Afghani women of various different hijab styles in Kabul. (Photo credit: Rahmat Gul / AP)
The Taliban is facing widespread criticism after issuing a new law on 7 May requiring face coverings for women in all public spaces and various punishments for non-compliance.
The Taliban stated that the rules require both hijab and face coverings, ideally with the traditional burqa outfit. They stipulate that those not following the rules will be subject to law enforcement proceedings of gradually increasing intensity.
The first stage involves advising and speaking to the male head of the family of the woman, and if repeat offenses occur, the later stages involve taking the male guardian to court for sentencing.
However, according to Islamic law, face covering is not a required part of the hijab.
The Quran states in chapter 24, verses 30-31:
“Tell the faithful men to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts. That is more decent for them. Allah is indeed well aware of what they do. And tell the faithful women to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts, and not to display their charms, beyond what is [acceptably] visible, and let them draw their scarfs over their bosoms.”
The term “acceptably visible” generally refers to the face and hands. Rather than being mandatory, face coverings are to be decided on a case-by-case basis by the Muslim woman depending on the culture of the region.
Afghan women who wear the standard Islamic hijab risk punishment if they do not wear this additional covering.
Neighboring Islamic nations, such as Iran, do not require face coverings in public.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has often described hijab as a means of enabling women to enter public life, rather than to keep them away from it. He has said that the absence of public display of one’s physical attractiveness allows the woman’s intellect and ethical traits to be the main aspect on display for others to respect and admire.
This latest move may affect the trust and expectations of Afghanistan’s partners in West Asia, especially Iran who likely views such a law as exceeding the bounds of religious duty.
Following the dissolution of the Taliban in the 2000s, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran forged ties with the more moderate factions of the Taliban to boost their power.
These factions make up the current Taliban leadership, which has led many to hope that Taliban pledges to uphold the rights of religious minorities and women would be implemented.
However, the factions of the Taliban which represent the old leadership are still present among the ranks of the organization, causing infighting over how to govern the country.
Iran and China have also made it clear they are monitoring the Taliban’s adherence to these pledges as a condition for partnership, including in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The Taliban decision to temporarily ban girls high schools was also met with similar criticism, as women in most Islamic countries are allowed to attend school, including in Iran.
Other Taliban decisions have been met with more favorable views, such as the ban on narcotics cultivation and the ban on western state-funded media outlets such as the BBC. The Taliban’s fight against ISIS militants is also viewed favorably by neighboring countries.
Afghanistan’s neighboring countries have held several summits to discuss the rebuilding and reintegration of Afghanistan following the violent chaos of withdrawal by US forces in mid-2021.
The Chinese foreign minister stated at the most recent summit that Afghanistan cannot be cut off from the international community.
Since the Taliban victory against the US-backed Afghan army last August, Afghanistan has been mired in a humanitarian crisis as a result of a western economic blockade that has denied the country access to its foreign reserves.