The Taliban: An Extremist Sharia Law Movement

The Extremist Sharia Law Movement of Afghanistan

A map with a close-up focus on Afghanistan
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The Taliban is an Islamic Sunni movement following a strict interpretation of Sharia law that took over Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal in the late 1990s. Taliban rule imposed draconian restrictions on women being allowed to work, go to school or even leave the house — which could only be done fully covered with a burqa and accompanied by a male relative. 

The Taliban granted safe haven to terrorist group al-Qaeda, leading to their overthrow by a United States-led invasion in 2001 and have since regrouped in the mountainous region straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan where they continue to operate as an insurgent movement currently known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Differences in Ideologies

In order to understand the difference between the Taliban's radical interpretation of Sharia law and that of the majority of the 1.6 billion population Muslim world, it is important to also realize that like Christianity — which has its own extremist groups like the KKK — Islam can be broken down into subgroups as well: the Sunnis and the Shiites.

These two groups have been battling it out for over 1,400 years, originating with a dispute over the death of the Prophet Muhammad and his rightful heir in the leadership of the Muslim world. Although they share many core values of the same religion, the Sunnis and the Shiites do differ in a few beliefs and practices (just as Catholics differ from Baptists).

Further, they created a divide in the interpretation of Sharia law, which would ultimately lead to some Muslim-majority nations treating women as inferior while a majority afforded women the same treatment as men, often elevating them to levels of power throughout early and modern Islamic history.

Establishment of the Taliban

Controversy has long surrounded international interpretation of Sharia law because of these differences in ideologies and interpretations of the religious texts. However, most Muslim-majority countries do not follow a strict Sharia law that restricts women's rights. Yet, radical follower like those that would eventually form the Taliban misrepresents the larger, peaceful ideology of Islam.

As early as 1991, Mullah Mohammed Omar began gathering followers amongst refugees in Pakistan based on his extreme interpretation of religious law. The first known act of the Taliban, whose story was perpetuated by their own members, involved Mullah Omar and 30 of his soldiers freeing two young girls who had been abducted and raped by the neighboring governor of Singesear. Later that year, with their numbers greatly increased, the Taliban made its first march northward from Kandahar.

In 1995, the Taliban began attacking the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul, in order to attempt to assert their control over the government, declining to join a political process already in place to establish the rulership of the nation. Instead, they bombed civilian-occupied areas of the city, drawing the attention of international human rights watch groups. A year later, the Taliban took control of the city.

A Short-Lived Regime

Mullah Omar continued to lead the Taliban, assuming the role of the supreme commander and spiritual leader until he died in early 2013. Immediately upon assuming office, the true motives and religious ideology of the Taliban came to light as they enforced a number of laws over the women and minorities of Afghanistan.

The Taliban only controlled Afghanistan for 5 years, though in that short time they committed a number of atrocities against their enemies and citizens alike. Along with denying United Nations-funded food relief to over 150,000 starving villagers, the Taliban burned large areas of farms and residences and carried out massacres against Afghan citizens who dared defy their reign. 

After discovering the Taliban had provided shelter to the Islamic extremist group al-Queda in 2001 before and after their terrorist attack on 9/11 against the United States' World Trade Centers and Pentagon, the U.S. and United Nations formed a group invasion to overthrow the terrorist regime of Mullah Omar and his men. Although he survived the invasion, Mullah Omar and the Taliban were forced into hiding in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan.

Still, Mullah Omar continued to lead insurgencies through the Taliban and similar groups like ISIS and ISIL to carry out over 76% of civilian murders in Afghanistan in 2010 and 80% of them in both 2011 and 2012 until his death is 2013. Their antiquated, inhumane interpretation of an otherwise peaceful text continues to garner support, begging the question: Are counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East helping or hurting the cause to rid the Islamic world of these types of religious extremists?