The Taliban's recent decision to ban women from attending universities sparked condemnations in the Arab and Muslim world. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, issued a statement expressing "deep sorrow" over the decision and calling it a violation of the Islamic shari'a, which urges Muslims, both men and women, to pursue knowledge from the cradle to the grave. A similar condemnation was issued by Saudi Arabia's top religious authority, the Council of Senior Scholars. It likewise stated that the Taliban's decision contravenes the shari'a, because studying is among the primary rights granted to women in Islam and because the religious texts enjoining Muslims to pursue knowledge are addressed equally to men and to women. The council urged the Taliban's interim government to revoke the decision and allow the Afghan women to exercise their right to education.
Arab officials condemned the decision as well. The Saudi foreign ministry, for example, expressed sorrow over it, saying that it "sparks puzzlement in all the Islamic countries and contravenes the duty of granting Afghan women all their legitimate rights, first and foremost the right to study." The Qatari education ministry expressed concern and disappointment over the decision, warning that such negative practices by the Taliban would have a significant impact on human rights, development and the economy in Afghanistan.
Criticism of the Taliban's decision also found expression in Arabic press articles. An editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh stated that education is a fundamental right that must not be denied to women. Senior Saudi journalists wrote that the Taliban's benighted decisions are not surprising and that the claim that the Taliban has changed is false and groundless. It was also claimed that Afghan society, and especially Afghan women, have become the biggest victims of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that the U.S. promotes its interests more than it cares for the Afghans' human rights.
An editorial of the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi contended that the Taliban's recent decisions did not reflect the spirit of the movement as a whole but were made by the radical current within it, headed by Hibatullah Akhundzada. Stating that this current is distancing Afghanistan from reality and from the simple principles of justice and common sense, the editorial called on the Arab states to cooperate with the international community in strengthening the moderate tendencies within the Taliban movement.
Taliban keeps Afghanistan from progressing by barring the road to education (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia, December 23, 2022)
The following are translated excerpts from these articles:
Al-Quds Al-Arabi Editorial: This Is A Victory For The Radical Current Within The Taliban
The editorial in the Qatari London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated: "The Afghan minister of higher education, Neda Mohammad Nadim, presented several justifications for his government's decision to bar women from attending university – mainly that female students do not strictly follow the appropriate Islamic dress code and that there are interactions between male and female students. This new decision is another in a long series of strict measures pertaining to women – [aimed at] excluding them from the public sphere and banning them from studying – which the Taliban has announced since it took control of the country in August 2021… It imposed limitations on women in particular fields of study and banned them from learning professions like economics, engineering, agriculture and journalism. Even before this, it banned girls from continuing their schooling after the [sixth] grade. All this takes place within a wider context of excluding women from public life, for the movement banned women employed [in NGOs] from going back to their jobs, and even banned women from riding a taxi alone or visiting public parks and gyms.
"The latest decision is considered a victory for the most radical current in the Taliban, headed by Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, who believes that all modern education contravenes the directives of Islam, but especially when it comes to women and girls. This is a violation of the [Taliban's] promise [from 2021] to respect women's rights… The radical current in the movement is taking the country in a direction that is unprecedented in the entire Islamic world, completely removing it from reality and from the simple principles of justice and common sense. It is depriving [women] of their rights as human beings and turning the country into a giant prison for them. This means that the members of this current want a society with uneducated mothers whose only role is to produce male soldiers for the movement and girls whose sole function is to marry and give birth… [i.e.,] produce docile and feeble citizens. [This] will ensure the reemergence of the system of poverty and lack of hope for the future, which, in turn, will increase the extremism and fanaticism.
"The movement used the issue of 'Islamic dress' to justify its decision, just as was done in Iran, which is currently experiencing wide-scope protests under the slogan 'Woman, Life, Freedom.' This slogan has prompted large sectors of society to identify with the women and to transform the protests into activity to promote democracy, reform and justice. Before this we saw the struggle of women in Saudi Arabia, which focused on the issue of women's driving, and the [Saudi] authorities eventually allowed this…
"The Muslim countries are far behind the international legal system in terms of women's status, in very many domains, including social equality and human rights. But it seems that the Taliban model is nevertheless exceptional in its extremism, its cruelty and its catastrophic implications.
"The Afghan women have come up with a slogan that encapsulates their dire situation as a demand for bread, employment and freedom. This slogan reflects that the decisions [of the Afghan government] do not just affect women's dress code and keep them ignorant, but [actually] undermine their ability to make a living. Governments are responsible for protecting their citizens' lives, and if the attention of the [Taliban] – or of the extremist current within it – is focused on 'separating the sexes' and enforcing 'Islamic dress,' it should provide its citizens with bread and employment opportunities…
"Despite the unusual [nature] of the Taliban's case, what is happening in Afghanistan will be exploited to promote the negative stereotypes of Islam and the Muslims in general. This obligates the influential Islamic countries to cooperate with the international system in encouraging the moderate tendencies in the Taliban and promoting the right of Afghan men and women to live in dignity, enjoy greater justice and [live under] a righteous regime."
"Taliban bans young women from pursuing higher studies" (/Al-Sharq, Qatar, December 25, 2022)
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Editorial In Saudi Daily Al-Riyadh: Education Is A Universal Right
An editorial of the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, by Nawal Al-Jaber, head of the daily's women's section, stated: "Education is considered to be one of the supreme goals, [which ensures] steady growth and [high-quality] human capital, since it is the essence of innovation. The most educated workers are ones who most encourage innovative thinking and contribute [to the state] in ways that conform to the values of boosting production and economic growth. Furthermore, education that provides equal opportunity for everyone helps people climb the social ladder and thus helps create fairer societies. Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone has the right to education"…
"The annual reports of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) place Afghanistan in the 169th place in terms of women's education, one of the lowest rankings in the world. The decision of the Taliban government to suspend university education for women until further notice naturally evoked universal condemnation, and sparked bewilderment in the [Saudi] kingdom…
"Suspending women students from the universities seriously undermines the credibility of the current [Afghan] government, and deprives the Afghan women and girls of basic rights in the domain of education, employment and social justice."
Director-General Of Saudi Al-Arabiya Channel: We Are Back To The Dark Days Of The Taliban; The U.S. Takes Care Of Its Interests, Not Human Rights
In an Al-Sharq Al-Awsat article titled "Has The Biden Administration Betrayed Afghanistan?", Mamdouh Al-Muhaini, director-general of the Saudi Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath television channels, wrote: "Upon taking office, Biden decided to withdraw from Afghanistan, and disregarded the warnings of generals who feared that the country would slide into chaos… In his first speech after the withdrawal, Biden said that the era of military intervention was over and the era of diplomacy had started. But the real reason for the withdrawal was internal, for he wished to collect a package of achievements that would help him win a second term in office…
"Despite America's reassurances that it would not turn away [from the Afghan issue], that it would continue to fight the despicable terror leaders and prevent them from [re]grouping and staging further attacks, [and although] it eliminated Al-Qaeda leader [Ayman] Al-Zawahiri, everyone understands that Afghan society, and especially Afghan women, have become the biggest victims of this withdrawal. Drones may eliminate the radical leaders, but they cannot eliminate the laws and legislation they are imposing on society.
"And that is exactly what happened, because the first dark period under the Taliban, whose hands are stained with blood, has returned, [and with it] the scenes of stoning, executions and the amputation of limbs, which everyone had thought were gone from the world forever. What is happening to the Afghan women is a saddening regression and a real tragedy that is unfolding in front of a silent world… Despite everything, there were those who naively wagered on the Taliban's gentle new guise, [a guise] it tried to promote in order to gain international recognition before exposing its real face…
"When it comes to Afghanistan, the Biden administration thinks in a cold and practical manner that mixes moral values with interests on the ground. Its rhetoric about a foreign policy that focuses on human rights [is evident only] in speeches and diplomatic statements, not in actions… Biden accurately reads the mood of the American public, which is tired of wars. He carried out the withdrawal that his predecessors failed to implement, in order to reap personal political profits. Therefore, [his] administration is unlikely to take any measures except issue angry statements, as the U.S. State Department spokesperson did after the Taliban decided to ban women from attending universities.
"The Afghan tragedy exposes several facts, namely that strong political leaders with enlightened and progressive views are the way to prevent the reemergence of the extremist organizations and their supporters… All the [Taliban's] rhetoric about change and development was nothing more than lies aimed at [re]gaining power and imposing its [old] agenda… Amid all the confrontations and struggles the world is experiencing, the Afghan woman is paying the price. One of the Afghan women whom the Taliban recently deprived of the right to academic education said: 'I am totally crushed, I have lost all my dreams and my life is over forever.' Unfortunately, these painful words change nothing in terms of the reality on the ground."
Al-Arabiya Presenter: The Taliban Are Liars; The World Is Now Condemning What We Warned About Every Day
Nadine Khammash, a presenter on Al-Arabiya, posted an article on the channel's website headed "The Taliban Are Liars," in which she wrote: "Perhaps it was naïve to believe the Taliban when it said it had changed, [but] the international community believed it, or pretended to, and it gained international recognition before exposing its benighted face to the Afghan people and especially the [Afghan] women…
"In the 20 years [of American presence in Afghanistan], Afghan society underwent many changes that highlighted the positive, even if minimal, aspects of return to [a normal] life. The most important of these [developments] was the restoration of women's right to live and work alongside men… Young women attended schools and universities, ate in restaurants and freely laughed on the streets…
"All that while…, the Taliban was gaining military strength on the outskirts of the cities and in [certain] neighborhoods, and was never far from the capital, [Kabul]. The Afghan women's greatest fear was that it would return and take [them] back 20 years, to the time when they lived in a large prison, with a hangman who purported to bear the flag of piousness but whose conduct was far removed from [the real values] of the faith. I met many of these women. Each had a different story, but the common denominator was a sentence that keeps ringing in my ears…: 'The woman is the enemy of the Taliban movement.' The Afghan women demanded that [the issue of] their rights be added as the first item [on the agenda] of the 'peace talks' with the Taliban. They wanted tangible guarantees [that their rights would be protected] before any dramatic change befell the country.
"This reminds me of an interview I conducted for Al-Arabiya with former Taliban officials who were wearing a mask of civility and pretending to represent the movement's 'bright new future.' As part of their strategy of wooing the West, they insisted that the Taliban of today was not the Taliban of yesterday, [but that was] before they managed to take control of every sector of the Afghan people. Today the movement is revealing more and more of its ideology, and is not afraid to be exposed to the Afghans and the entire world as a lying movement whose promises are worthless. It is closing the universities to Afghan women, having already started to bar them from every domain of life since coming into power.
"The most important question is: Why is the Taliban afraid of women? Women's education means empowering them and letting their voice be heard. [It means] giving generations of young people a civilized education. Ignorance, on the other hand, breeds ignorance. That is why the plan of [raising] fanatically devout sons is the most effective plan for this movement, and that is where the conflict with the women begins.
"Add to this the aspect of poverty, of making people poor by deliberately [keeping them] ignorant, which increases the chances of attracting young people to take a dark path in life. In the past, the American presence [in Afghanistan] managed to defeat the Taliban on the military level, and the situation improved considerably for 20 years. But the Americans still don't know the difference between combating terror and [really] fighting it, [namely between] taking military action [against it] and engaging in ideological and economic development that prevents the existence of an environment that encourages it to spread once again.
"Imagine a society without educated women, and then imagine what kind of upbringing [children] will receive at home. The home is a microcosm of society as a whole, so when we imagine this we can guess what sort of future awaits the Afghans. Afghan women were the greatest visionaries in important research centers in all the [world's] large capitals. Today, when the train has already left the station, the world is condemning [developments] that we warned about on a daily basis. Unless it manages to catch up with [this train] and stop it, the future in this part of the world will be dark amid the age of globalization and free movement, and that means that the entire world will be in danger."
The Taliban's decision to ban women from pursuing higher studies is another step in smothering them (Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, London December 24, 2022)
 Alarabiya.net, December 23, 2022.
 Sabq (Saudi Arabia), December 25, 2022.
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), December 22, 2022.
 Al-Watan (Qatar), December 21, 2022.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 23, 2022.
 Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), December 22, 2022.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 23, 2022.
 Alarabiya.net, December 24, 2022.