The Platform

Afghan girls' coats hang outside a school in Kabul in 2006.

Darul Uloom Deoband, an influential Islamic seminary in India, is conspicuously silent when asked for comment on the Taliban’s decision to ban Afghan women and girls from attending school. I submitted multiple requests for comment, but unfortunately, my emails went unanswered.

I initially submitted my request for comment in November 2022. The request was to clarify whether women’s education is permitted under Islam. But even after contacting Darul Uloom Deoband for months, no response was provided.

Darul Uloom Deoband was founded in 1857 in the small town of Deoband around 100 miles north of Delhi by Muslim scholars. It has become one of the most prestigious Sunni Islamic seminaries in South Asia. After the partition of India, many noted scholars of this seminary moved to newly created Pakistan and set up madrassas teaching an austere version of Islam, particularly along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This is the area where most of the Taliban and their leadership were educated. Because of this, the Taliban also follows the Deobandi ideology.

Through this interpretation of Islam, the Taliban justify their form of rule. And because of this ideological bond, it stands to reason that Darul Uloom Deoband is reluctant to clarify its position on the Taliban’s decision to ban women’s education.

Deobandis are a prominent group among Islamists in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani and Afghani Deobandis often claim that they have little contact with the original seminary in northern India. However, their madrasas still follow Deoband’s program of studies. That program focuses on the most orthodox interpretations of the Quran. Alumni from Darul Uloom Haqqania, one of the most prominent Deobandi schools in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, hold many prominent posts in the current Taliban-led government.

Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban, studied at Darul Uloom Haqqania. Because of its association with Mullah Omar and other Islamists, the school is often referred to as the University of Jihad. Therefore, it doesn’t seem credible that Deobandis across the region have no connections. Maybe they have a limited organizational connection, but they definitely have an ideological one. Furthermore, whenever the Taliban requires a large number of fighters, Deobandi madrasas along the border areas have closed their schools and advised their students to join the Taliban.

The Taliban claim that its ban on women’s education is allowed by Sharia law. However, a simple Google search will tell you that there is no universal Islamic law because Sharia is open to different interpretations. The Taliban’s justification for its hardline interpretation is rooted in the Deobandi movement which follows the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence. Thus, the Taliban’s Deobandi version of Islamic law differs from other predominantly Muslim countries. Darul Uloom Deoband itself has been criticized many times in the past over the issuance of fatwas prohibiting Muslim women from working outside the home or girls from going to school.

Deobandis in India and Pakistan don’t have the capacity to ban women’s education, they only share their views and in some cases issue fatwas. But that’s not the case in Afghanistan as Deobandis are running the government which gives them the power to implement any interpretation of Sharia they like. And other Deobandis on the subcontinent are giving them ideological support by keeping quiet.

The Deobandis claim that they follow the purest form of Islam but on the contrary their beliefs and teachings only find an audience in South Asia and not in Muslim Ummah at large. It’s ironic that Deobandis often put forward their views or even issue fatwas on issues like photography, dress codes, kite flying, and beards for men. It would not matter much if these fatwas were mere opinions. But they are treated and projected more as a decree, an order to be followed, and a defining proclamation about what is to be believed and not believed. But strangely, Darul Uloom Deoband doesn’t think it’s important to give its views on the recent ban on women’s education by the Taliban, their ideological followers.

Manish Rai is a geopolitical analyst and columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and the editor of geopolitical news agency ViewsAround (VA). He has done reporting from Jordon, Iran, and Afghanistan. His work has been quoted in the British Parliament.