KABUL – A group of British religious clerics who recently journeyed to Afghanistan has challenged the mainstream media’s depiction of the education situation in the country. Contrary to reports, they claim that the Taliban has not imposed a complete ban on girls’ education but has temporarily suspended liberal and secular forms of it. This is the same group of clerics who faced global backlash for praising the Taliban.
During their visit last month, the clerics engaged in multiple discussions with high-ranking Taliban officials. At a recent event at Queen Mary University, Sheikh Hamd Mahmood clarified that girls’ education had not been outright banned but rather that liberal, secular education had been suspended. He suggested that the West was manipulating the issue to demonize Afghanistan, emphasizing that in post-war societies, security and the economy take precedence over education.
The clerics argued that the Western-style education system in Afghanistan represented a form of colonialism. However, their comments ignited a firestorm on social media, with critics accusing them of attempting to whitewash the Taliban’s actions and advocating for the Taliban government. One social media user labeled them as “wild extremists and terrorist supporters.”
Women’s rights activists also expressed outrage at the clerics’ visit and remarks. In a petition on a Change website article, activists accused British religious scholars, mainly from India, Pakistan, and the Arab world, of trying to gloss over the oppressive actions of the Taliban. They claimed that all Taliban officials who met with the British Muslim clerics in Kabul were involved in widespread violence in Afghanistan and were subject to United Nations sanctions.
Ahmad Zia Takal, the deputy spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, took to social media to state that Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, had discussed potential positive changes after the complete rule of the Islamic Emirate with the British scholars. According to Takal, Muttaqi also urged the clerics to convey an accurate image of Afghanistan to the world and their people.
It’s important to note that the Taliban has indeed implemented significant restrictions on women and girls since regaining power in August 2021. They have banned girls from secondary schools and prohibited women from pursuing higher education, making Afghanistan the only country where women and girls are denied access to education beyond Grade 6 and university.