|History and Biodata
Afghanistan Ulema Council Head Afghanistan's General Council of Ulema Chairman Afghanistan Ulema Council:
Fazal Hadi Shinwari (2002 -2006) (died in a Hospital in India)
Former Deputy Maulvi Qayamuddin Kashaf now de facto Chairman (20100615)
Qeyamuddin Kashaf Qeyamouddin Kashaf (20140911, 20170315, 20170618, 20180805, 20200524 died)
Attaullah Mawlavi Ludin, acting (20200908)
Mawlawi Sardar Zadran Acting Council Chairman (20210703)
Muhammad Qasem Qasim Zai Halimi (20170603)
National Ulema Council Member:
Enayatullah Darshad Baligh Enayatullah Balegh, imam of Kabul’s biggest mosque, Pul-e Kheshti (20191023)
Maulavi Mohammad Ayaz Tarnak (20151124)
Waiz Zada Behsodi (20201104)
Pir Muhammad Rohani (2020)
Abdul Sattar Khawasi,
Hafiz Abdul Qayum,
Alami Balkhi (a Shia),
The Afghanistan Ulama Council was established in spring 2002 in Kabul, the Council had, within two years, expanded to all 34 provinces of Afghanistan making it the biggest (official) religious body. According to members of its secretariat, it has 3,000 members, both ulama and mullahs, approximately 80 from each province. A majority of the members are Sunni, but there is a sizeable Shia minority of 25 to 30 per cent – something that was not seen in similar pre-war councils. The Shi’as additionally have their own separate council of ulama. Most members of the national Council have a 1980s jihadi background but come from the whole range of mujahedin factions (tanzim). Its membership makes the Council an equivalent to an average Afghan ministry’s staff, and the monthly stipend of between 5,000 and 10,000 Afghani (approx. USD 100-200) is equal to the salary of an average Afghan government civil employee. (The holder of a BA would receive Afs 7,000.)
The Afghan National Council of Ulema - the highest religious body in Afghanistan - is to Afghanistan what the College of Cardinals is at the Vatican. It is a presidentially-appointed body of clerics and the members are paid by the Afghan Government. It is under Government control and supports the President. The Ulema Council, was headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari, is a group of influential Sunni and Shi'a scholars, imams, and Islamic jurists from across the country reflecting the network of provincial ulema councils. Its senior members meet regularly with the President and provide him advice on Muslim moral, ethical, and legal issues. The Council is nominally independent of the Government, but its members receive financial support from the state. Through contacts with the Presidential Palace, the Parliament, and ministries, the Council or its members advise on the formulation of new legislation or the implementation of existing law. While well represented in provincial capitals, the Council has much less outreach in villages and rural areas.
Every month or so, the 150 members of its Central Council (Shura-ye Markazi) – which acts as the larger body’s leadership board – along with the heads of the 34 provincial councils, meet for several days to discuss religious, cultural, and political issues.
The Council’s publications such as the bi-monthly newspaper Al-Islam copy all other state-run newspapers, reserving the front page for news on the President, the Cabinet meetings presided over by him, and his speeches and decisions. In their gatherings and the presidential meetings in Kabul, the ulama hardly touch on genuinely popular issues such as tackling corruption (which in Islamic law is at least as evil as the other sins they do focus on, such as taking drugs, banks charging interest, and immodest clothing for women) and the weak provision of basic services to the population.
Consequently, the Ulama Council’s pro-government fatwas, its dependence on government stipends, and sometimes subservient rhetoric vis-à-vis the Kabul government have drawn criticism from both sides. People often refer to council members as sarkari (governmental) or, more pejoratively, darbari (courtiers). This has been picked up by the Taleban, who reject the council’s religious authority and call its members ‘puppet mullas who use their religion for making dollars’. They have also put them on their kill-list, with bloody success, as shown by a large number of assassinations of pro-government clergymen.
The Council’s religious credentials are also limited by the fact that it issues statements in bullet points, without much reference to the sacred texts or the opinions of legal scholars. As Afghanistan’s top religious body, which sees itself on equal terms with Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University and Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Ulama, the Council has failed to produce any serious debate on issues that are religiously controversial (like suicide attacks and violence against women) or on claims by the Taleban (eg, what might constitute an Islamic government and that working with foreigners is wrong).
From time to time, the Council has ventured to push the limits of its mandate. Following the Quranic principle of amr bil-ma’ruf wa-n-nahy anil-munkar (‘promote virtue and discourage evil’), it has, for example, lambasted certain TV shows as ‘un-Islamic’, demanded the death penalty for Afghans who have converted from Islam, and, in a much-discussed statement, urged that women should not travel without a close male relative (mahram) and avoid mixing with non-related men in their social life, workplaces, and educational institutions.
Its self-appointed role as promoter of virtue and preventer of evil has attracted criticism both nationally and internationally and brought the Council into confrontation with human rights watchdogs, not least because the amr bil-ma’ruf principle reminded many of the Taleban ministry of the same name and its edicts frequently use a language that sounds similar to the Taleban’s.
In a broader sense, the Council has proved ineffective at mobilizing the population in favour of the government – for the very reason that it is drawing most of its members from government-paid circles.
The mullas who constitute the majority of the Council still come from Afghanistan’s traditional religious establishment and are largely drawn from a generation whose religion has become heavily radicalised and politicised during the past decades’ civil wars. Since they have usually been trained in madrassas with centuries-old curriculum, they are bound to have little or no knowledge of modern concepts of civil rights, nation state, politics, international relations, democracy, and, most importantly, how religion interplays with all these in a modern society. Nevertheless, they see themselves as the vanguard that defends the traditional values and push for their own narrow interpretation of an Islamic state. As an integral part of the broader religious establishment, the ulama are highly influential in their impact on the general atmosphere in the country, setting limits even on those rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution and forcing many Afghans to self-censor their behaviour.
The mullas’ poor awareness and lack of modern education not only pits them against the Afghan modernists struggling for a democratic state, but it also puts them in sharp contrast with non-militant/political Islamists in other parts of the world (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) who enjoy good modern education and therefore have a better understanding of the modern world.
The largest religious body in Afghanistan, the National Ulama Council, which was set up by President Karzai almost a decade ago. The president’s hope, expressed at the time, was that the council – with its 3,000 members from across the country, all of whom receive government salaries – would help him win political support and religious legitimacy. The gambit has worked – but only partially. The council almost always publically backs the government, and in return gets frequent access to the president as well as influence on his decisions. Yet, when at home in the provinces, members often preach a different message and, at times, attack the administration and its Western backers, actually helping fuel anti-government feelings.
Ulama’ (Arabic) is the plural of alim, ie a scholar with a higher degree of Islamic studies. A mullah, on the other hand, is somebody who has attained a lower level of Islamic education, usually in mosques or small madrasas, and is usually working as an imam (head of a mosque) in a rural area. Although the council’s name only includes Ulama, some of its members are mullahs of lower education.
Located in the upmarket neighbourhood of Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan is the heavily fortified headquarters of the National Council of Religious Scholars (Shura-ye Sartasari-ye Ulama-ye Afghanistan)