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Afghanistan: Taliban Forbid Women To Show Faces Outside
Women wear burqas in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 7, 2022. (Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Afghanistan: Taliban Forbid Women To Show Faces Outside

Only eyes should be visible; better is staying home, edict says

[Islamabad] In Afghanistan, it has been made compulsory for women to cover their faces and body while leaving the house.

Mullah Hibatullah Akhunzada, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, issued the order; the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice announced it at a press conference in Kabul on Saturday.

Mohammad Sadiq Hakif Mahajer, spokesman for the ministry, told the reporters, “Covering the head and whole body for women is not only a part of Islamic law [Sharia] but it is also a living tradition of Afghanistan’s rich culture.

“The hijab is an obligation in Islam, and any dress that covers the body can be considered a hijab given that it is not thin and tight,” he said.

However, “The burqa is the best type of hijab/covering,” he continued.

Another preferred type of hijab is a long black veil, Mahajer added.

A hijab is a type of scarf or shawl, worn by Muslim women and girls after the onset of menarche. It usually covers their hair, neck, and shoulders.

A burqa covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

Most women in the Afghan countryside already cover their faces, but the situation in the cities is very different.

Mahajer described the new restrictions’ implementation.

“If a woman doesn’t wear a hijab, her guardian [father, brother or husband] will be warned. Next, if the hijab is not worn, her guardian will be summoned. If repeated, her guardian will be imprisoned for three days. If repeated, her guardian will be sent to court for further punishment,” he said.

“Guardians of a disobedient woman will be fired if they are employed in any government department,” Mahajer added.

Akhunzada in his decree also said that if women do not have important work outside, they should stay home.

Since the Taliban takeover last August, they have been imposing restrictions on females, including a ban on freedom of speech and girls’ education, but the new ruling is the first to sanction violations of the dress code.

Thomas West, the US special representative for Afghanistan, called the new hijab policy “an affront to human rights” and warned it would damage the Taliban’s relationship with the international community.

In a tweet on Monday, West said, “Combined with the continuing ban on girls’ access to secondary education and work, restrictions on freedom of movement, and targeting of peaceful protesters, the Taliban’s policies toward women are an affront to human rights and will continue to negatively impact their relations with the international community.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a tweet, “I am alarmed by today’s announcement by the Taliban that women must cover their faces in public and leave home only in cases of necessity.”

Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate to the United Nations, told The Media Line that “Burqa is not imposed; women may wear hijab or any other cloth that covers a woman’s face and body.

“The concerned ministry’s statement clearly stated that the burqa is a type of hijab, and there are some other types of hijab which are acceptable in the light of Islamic Sharia norms that women may wear,” he said.

“The sole purpose of this implementation is to maintain the dignity and respect of the women by covering the face and body,” Shaheen added.

“There is a huge difference between Western and Afghan society in terms of culture, beliefs, and traditions and even in the family system. Despite all such differences, we have some common goals like maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the world, mutual cooperation, trade, investment, etc.,” he said.

“We are ready to work together with the Western countries for the development and progress of our common goals,” Shaheen stressed.

Professor Momina Fatima, former deputy head of the Department of Islamic Studies at Kabul University, told The Media Line “Allah has commanded women not to show off their beauty in front of strangers, which has both worldly and otherworldly benefits.

“Muslim women are bound to abide by it in all circumstances,” she urged.

“The hijab is a part of Islamic Sharia, not a verdict imposed by Taliban, and it is the responsibility of an Islamic system to apply the rule of hijab to its people like any other rule of Sharia,” Fatima said. “Hijab protects the dignity and chastity of women.

“Globally, Muslim women are not the only ones who wear the hijab. Orthodox Jewish women wear Haredi burqa/frumka, Orthodox Christian nuns wear a headscarf, which is similar to the hijab, and even South Korean women wear the jang-ot, which covers the full body. Modesty is an elegant choice by anyone, anywhere,” she added.

The small Haredi “burqa sect,” primarily concentrated Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, holds that modesty requires a burqa-style covering of a woman’s entire body, a shawl, and a veil covering the face. The garment is also called a frumka, a play on the word frum (Yiddish for “devout”) and “burqa.”

The jang-ot was a type of outer robe or overcoat worn by many Korean women during the Joseon period as a headdress or veil to cover their faces and upper bodies when walking in public. The Joseon dynasty was replaced in 1897.

“Millions of children in Afghanistan are suffering from severe malnutrition. People are in dire need of humanitarian aid, suffering from hunger and starvation, but the Western world is troubled by Afghan women wearing hijabs and veils,” Fatima said.

Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based security analyst and human rights lawyer, told The Media Line, “Unfortunately, the West has proven remarkably hypocritical when it comes to the Taliban governance. None of the international institutions are holding the Taliban leadership accountable for its violations against women or minorities.

“Earlier, [President Joe] Biden’s statement that ‘Afghan people should decide their own fate’ made it seem like Afghan women were part of the decision-making process, choosing to be subjugated and abused,” she said.

“The fact that Afghanistan is allowed to abuse women, turning them into virtual slaves without any repercussions from the international community, shows once again that most Western concern about human rights and civil liberties amounts to pabulum and noise for putting pressure on selected countries for political reasons,” Tsukerman said.

Heleena Kakar, a women’s rights activist, told The Media Line from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, “It is unfortunate for Afghan women that they are once again being pushed back into the 1990s Taliban era.

“Since the Taliban regained power, harassment of women by their foot soldiers has become a common phenomenon on the streets of Kabul in particular,” she said. “The main reason behind such abusive behavior against women is that the majority of the Taliban’s fighters grew up in the strict environment of madrassas [Islamic seminaries], far away from their homes, so they are not aware of family values at all.

“The Taliban do not know the human values following from Islamic teachings. They banned the girls from getting a high school education. When you educate a man, you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman you educate a generation,” Kakar said.

“The Taliban’s leadership well knows that the Western world is strongly committed and always concerned for women’s rights,” she said, adding that the movement is using the veil requirement to pressure the Western world to cooperate with the regime.

“Afghanistan is an Islamic country, the new generation is well educated and everyone believes that women should decide for themselves what to wear in public,” she said.

“There is no coercion in Islam and this is clearly stated in the Quran,” Kakar said.

Ali Maisam Nazary is the head of foreign relations for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, an anti-Taliban military alliance mainly comprising former Northern Alliance members.

Nazary told The Media Line that by imposing such restrictions, the Taliban is demonstrating that “Afghanistan is a state of anarchism and a proxy group controls most of the country.

“The Taliban once again have shown that they are not here to serve the people,” he said.

“The majority in Afghanistan are women, and they are banning women from public life. Women have the right to choose what and how they should dress,” Nazary said.

“Afghanistan is a transformed society now and women will not tolerate such measures this time,” he added.

“The Taliban with such decisions prove they have no moderates in their ranks and that they are the same misogynistic and extremist group of the previous era. They tried to deceive the West with assurances that women will enjoy their rights, but it was merely a farce,” Nazary said.

Kamal Alam, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, told The Media Line that “the street in Afghanistan has no choice. The Taliban is a totalitarian state where uneducated clergy are the street, state, and arbiter at the same time.

Alam added that “their interpretation of Islam is isolated and not to be found anywhere else in the world.

“The Taliban are blackmailing regional and Western states, saying, ‘Either recognize us or worse is to follow.’ What worse thing could follow: Moving from a covert terrorist alliance to an overt one,” he said.

“First it was women’s education, then the burqa, and next, the terrorist groups could be used as a tool to exert pressure,” he continued.

“The Taliban can’t work with the West due to its backward and ignorant thinking,” Alam said.

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