Shahrani, Nematullah (1941–)

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Shahrani, Nematullah

A religious scholar trained in Afghanistan and Egypt, Nematullah Shahrani has spent much of his life as an apolitical educator, author, and translator of important Islamic literature from Arabic. He lived about twenty years as a refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan, supporting the Afghanistan Mujahidin resistance against Soviet occupation and communist regimes. After the fall of Taliban regime, he became one of four vice presidents to Hamid Karzai's transitional administration (2003–2005). Nematullah has also served as chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Commission, a member of the Constitutional Loyah Jergah (Grand Assembly), and as minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs since the election of Karzai as president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in 2005.


Shahrani was born in 1941 in a small Uzbek village, in the Jerm District of the remote mountainous province of Badakhshan, Afghanistan. His father, Mullah Ebaadullah Shahrani, was a village religious functionary who was instrumental in the establishment of the first elementary school in his village, becoming a teacher and a strong advocate of modern education. After completing primary and middle school in Badakhshan, Nematullah—one of thirteen children and the second eldest son in the family—entered Madrassa-yi Abu-Hanifa (an Islamic studies high school) in Paghman, near the capital Kabul. He completed his studies at the Faculty of Islamic Studies (Shari'ayat) at Kabul University in 1965 and was recruited to the teaching staff of the same unit upon graduation. In 1968 he accepted a scholarship to al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious institution for the study of Sunni Islam. He earned an MA in tafsir studies (the study of Qur'an Commentaries). Upon his return to Afghanistan in 1971 he rejoined the academic staff of the Faculty of Islamic Studies and became the editor of its official publication, the Shari'ayat (Islamic Studies Journal). In 1976–1977, Shahrani was sent to George Washington University in the United States for legal training. The program focused on the administration of justice in the United States and a comparative examination of the Islamic and American court systems.


Name: Nematullah Shahrani

Birth: 1941, Shahran, Jerm district of Badakhshan province

Family: Wife, Aaliya Muslih; sons, Waheedullah, Junaidullah, Ahmad; daughters, Maliha, Manizha, Madina.

Nationality: Afghanistan

Education: BA, Kabul University (1965); MA, al-Azhar University, Cairo (1971); legal training, George Washington University, 1976–1977


  • 1960–70s: Faculty member and writer, Department of Islamic Studies, Kabul University
  • 1981–1990: Refugee in Pakistan, educator, author in support of Afghan mujahidin
  • 1990–1996: President of Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud University in Takhar province
  • 1996–2002: Returns to Pakistan, member of the "Rome Process" negotiations
  • 2002: Member of Emergency Loya Jergah
  • 2003–2005: Vice president and chair of Constitutional Drafting Commission
  • 2005–present: Minister of Ershad, Hajj and Awqaf (Religious Guidance, Pilgrimage and Religious Endowments)

Although remaining consciously apolitical, unlike other scholars trained in Egypt's al-Azhar University during the same era, Shahrani was imprisoned for a period of time after the Communist coup of April 1978. Upon his release, he left Afghanistan in 1981 with his family for the safety of Pakistan. He spent the next two decades working tirelessly in support of the Afghan Islamic resistance through publications and teaching in various mujahidin educational institutions in and around Peshawar, Pakistan. When the Afghan mujahidin-established Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud University relocated from Peshawar to Taliqan in Takhar province in northeastern Afghanistan in 1990, he became its president and built that institution until the city fell to the Taliban in 1996.


Shahrani's most important contribution has been his phenomenal productivity as an author, translator, and contributor in important national, provincial, and local publications in virtually all parts of Afghanistan. Two of his most celebrated works, published by Kabul University before the onset of the Communist coup and the war of resistance, are Qur'an Shinaasi (Studies of the Qur'an or Qur'anology, 1973) and Fiqh-i Islam wa Qanuni Gharb (A Comparison of Islamic and Western Law). During the years of exile and jihad resistance, he has authored and translated more than forty books and more than 1,500 published articles on diverse topics, including spiritual, ritual, ethical, legal, and gender relations; health; and socioeconomic and political responsibilities of Muslims in general, and Afghan youth in particular. Tafsir-i Sura-i Hujurat (Commentary on "the Inner Apartments," Chapter 49 of the Qur'an) is one of his most significant books published while in exile. Because of his devotion to research and writing he was promoted to the rank of pohand (full professor) in Qur'anic Studies at the Faculty of Shar'iyat. In addition to his vice presidency and ministerial portfolios in post-Taliban governments, he has taught at Kabul University regularly on a part-time basis. Shahrani is multi-lingual, with competency in Dari, Persian, Tajik, Uzbek, Pashto, Arabic, and English. He has traveled extensively and attended many conferences and seminars across the globe.


Shahrani did not join any of the seven established Afghan mujahidin political parties. He has maintained, however, close supportive relations with all of them by contributing articles to their publications, regardless of party affiliation. By emphasizing his role as a nonpartisan Muslim educator and preacher, he gained respect and popularity among the ordinary people and some criticism from a segment of his admirers for not leading a political movement of his own.


His political independence has ultimately served him and the country well. Nematullah became an active member of the Rome Process, which attempted to resolve the vicious civil war after the fall of the Communist regime and the rise of Taliban. After the Emergency Loya Jergah meeting held in 2002 following the American overthrow of the Taliban, he was appointed as a vice president in Hamid Karzai's transitional government. His reputation as a fine scholar and impartial arbiter led to his position as chair of the post-Taliban Constitutional Drafting Commission. He and his colleagues presented President Karzai with a draft constitution, proposing a mixed parliamentary and presidential system with considerable checks and balances for a transparent governance system. The draft presented to the Constitutional Loya Jergah in December 2004, however, had been considerably revised by Karzai's international and domestic advisors in favor of a strong presidential system. Despite much opposition the revised constitution was approved in a tumultuous, extended session of the Loya Jergah. To the dismay of many in Afghanistan, Nematullah and members of the commission have never addressed what happened to their version of the draft constitution. Since the election of Karzai as president, Nematullah has served in the cabinet as the minister of religious guidance, pilgrimage, and religious endowments.


Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

                                         M. Nazif Shahrani