New debates about the use and abuse of Islamic criminal law in Afghanistan

The NYT reports on a radical figure in Afghanistan who uses what mainstream scholars of Islamic law around him call novel and excessively harsh interpretations of Islamic criminal law or “sharī’a” to dole out punishments and gain support from locals who incorrectly think these harsh interpretations have religious or historical precedent.

This same figure also called Covid-19 a punishment from God, in a move that goes along with his attempt to use religion to claim special knowledge and galvanize support.

The article notes that “Islamic scholars say he is just the vanguard of a rising tide of extremist clerics who have galvanized public resistance to the often corrupt and ineffective American-backed Afghan government — yet another way the government is coming under dire pressure outside the Taliban’s insurgency.”  For example, “Tariq Nabi, a prominent Islamic scholar, said Mawlawi Ansari had created a worrisome parallel government based on the ultraconservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam learned during his studies in Saudi Arabia. He said other extremist clerics have imposed similar versions of Shariah law in other Afghan provinces. ‘I’m very concerned, because individual freedoms are endangered,’ said Mr. Nabi, who described Mawlawi Ansari’s Wahhabi teachings as unsuited for Afghanistan. On his TV broadcasts, Mr. Nabi has challenged Mawlawi Ansari’s call for Muslims to attend mosques despite Covid-19 risks, telling listeners to avoid crowds, including at mosques.”

Others have underscored the basic principle, that draws almost verbatim on Qur’ānic passages, “You can’t implement Islam by force.” For further background on Islamic criminal law, see Intisar Rabb, Doubt in Islamic Law (2015) and the recent Journal of Islamic Law Forum (2020) on the recent Islamic criminal law code in Brunei.

~Editors

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