A regime that beats its own citizens in the name of religion for not growing longer beards, and not completely covering ones body from head to toe is capable of going to any extent in the zeal of demonstrating its commitment to its faith. And this is what the Taliban regime has done in Afghanistan. Its latest affront, a reminder that the Dark Ages are only a religious decree away, the Taliban has ordered Hindus in Afghanistan to wear identity badges reminiscent of Spain during the Inquisition and Germany under Hitler.
Many Muslim scholars have already rightly condemned the religious decree issued by the so-called Ministry for the Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vices. Certainly, there is no room for religious bigotry, intolerance and coercion in Afghanistan or anywhere else. Those who act in a coercive manner, causing insult and humiliation to others, are evil in the eyes of the divine and must be treated as evil-doers.
The Quran, which Muslims regard as the final divine revelation, says clearly: O You who have attained to faith! No men shall deride (other) men; it may well be that those (whom you deride) are better than themselves: and no women shall deride other women; it may well be that those who whom they deride are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by epithets. Evil is all imputation of inequity after one has attained to faith and they who become guilty thereof and do not repent. It is they, they who are evildoers.
The Taliban decree is an act of religious apartheid conducted by an arrogant and ignorant minority who claims to speak in the name of religion. It has created the most serious crisis in the domain of ideas guiding the Muslim world since the emergence of Islam as a universal faith. If the Taliban are not challenged and confronted now, they have the means to change the color and scope of Islam. A victory by the Taliban will be a severe setback for Islam and for divine teachings in general.
But will this condemnation help the frightened community of 10,000 or more Hindus in Afghanistan? Will it soothe souls that are now hurt and exposed to all kinds of humiliation? Will any Hindu or non-Muslim accept the argument that Islam is good but the Taliban are bad?
How would Muslims and their leaders feel if their community were ordered to wear special badges in countries where they are in the minority? How would they react to Christian Europe, Africa and Americas, in Jewish Israel and in Hindu India, if their fellow Muslims are asked to dress in a particular way in order to distinguish themselves from the rest of society? Would they accept the argument that Christianity is good but the rulers are bad?
WHAT THE WORLD EXPECTS
The argument that the Taliban are the antithesis of Islam has been heard several times in the recent past and it does not help the victims or the perpetrators. The world expects something different from Muslims. It expects some action on the part of those who claim to represent the true spirit of faith.
It is time for Muslims to prove their commitment to the fundamental human values of religious tolerance and pluralism by taking a course of action that should be seen as substantive. They should express solidarity with the Hindus of Afghanistan and other non-Muslims who have been put through the worst kind of humiliation. They should observe a day of protest against the Taliban all over the world by wearing the same badges and dress as the Hindus of Afghanistan have been forced to wear. Their scholars should visit the capital of Afghanistan wearing the Hindu identity badges and declare that they will not leave until religious minorities are ensured equal status.
A MORAL CHALLENGE
This is not a matter of Muslims looking good in the eyes of the world. It is a matter of their sincerity and commitment to their own faith. If they fail to protect the rights of Hindus to live as equal citizens of a state that has a Muslim majority, they should never complain about acts of religious intolerance again in their own community which are committed by other bigots.
What is happening in Afghanistan is a blow to all the intellectual progress Muslims have made over the years in their understanding of the divine teachings. It is time to challenge the Taliban.
So, on June 4, when Muslims all over the world celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, I and the members of my family and my co-workers will be wearing a badge similar to the one Hindus of Afghanistan are forced to wear. Our intent is to make the statement that the true commitment to Islam is meaningful only when the divine teachings of tolerance for all faiths are adhered to strictly.