Religious institutes in Afghanistan: status and prospects

Abstract. This work presents the report on the carried-out analysis on a status and prospects of functioning and development for religious institutes in Afghanistan. The main emphasis is placed on the most demanded by Afghan society and the world community fields, such as religious education, counteraction to terrorism and extremism, toleration promotion. Statistical data, public statements from Muslim authorities, as well as interview to the officials in the Afghan government, engaged in these issues, have been attracted while preparing the material. Religion is one of little- known areas of public life in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, it has got path-breaking improvements, which generate and maintain optimism in the future of the country.

Introduction

After overthrowing Taliban regime in Afghanistan, reform of madrasah, at the insistence of Americans, became one of the most essential and urgent tasks of the new authorities. Collin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State of that time, spoke concerning these educational institutions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The motive was accurately and clearly formulated – madrasah should not be a hotbed of intolerance and aggressive ideology any more [see e.g. 1].

After more than 10 years, it is possible to sum up some results of the reform. And if in Pakistan the reform has terminated in failure, in Afghanistan it has been carried out. And its results, comparing to other directions of the state construction, allow speaking, firstly, about new quality of religious institutes, and secondly, about the prospects of development and new challenges facing them.

Thus, it is necessary to stipulate that dismantle of the Taliban regime included judicial system, the legislation on marriage and a family, and many others, besides system of religious education. Thus the functions of religious institutes were significantly narrowed.

Methods of the research

The present analysis applies a terminology, which is inherent in theoretical (general) religious studies, where religious institutes act as "a social body" of religion [see e.g. 2 pp. 202203]. In our case, those are: establishments and the organizations, which are engaged in the religious sermon, religious awareness and education, development and apologetics of Islam in Afghanistan.

The approach applied here differs a little from what is presented in a number of Islam studies and political researches:

Firstly, we consciously did not resort to the theory of secularization, though all actions in the sphere of the state construction can be interpreted as such. This is because during short board of Taliban, an attempt was made to reduce the state and public institutes. Meanwhile, after their overthrow, an activity of the Afghan management was directed on a reconstruction, creation and development of these institutes. For example, modern army and security forces, judicial and legislative authorities, political parties, education system, mass media, etc.

Secondly, during the analysis of a status and prospects of religious institutes, the new religious movements and groups weren't considered as such.

Thirdly, during the work, the Taliban group and other armed groups were considered as political opponents of authorities in power.

As sources this work has attracted: statistical reports of the Afghan official sources, public statements (hutba) of the most known Muslim authorities, interview to the officials from the Afghan government who are engaged in this issue.

Religious institutes in Afghanistan – status

The system of Muslim religious institutes in the country had an appearance distinctive to late medieval societies. From one side, it provided mainly transfer and reproduction of religious knowledge, functioning of legal system and the state ideology. On the other hand, it corresponded to the level of social and economic development of the country.

As it is known, an attempt of reform in this sphere was undertaken under the monarchy. Reform under the regime of the president Na- jibullah became the second unsuccessful attempt.

The third attempt of reform for religious institutes began with overthrow of the Taliban regime and continues to this day. The need for development of an alternative to religious extremism became the main incentive motive. The concept of "moderate Islam" acted in that capacity. And the reformed religious institutes in this case act as its direct conductors and popularizers.

Three of the most significant of its components can be distinguished:

First, legal proceedings were fully withdrawn from the clergymen reference. The Afghan leadership accurately and consistently defends state’s monopoly for implementation of justice in all territory of the country. These norms are stated in the legislation, are carried out in the capital, the provincial centers and regions of the country under control to the central government. And messages on extrajudicial punishments arrive from the remote points. The success of this part of reform can be referred to the fact that the actual Afghan legislation, though, is far from the best world samples, nevertheless, with accounting of Islamic and actually Afghan legal culture and legal consciousness, meet the requirements of the Afghan society.

The next component is a reform of madrasah. From the very beginning with the full support of the foreign states which had bound themselves to pay the expenses in the social sphere of Afghanistan, the most part of the existing madrasahs passed under control of the state. This allowed pressing problems of logistics to be solved, and financial situation of teachers of madrasahs to be improved.

Curriculum change with obligatory inclusion of secular subjects became a matter of principles for the sponsors of madrasah reform. As reported by the Afghan sources and confirmed by western ones, today the ratio of secular and religious disciplines makes 40% to 60%, in favor of the religious [3, p. 12]. At the same time, there are English, computer literacy and some other subjects among secular disciplines, which madrasahs would not be able to teach without external support.

837 madrasahs with 295203 pupils and 7396 teachers clearly indicate that Afghans send their children to these madrasahs, but not to educational institutions which raise doubts in their reliability [4, p. 5], [see fig. 1 and 2].

Figure 1

Figure 2

One of the characteristics of Muslim religious education in Afghanistan is its multiethnicity. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are the Sunni, adhering to Hanafi law school, may count on unhindered activity, financial support from the state, including, acting as the state madrasah and institutions educating other religious schools and the flows, such as, Shia Imamiya, or Salafi.

And the third component is the mosques. Up to recent time, it was possible to say quantity of mosques in this country with large degree of an assumption. But a statistical yearbook, for the first time, has published some data by the regions [see fig. 3].

Figure 3

Official department for religion tries to keep their account, registration and at best to receive control over them, attracting clergymen with an allowance for the personnel and activity of a mosque. Today, according to publications in the Afghan press, a little more than 3000 clergymen receive the salary from the government.

It is important at the same time that materials, available from Kazakhstan, testify that the big group of authorities completely supporting steps of the government in an achievement of peace and creation of the national state was formed among the Afghan clergymen. For example, an imam from one of the Kabul cathedral mosques of Muhammad Ayaz Niazi in the Friday sermon accents that the Quran has no appeal to separate tribes and the people, but appeal to people who believed, to a community, etc. Therefore, Afghans, whether they are Pushtuns, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks, and so on, are brothers. And it is necessary to be guided by this principle in life [5].

Religious institutes in Afghanistan – problems

In this part it would be desirable to give detailed attention to criticism of a situation in the religious sphere and prospects of its development.

The sharpest and the most reasonable criticism, concerning religious institutes, appears in cases of illegal decisions taken by clergymen. At the same time, the cases where women become victims receive the greatest resonance. Marriages of minors, marriages on coercion, cases when "honor murders" are implemented in "sentences of religious court" are the most widespread. It should be noted as well, that such cases always receive the corresponding moral, legal assessment both from the political management, and from clergymen. Therefore, it is natural that in the course of time such cases occur on the increasing distance from the capital and the provincial centers.

Uncertain prospects of employment for madrasah listeners become another problem aspect. Since the full course of education in madrasah is 14 years, instead of 12 years of usual secondary education and it delays an inevitable problem, which their graduates will face, only for 2 years.

One of decisions has just been implemented within educational process. The subjects allowing a working profession to be received have being entered at the level equivalent to high school. Other option is continuation of education in a higher educational institution as the diploma of madrasah is equated to senior secondary education, and respectively grants such right to the graduate. At the same time, the madrasah graduate is unlikely to become an imam-hatip or a madrasah teacher at the end of the course. For pursuing a career in this field he should continue education to receive bachelor degree. In other words, the madrasah becomes one more source of unemployed youth with senior secondary education.

But achievement of complete state control over religious institutes is seemed to be the most difficult. For example, not all mosques and madrasah agree for state status. It concerns both Shiite, and Sunni establishments. It is possible to predict that the ratio of independent establishments, as well as under the state control ones will remain invariable. Many mosques and madrasah are well supported at the expense of donations by some individuals, and conform to requirements imposed by the authorities. As, for example, the Kabul mosque "Wazir Mohammad Akbar Khan" in which Muhammad Ayaz Niazi serves.

New challenges to religious institutes

As it is known, the sector of telecommunications in Afghanistan develops roughly, first of all mobile communication, and the platforms on messages exchange and social networks. According to official statistics by the companies of mobile communication, more than 24 million of sim-cards are distributed among individuals [6, p. 196].

The number of active users of social networks grows. Among which youth makes the vast majority, and if take into consideration the research of the German colleagues from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH ‘Social Media in Afghanistan Measuring the usage & perceptions of the Afghan population’ the most popular social networks are four: Facebook, Google +, Youtube and Twitter [7, p. 2].

For this reason there is a risk of the instant, having spontaneous character disorders on religious, ethnic or any other issues. In this regard it is crucial that spiritual leaders acquire virtual space, without giving the chance for monopoly of technically grounded extremists and alarmists to provoke disorders.

In other words, the authorities and religious institutes made efforts to ensure that such incidents with punishment over the young woman named Farkhunde on suspicion in burning the Quran in the center of Kabul in the middle of the day will no longer arise [see e.g. 9].

In addition, observers have noted a growth of propaganda for terrorist and extremist groups through social networks and various messengers. In this regard it is pleasant to observe that such materials are being removed in due time, that is an undoubted merit of intelligence services. Yet, continuous updating of virtual space with materials full of appeals to a non-violence, peace and mutual tolerance is a result of Muslim clergymen activity.

It is clear that the risks will increase with the growing penetration of telecommunication services, but it is possible to note that both security forces and religious institutes keep up with this growth so far.

Discussion

The reform of madrasah, in particular, and religious institutions, generally, did not receive an overwhelming response among researchers. The most part of the works devoted to Afghanistan considers the most crucial issues connected with the risks coming from this country. Therefore, it was necessary, during the research, to look back at theoretical practices of the western organizations and authors. Their critical relation to the situation in this sphere can be explained by the fact that the reform is carried out at the expense of their resources and it is essentially important for them to receive the greatest return from investments. Though, it is necessary to acknowledge, during the analysis of the western literature on this issue, no appeals to wind up the reform were noticed [see e.g.].

Other block of literature is connected with Pakistan, next to Afghanistan. And here practically all authors, both Pakistani, and foreign, recognize failure of the reforms which began simultaneously with Afghan ones. The resistance to this reform by clergymen, as passive, so active, most often is called to be a reason for that [see e.g., 10].

Therefore, this research has no links to domestic researches. It should be considered as an attempt to attract attention to process which in the average and long term perspective, in case of success, will positively affect stability of the region. And in the return case will aggravate the risks.

Conclusions

Thus, with all the problems on the ground, which objectively complicate the reform of religious institutes in Afghanistan, it is possible to tell that, in general, it is progressing positively. It would be impossible without direct financial support from abroad and the Afghan clergy’s resolute unwillingness to repeat the past mistakes. And the main thing, according to increased number of students and expansion of madrasah network, the process is favored by ordinary Afghans.

So in the future it would be necessary to follow up the situation in this sphere. Since the Afghan colleagues face new challenges – appearance and expansion of propaganda among youth and organizations like "Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami", "Takfir wal-Hijra", "Tablighi Jamaat", and others. It is being discussed on the national level. Monitoring of the situation, its analysis and linking to current political situation in the region are absolutely essential.

At the same time, the suggested research may be useful as a manual for researchers on Afghanistan, religious experts, engaged with current state of Islam.

 

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Year: 2016
City: Almaty