EDITORIAL: According to Afghan Taliban, girls and women can go to school and work (so far, only primary schools for girls are open, and working women have been told to wait until security improves). Television, mobile phones, photos and videos that were banned earlier are also being allowed. But in a recent interview, former justice minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, now in charge of prisons, told a Western correspondent harsh punishments, such as executions and amputations, will resume in the country, though they may not be carried out in public as was the practice under the previous rule. (They however hung bodies of four alleged kidnappers killed in an encounter with law enforcement agency in a public square.) Amputations, he said, were "necessary for security." And reacting to those expressing outrage over public executions in the past, he said, "Everyone criticises us for the punishments in the stadium... No one will tell us what our laws should be. We will make our laws on the [basis of] Quran."
Indeed, it is for individual counties to make their own laws, drawing inspiration from legal and/or religious precedents as well as public opinion. But laws are seldom rigid; they change with changing needs of society in step with social, political, and economic progress, accommodating in the process also the use of scientific inventions. The Taliban for instance, had banned photos and television as being un-Islamic, yet they freely avail themselves now of those modern inventions for their purposes. In any event, those familiar with the origin of the punishments the Taliban want to reintroduce, point out that they predate the advent of Islam, and were also in vogue in several places other than the Arabian Peninsula. Hence that penal code may not necessarily be deemed a religious command. Then there is the concept of 'ijtehad' in Islam that calls for interpretations of religious injunctions in accordance with the functional requirements of ever evolving societies. Respected Muslim scholars and jurists in the first five centuries of Islam relied on 'ijtehad' employing reason to derive laws that met the demands of the times.
Unfortunately, the Taliban insist on taking a literalist approach and restore punishments that are incompatible with present-day sensitivities. International rights groups have all deplored judicial amputation with Amnesty International calling it "cruel, inhuman and degrading" punishment. As expected, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price also strongly condemned Mullah Turabi's comments saying the punishments "would constitute clear, gross abuses of human rights", and vowing to "hold perpetrators of these and any such abuses accountable." Most other members of the international community are of the same view. The Taliban must reconsider their decision not to appease critics, but for sake of the fair name of Islam - which lays so much emphasis on compassion and kindness - from being associated with something widely seen as harsh and heartless.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021