Afghanistan: Islamic Movements in

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Ideologically based, politically motivated, organized Islamic movements.

Islamic movements were formed when Afghanistan established official madrasas (Muslim colleges) and the faculty of shariʿyat (Islamic law) at Kabul University to train modern Islamic scholars and functionaries during the 1940s and 1950s. The government sent a group of young faculty to alAzhar in Egypt for graduate training in Islamic studies and law. In the early 1960s they returned home impressed by the Islamist ideals and political goals of Egypt's al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood) and its struggles against Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser. This small group of ustazan (professors) met clandestinely, translating, disseminating, and discussing the writings of Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abu al-Aʿla al-Mawdudi, and other Islamist thinkers. The patron and guide of this emergent movement was Ghulam Muhammad Niyazi, who later became dean of the faculty of shariʿyat in Kabul. Led by Islamic intellectuals and reformist ulama (Minhajuddin Gahiz, Mowlana Khalis, Mowlawi Faizani, and others), groups also formed outside the university.

After the adoption of Afghanistan's 1964 liberal constitution and the unsanctioned establishment of the Khalq communist party on 1 January 1965, the pace of political activities quickened. Agitation and demonstrations against the government and violent confrontations among members of the Islamic movements and the communist parties marked the years from 1965 to 1972. The student branch of the Islamic movement Sazman-i Javanani Musalman (Organization of Muslim Youth), nicknamed the Ikhwan-i-ha (the Brothers), became increasingly active. In 1972 the "professors" also formally, but secretly, organized themselves as Jamiʿat-e Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Association of Afghanistan). Its fifteen-member executive council (shura-i ali), which was composed of students and faculty, primarily of rural and provincial origins, recognized Niyazi as founder and unofficial leader and appointed Burhanuddin Rabbani "amir" of the movement.

The movement's declared goal was the establishment of a completely Islamic political order that would oppose communism, atheism, corruption, and all forms of social and economic discrimination, internal oppression, external domination, and exploitation. Its initial strategy was to work methodically and peacefully against the government and the communists. After the overthrow of the monarchy (17 July 1973) Muhammad Daud and Parcham, the pro-Soviet communist party, Niyazi and 180 members of the movement were jailed; they were executed (29 May 1978) soon after the Khalq and Parcham parties overthrew Daud and took power.

Only a few leaders, including Rabbani and Golbuddin Hekmatyar, managed to escape to Pakistan during Daud's regime. In 1975 they failed at a revolt against Daud. Their efforts proved more effective when they organized the jihad (religious war) against the Khalq/Parcham communist coalition following the coup. Four of the seven major mojahedin parties that participated in the 1979 to 1989 struggle against the Soviets and the subsequent civil war after the Soviet withdrawal were splinter groups from the original Jamiʿat-e Islami movement. Their objectives are similar, although their strategies and organizational styles differ. Several Afghan Shiʿite Islamic organizations and three traditionalist Islamic groups were also formed after the 1978 communist coup.

The Islamist opposition fought effectively, defeated the communist regime in April 1992, and assumed power to establish the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The Islamists were unable to reconcile their political differences, however, and their factional fighting plagued the new government headed by Rabbani and contributed to its overthrow in 1996 by a very different kind of Islamic movementthe Taliban.

The Islamic Movement of the Taliban was created by Muhammad (Mullah) Omar and other religious teachers and students in response to the political insecurity that spread throughout much of Afghanistan following the establishment of the Rabbani government. Most of the Taliban leaders received part or all of their religious education in the madrasas of the conservative Deobandi movement, which is strong in the rural Pushtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Deobandi approach to Islam derives from the religious ideas of an eighteenth-century Indian Muslim who was influenced by his contemporary, Muhammad
ibn Abdul Wahhab of Arabia. Like the followers of Wahhab in Saudi Arabia (the Muwahhidun), Muslims trained in Deobandi Islam reject liberal interpretation of sacred texts, insisting upon a literal reading. The affinity between the Muwahhidun and Deobandi approaches to Islam predisposed the Taliban to be receptive to Saudis such as Osama bin Ladin, who took up permanent residence in Afghanistan in 1995 or 1996.

The Taliban disliked most mojahedin leaders, who were viewed as warlords who violate true Islamic codes of conduct in order to further their personal interests. Thus, in 1994 the Taliban began a campaign to reclaim the country by capturing Kandahar, the country's second-largest city. By summer 1996 most of eastern, southern, and western Afghanistan had fallen under Taliban control. Then Kabul was captured, although the Rabbani government escaped to northern Afghanistan, where it organized resistance. The Taliban set up a government in which Mullah Omar became the "amir of the faithful" assisted by a shura (council). In August 1998 Taliban forces captured most of the north, reducing the territory held by the Rabbani government to a small strip of land in the northeast. This situation prevailed for three years until the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States. Persuaded that bin Ladin's al-Qaʿida network had organized these sensational attacks from his sanctuary in Afghanistan, the United States sent an ultimatum to the Taliban government warning of severe consequences if bin Ladin were not extradited. The Taliban temporized, and was overthrown in the subsequent U.S. air and ground assaults on Afghanistan.

see also azhar, al-; banna, hasan al-; bin ladin, osama; daud, muhammad; hekmatyar, golbuddin; jamiʿat-e islami; jihad; mawdudi, abu al-aʿla al-; muslim brotherhood; omar, muhammad (mullah); parcham; qutb, sayyid; rabbani, burhanuddin; shariʿa; taliban.


Roy, Oliver. Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Rubin, Barnett. "Afghanistan Under the Taliban," Current History 98, no. 625 (February 1999): 7991.

Shahrani, M. Nazif. "Introduction: Marxist 'Revolution' and Islamic Resistance in Afghanistan." In Revolutions and Rebellions in Afghanistan: Anthropological Perspectives, edited by M. Nazif Shahrani and Robert Canfield. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

M. Nazif Shahrani

Updated by Eric Hooglund