The Taliban and Afghanistan's Hindus
By Enver Masud, The Wisdom Fund
WASHINGTON, DC--The Taliban's religious police minister, Mohammed Wali, is reported to have told Associated Press ("Hindus to Be Required to Wear Label," May 22, 2001), that Hindus living in Afghanistan may be required to wear an identity label on their clothing to distinguish them from Muslims, and that Hindu women would be required to to veil themselves.

The Taliban's proposal runs counter to Islamic teaching. Islam countenances no distinctions among humans, no division of them into races or nations, castes or classes.

Following the conquest of India by Muhammad bin Qasim, wrote the Islamic scholar Shaheed Isma'il Raji al Faruqi, the Muslims faced new religions that they had never known before--Buddhism and Hinduism. Muhammad bin Qasim sought instruction from the caliph in Damascus on how to treat Hindus and Buddhists. They appeared to worship idols, and their doctrines were at the farthest remove from Islam. Their founders were unheard of by Muslims.

The caliph called a council of Muslim scholars, and asked them to render judgment. The judgment was that as long as Hindus and Buddhists did not fight the Islamic state, as long as they paid the jizyah--a tax paid in return for the protection given to them by the Muslim army, to which they were not compuslorily conscripted like Muslims--they must be free to worship their gods as they please, to maintain their temples, and to determine their lives by the precepts of their faith.

The Taliban's proposal has given Western media yet another opportunity to attack the Taliban's record on human rights--as they did in the matter of the Bamiyan Buddhas. It's a pity that this concern for human rights does not extend to the Bosnians, Chechens, Palestinians, and to millions more living in grinding poverty.

As for the Hindus in Afghanistan, according to UN wire reports, journalist Kamal Hyder said Hindus he had spoken with "do not feel discriminated against." Of Afghanistan's population of 25 million people, non-Muslims comprise a small minority, with the largest group--Hindus--numbering about 500 (Constable, Washington Post). The badges are not felt to be necessary for Sikhs, because they wear distinctive turbans (BBC Online).

Afghanistan's Taliban defended the proposal. "Senior Taliban information ministry official Mullah Abdulhanan Himat told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (Reuters, May 23) that the ruling aimed to protect Hindus and other minorities from the demands of religious police enforcing Muslim rules."

And, is it mere coincidence that this story broke just when the Mitchell report was drawing attention to Israel's human rights record in Palestine? And, why is there not a similar denunciation of the distinctive automobile license tags which give every Jew priveliges that are denied to Palestinians in the land of their birth?

Anti-Taliban forces are also suspect. "The ministry of external affairs goofed (Times ofIndia), "when it condemned the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for allegedly forcing Hindus living in that country to wear yellow clothes, stop wearing turbans and start following the Shariat. ... the source of the original report appears to be Masood Khalili, the anti-Taliban Afghan ambassador in New Delhi who made similar allegations in February as well."

It may be prudent to withold judgement on the Taliban's proposal until the details of its implementation are better known. Unlike the automobile license tags which mark Palestinians for second class treatment today--as the yellow stars marked Jews in Germany yesterday--the Afghan badges for Hindus may turn out to be marks of privelige not persecution.

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