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The Taliban say they will rule Afghanistan according to a strict interpretation of Islam’s legal system called Sharia law.
The group claimed victory after taking over the capital Kabul, bringing to an end almost two decades of a US-led coalition’s presence in the country.
What’s happening in Afghanistan?
In the first press briefing after taking control, a Taliban spokesman said issues such as the media and women’s rights would be respected “within the framework of Islamic law”, but the group has not yet provided any details of what that will mean in practice.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai – who was shot aged 15 by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan – has warned the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law could be disastrous for the safety of women and girls in the country.
“I had the opportunity to talk to a few activists in Afghanistan, including women’s rights activists, and they are sharing their concern that they are not sure what their life is going to be like,” she told the BBC.
“A lot of them remember what was happening in 1996-2001, and they are deeply worried about their safety, their rights, their protection [and] their access to school.”
When the Taliban were last in power, women were not allowed to work or have an education. From the age of eight, girls had to wear a burka, and women were only allowed out chaperoned by a male relative. Women who disobeyed the rules were publicly flogged.
What is Sharia?
Sharia law is Islam’s legal system. It is derived from both the Koran, Islam’s central text, and fatwas – the rulings of Islamic scholars.
Sharia literally means “the clear, well-trodden path to water”.
Sharia law acts as a code for living that all Muslims should adhere to, including prayers, fasting and donations to the poor.
It aims to help Muslims understand how they should lead every aspect of their lives according to God’s wishes.
What does this mean in practice?
Sharia can inform every aspect of daily life for a Muslim.
For example, a Muslim wondering what to do if their colleagues invite them to the pub after work may turn to a Sharia scholar for advice to ensure they act within the legal framework of their religion.
Other areas of daily life where Muslims may turn to Sharia for guidance include family law, finance and business.
What are some of the tough punishments?
Sharia law divides offences into two general categories: “hadd” offences, which are serious crimes with set penalties, and “tazir” crimes, where the punishment is left to the discretion of the judge.
Hadd offences include theft, which can be punishable by amputating the offender’s hand, and adultery, which can carry the penalty of death by stoning.
Some Islamic organisations have argued that there are many safeguards and a high burden of proof in the application of hadd penalties.
The UN has spoken out against death by stoning, saying it “constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited”.
Not all Muslim countries adopt or enforce such punishments for hadd offences, and surveys have suggested attitudes of Muslims to harsh penalties for such offences vary widely.
Can Muslims be executed for converting?
Apostasy, or leaving the faith, is a very controversial issue in the Muslim world and experts say the majority of scholars believe it is punishable by death.
But a minority of Muslim thinkers, particularly those engaged with Western societies, argue that the reality of the modern world means the “punishment” should be left to God – and that Islam itself is not threatened by apostasy.
The Koran itself declares there is “no compulsion” in religion.
How are rulings made?
Like any legal system, Sharia is complex and its practice is entirely reliant on the quality and training of experts.
Islamic jurists issue guidance and rulings. Guidance that is considered a formal legal ruling is called a fatwa.
There are five different schools of Sharia law. There are four Sunni doctrines: Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanafi, and one Shia doctrine, Shia Jaafari.
The five doctrines differ in how literally they interpret the texts from which Sharia law is derived.