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Inside the mind of a Taliban founder

Theology drives the brutality of Islamic justice

Mullah Nooruddin Turabi Associated Press/Photo by Felipe Dana

Inside the mind of a Taliban founder
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After Afghanistan fell back into the hands of the Taliban, the Associated Press interviewed Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, one of the founders of the Taliban, who is known as “the chief enforcer of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.” The word “harsh” is used by the AP, not the Taliban. Turabi would never use this adjective to describe his views and application of Islamic law, but the wire service’s language is accurate.

The interview reveals a great deal about the Taliban and its worldview, explaining what really matters for the leaders of the radical Islamist group and the driving force for their actions. While many might hope the Taliban is now ready to integrate into international society, the words of Turabi indicate we are on the brink of more atrocities, driven by an adherence to the Taliban’s literal application of Islamic law.

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the 1990s, they began beheading people in large stadiums or mosque courtyards to show the world how they openly applied Islamic law. Turabi played a significant role in these actions, as he was the head of the Islamic Police Force, charged to ensure citizens adhered to virtue.

Under Turabi, the Taliban banned sports, and men were forced to go to mosques to pray five times every day. The AP noted that Turabi “routinely beat men whose beards had been trimmed.” Some may claim Turabi has been a radical, but he simply sought to apply his views of Islamic law precisely as written in trusted Muslim sources.

Today, Turabi offers several messages to the world, which the AP summarized in its headline: “Strict punishment, executions will return.”

Turabi is aware of the worldwide outrage over the Taliban’s actions, but he simply does not care, and he argues for an equivalence between Talibanic justice and Western expressions of justice informed by Christianity. “Everyone criticized us for the punishments in the stadium, but we have never said anything about their laws and their punishments,” Turabi said in the interview.

What is the driving worldview in his mind?

For Turabi, the world is divided into two camps: the house of Islam and the house of war. In the house of Islam, Islamic law is cherished and applied. The house of war is everywhere else, where, according to Turabi, infidelity and unbelief flourish through non-Islamic laws.

Some may claim Turabi has been a radical, but he simply sought to apply his views of Islamic law precisely as written in trusted Muslim sources.

He has a message for those who hope for a more tolerant Taliban. “No one will tell us what our laws should be,” Turabi said. “We will follow Islam and we will make our laws on the Quran.”

The Taliban does not want to be politically correct but theologically correct, with the Quran as the foundation of Afghanistan’s laws. “The same punishments would be revived,” Turabi insisted, making it clear that Islamic punishments will be the law of the land.

But what are these traditional punishments under Islamic law?

Original Muslim sources include precise punishments prescribed by Allah for specific offenses. These punishments are often known by their Arabic Quranic term, “hudud,” meaning “Allah’s boundaries” or “Allah’s punishments.” These hudud are adopted and applied in countries such as Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

For the Taliban and the like, there are at least seven great offenses against Allah: adultery, homosexuality, drinking wine, apostasy, theft, false accusation, and highway robbery. This list can include more crimes or omit some. A qualified Muslim judge—like Turabi—can assign and execute the divine punishment.

For example, under traditional Islamic law, homosexuality and abandoning Islam, i.e., apostasy, receive the death penalty. Adultery is punished by flogging or stoning until death. Theft is punishable by the amputation of a hand and a foot. Drinking alcohol and false accusation are punishable by 40 or 80 lashes.

Are there Muslims who support these punishments as a religious duty in fulfillment of Islamic law? The answer can be shocking to some.

In 2013, a Pew Research Center survey asked Muslims in 39 countries whether they wanted Islamic prescriptions to be the law of the land. Responses to this question varied, depending on the country. However, it was clear that 99 percent of Muslims in Afghanistan supported Islamic law. In Iraq, it was 91 percent and in Pakistan, 84 percent.

Apparently, Turabi has fans in Afghanistan who support his worldview—a lot of them.

But he has one more message to the world about the Taliban. “We are changed from the past,” he told the AP. But there is absolutely no evidence that the Taliban have changed their worldview or their approach to Islamic justice.

In the meantime, the world should be ready to watch beatings, stonings, amputations, and executions—all airing live from stadiums in Afghanistan.

A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim, born and raised in Egypt, holds two PhDs with an emphasis on Islam and its history. He is a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught at several schools in the United States and the Middle East, and authored A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (Baker Academic, 2022), Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 2021), Basics of Arabic (Zondervan 2021), A Concise Guide to the Quran (Baker Academic, 2020), and The Stated Motivations for the Early Islamic Expansion (Peter Lang, 2018), among others.

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