The Islamic case for freeing Afghan women

For women in many Muslim countries, change for the better is now the norm. In Turkey, an election last Sunday saw a record number of women (20%) elected to parliament. Women in Iran are in permanent protest by flouting rules on female head covering. In Saudi Arabia, women can now drive and travel more freely. Such trends may help explain why the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation is on a mission. As the collective voice of the Muslim world, the OIC wants to persuade the Taliban, who returned to power in Afghanistan 17 months ago, to ease off harsh rules on girls and women.

In March, the OIC decided to send a team of Islamic scholars to the country to discuss women’s rights to work and to an education beyond the sixth grade – both banned last year. Then in May, the prime minister of Qatar went to Kabul. The tiny Gulf kingdom is a longtime mediator for the Taliban in dealing with the international community. In addition, Islamic scholars at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University have called for the Taliban to reconsider their policies.

This religious outreach may have a better chance of success than recent diplomatic efforts by the United Nations. The U.N.’s insistence on the Taliban honoring the human rights of women is up against a faith that sees rights as divinely given, not humanly given. The Taliban’s Sunni school of theology is particularly strict on women’s behavior, even resulting in flogging for violations.