there girls to be educated and yet they control them anyway.

    • Michael,

      You make good points.

      The key thing, in my view, is that we must not allow ouselves to be overcome, or cynical, in the face of the immense amount of evil and suffering in the world. Like Dr. Rieux in The Plague by Albert Camus, we must simply continue fighting the plague.

      It’s true that there are similarities between extreme fundamentalists. However, the Orthodox in Israel are not chopping off the hands of thieves, or stoning women to death.

      The civilized elements in the world must endeavor to ensure that fundamentalist extremists like the Taliban don’t stone women to death.

      The Trenchant Observer

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