What Is Sharia Law? Here's Why Afghan Women Are Wary Of Taliban Rule

All you should know about what is sharia law and why it could bring a clampdown on women's rights when imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Tanvi Akhauri
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What is sharia law that the women of Afghanistan so dread being ruled under by the Taliban? What kind of regulation do the religious diktats impose? Why has announcement of the use of sharia sparked panic in the country that returns to life under the Islamist outfit after two decades?

The rights of women and girls in the country will be protected — but only within the framework of Islam as read under the sharia law, Taliban leaders said Tuesday in Kabul during a press conference that attempted to present a moderate face of the terror group's ideologies against its past record.

Their taking of Afghanistan only two days prior to this messaging invoked immediate dread among the Afghan population, especially women, that scrambled to get out of the country; desperation prompted by notoriously violent memories of the Taliban's regime the last time around. Here's what women activists on-ground told us.

Under sharia law, derived from a fundamentally harsh legal interpretation of Islam, the Taliban exercised fascist power in Afghanistan during their rule between 1996 and 2001. It included a serious restriction of women's basic rights to identity, choice and independence.

How The Taliban Practiced Sharia In Afghanistan

Essentially, sharia law bases itself off the Islamic holy book Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Think of its principles as living codes that inform matters of finance, career, family and other aspects of social ethics for subscribers of the faith.

It is important to note here that the approach to sharia is disputed and differentiates across Islamic schools, scholars, and countries.


The Taliban in its reading of the law in 90s Afghanistan was particularly harsh, especially in their enforcement of punishment. Public stonings and executions were common, as were canings and amputations for crimes of adultery and theft.

Many religious scholarly circles perceive the Taliban pushed the envelope on what constitutes offence under sharia to clamp down on women's rights per their own discretion.

Here is the kind of law they imposed that curbed the lives of Afghan women: 

  • The Islamic burqa was to be compulsorily donned, covering the faces of women at all times
  • An employment ban prevented women from careers and education
  • Young girls were permitted only to study religious texts
  • Women could not move in public without a male companion
  • They were to not laugh or speak loudly outdoors to maintain a low profile

A report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) at the time states under the Taliban, women "suffered a catastrophic assault on their human rights." Misogynistic social policy was blended with law to sanction what the terror organisation perceived as the model ideal of a woman.

Political speaker and activist Zarmina Kakar tells SheThePeople from Afghanistan that women have "bitter memories" of the Taliban past that will not be forgotten. She recalls her mother being beaten on the streets for revealing her face on the streets for a few minutes under Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Read here.


The Taliban's promises of allowing women rights are highly suspect, especially in light of women already being sent back home from their workplaces and universities. Women have valid reason to believe, as they are, that the Taliban, despite their claims otherwise, have not changed. An entire people's rights, lives and dignity hang in the balance.

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