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Same old Taliban

A.S. Ibrahim | The militant organization does not deserve a second chance


Members of the Afghanistan Women’s Political Participation Network gather to protest in late December in a closed area in Kabul, asking the Taliban for education, work, and political opportunities. Associated Press/Photo by Mohammed Shoaib Amin

Same old Taliban
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Last year, the Associated Press reported on a huge announcement from the Taliban: “Women can study in gender-segregated universities.” This was after the militant Taliban had taken over Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.

In pursuit of the world’s recognition and financial support, the militant organization treats “allowing women to study” as a generous change and a commitment to equality. The announcement came almost a month after the Taliban reportedly vowed “to respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them.”

Some might see progress and question whether the Taliban are not deserving of a second chance. Shouldn’t we celebrate this change in Taliban policy? Is it at all reasonable to give the Taliban the benefit of the doubt?

No. We should not celebrate, and the Taliban deserves no second chance. The prudent reaction would be international skepticism. As for a “changed” Taliban, I do not buy it.

Many remember the photos from the initial Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the 1990s. Not only adult women but even young girls were forced to wear the burqa. A burqa is a long dress, usually black, which covers the entire body, except for two small eye openings behind nets.

The Taliban were serious about enforcing their Islamic rules: Cut off the hands of a thief, kill the apostate, and stone the homosexual or throw them from the top of a mountain, among other policies. Persecute other Muslims who do not follow the same beliefs. Humiliate Christians and tax them due to their inferior status. No music allowed. Television is considered evil. Disobedient people—those who do not follow the strictest rules of Islam as the Taliban see them—are hanged or otherwise executed publicly.

Before that takeover, Afghanistan was very different. Women were not confined to their homes. They used to attend universities, receive an education, and even teach. Despite claims that wearing the burqa is part of the Afghani culture, photos and videos reveal this to be false. Modern clothes were a significant part of Afghani life. Repression is the rule when the Taliban is in authority.

Their rhetoric may be different as a tactical step, but the driving ideology and the theological foundation are the same.

Today, after the second Taliban takeover, the burqas are back. Taliban decisions are not merely cultural—they are explicitly theological. They view politics through a hardline theological lens. They revere the Quran and honor what they view as Muhammad’s “trusted” sayings. They rely on a literal reading of Islam’s sources and apply them by the letter.

Between the first and second takeovers, the Taliban continue to be a theologically driven entity. There is no reason—none—to believe that the Taliban has changed their stripes.

But, in the West, we should be always hopeful, right? Shouldn’t we be grateful that the Taliban will now allow women to study?

In response, I ask, what kind of education do you expect the Taliban will force on women?

If they rely on their literal application of the Quran as it is, how can they support equality for men and women? They believe the opposite: “Men are superior to women in that Allah has preferred some of them over others. …” (Quran 4:34).

If they adhere to what they believe to be Muhammad’s most trusted sayings, how can they honor women as equally deserving education, when Muhammad is reported to have said, “I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you [women]. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.”

There are many other textual examples, but the point is clear. Many like me—who grew up in Muslim-majority countries—will not buy into the notion of a “changed” Taliban.

To those who say, “the Taliban is different now—give them a chance,” I say, wake up.

While many may hope for a “changed” Taliban, I am not hopeful. Their rhetoric may be different as a tactical step, but the driving ideology and the theological foundation are the same.

Remember this: “Taliban” means “students” in the Pashto language. They are “students” who view the world through a literal reading of Islamic texts.

Since the texts are the same, the Taliban is the same. Do not be fooled.


A.S. Ibrahim

A.S. Ibrahim 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 also taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary in the United States, and at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. He authored several books, including 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). He co-edited Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts (Peter Lang, 2018).

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