AREU Synthesis Paper Series
of democracy would look like from an Afghan perspective remains ambiguous, and there is no existing political debate on the content of such a system. However, the statement that democracy needs to be Islamic as opposed to Western may be more of a reaction against perceived foreign imposition than a positive expression of support for the outlook of the country’s Islamic leaders— many of whom have a long history of coopting Islam for political or self-serving ends. It is thus possible that if the foreign military and civilian presence in Afghanistan were to decrease, this focus on emphasising Islamic identity might shift toward more pragmatic considerations such as issues of corruption and service provision.
For this research, the general lack of specificity about what was contained within the Islamic framework was partially due to how respondents related to their interviewers. Since they were largely from the same religious background, the same ethnicity and often the same local area, respondents often presumed they shared a common understanding of these phrases and thus saw no need to provide further explanation. In order to remedy this gap, AREU hosted a number of FGDs in Kabul in which the research teams who had collected the data were invited to share their thoughts about the differences between Islamic and Western democracy—especially with regard to what the charchaokat-i-Islam might and might not encompass. The lists that were drawn up in these sessions touched on numerous points such as the issue of conversion (as mentioned in the final quote above) or the responsibility of sons toward their parents. However, by far the most visible theme was the differences mentioned in relation to women.
4.3 Women’s behaviour: Male and female perspectives
The question of women and women’s behaviour— as can be seen across many quotations thusfar— cut across most definitions of what is acceptable, and what is not, within an “Islamic democracy.” This is unsurprising in the context of the extreme contrasts made by some respondents between
women’s assumed behaviour in Western societies and their acceptable conduct in Afghanistan, where for the most part they are considered responsible for maintaining family honour via adherence to appropriate norms such as purdah (female seclusion). Nevertheless, the pervasiveness of this theme is hard to ignore:
Foreigners want there to be a democracy in which everyone has their rights...[They] want women to walk around in the cities and claim their rights but Islam says that women should be in hijab and that they should not talk with other men [to whom they are not related]. Islam says that these things are illegal. The foreigners want to harm Islam by encouraging women to come outside and behave like this. This in itself causes harm because then women want the kinds of freedom that are not permissible in Islam.
Male student, urban Ghazni
If you implement Islamic democrac , this would be good. For example, if a person wants his daughter to get married, it is necessary for him to ask his daughter whether she agrees or not. If she remains silent, it means she agrees—and if she speaks against the marriage, it is clear that she refuses. This is an Islamic democracy. Foreign democracy is different because there are no restrictions on men or women. In Islam, gaining knowledge is incumbent on men and women but within the limitations of the religion. If there is a threat to the respect and value of the woman then it is not necessary that she goes to school.
Male teacher, urban Nangarhar
Democracy is a Greek word and it means people’s government. Islam is not against this but it ensures that people’s rights are respected and not wasted. For example, in democratic countries, every 24 hours hundreds of children are aborted and their life is taken away from them. But in Islamic rules and regulations adultery is unlawful and a serious offence. From one side this protects the lives of infants and from the other side it saves us from the infection of the AIDS virus. Nikah [marriage] is an important Sunnah58 of our Prophet and it
Mohammad and emulated by Muslims as a holy and appropriate practice.