Taliban begins religious reform of Afghan universities

Religious requirements tripled, forcing some institutions to make cuts to core courses

June 29, 2022
Students recite the holy Koran to illustrate Taliban begins religious reform of Afghan universities
Source: Getty

The Taliban has begun its anticipated reform of higher education in Afghanistan to emphasise religious teaching, tripling required credits in Islamic studies.

Not long after the extremist group took over the country nearly a year ago, it became clear that it would enact broad changes, recasting education in keeping with its conservative beliefs.

The group’s Ministry of Education has issued a 62-page document in which it promised to “provide a standard curriculum that is in line with religious and national values”, under which all universities have been required to increase their offerings in Islamic studies from eight credits to 24.

According to local media, the change has already resulted in some universities jettisoning other courses, with one private institution allegedly forced to fire its Dari literature department.

It remains to be seen where the Taliban will stop – and how far the changes will penetrate across the country’s universities. Already though, the move has left some educators unsettled.

One Herat University lecturer told Times Higher Education that education in Afghanistan was “going through a slow death path”.

“Prejudice and ignorance are rampant here. Particularly about the manipulation in the curriculum; [the Taliban] are implementing their own policies and ideology,” said the lecturer, who requested anonymity because of safety concerns.

Herat University has had to reduce some of its core courses from three to two credits to accommodate the religious classes, because students cannot take more than 21 credits per semester.

“In other faculties, it is likely that some sub-topics have either been reduced or removed. And Dari literature is no exception,” said the Herat University lecturer.

So far, the Taliban’s changes seem to be affecting institutions to different degrees. At Parwan University in eastern Afghanistan, there has been no need to scrap any courses, but the university has had to recruit new teachers to cover the extra religious subjects, a faculty member told THE.

In another institution, Bamyan University, more than three hours from Kabul, students of Hanafi law – one of the four Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence – have been left in “an uncertain state” after the Taliban mandated that the curriculum switch to the Shia-influenced Jafari law, a branch favoured by its old guard, said Ali Reza Khatibi, a fourth-year student there.

The last-minute change would leave students without a solid foundation in either branch of jurisprudence, and struggling to complete their degrees, he said, adding that it was an example of the Taliban not accepting any diversity in education.

“The Taliban are a tribe who want a monopoly, and by their actions, they want to influence and rule over everyone. They do not allow or accept anyone else,” he said.

Ramatullah Amiri, an independent scholar who researches education and the Taliban, said the changes showed that the group was simply revamping its old playbook from when it was last in power 20 years ago.

“I was a student during the first Taliban regime from 1994 to 2001, so I remember carrying those heavy religious books. Right now they’re literally propping up their old regime curriculum.”

Creating broad religious education via madrasas – religious schools – previously allowed the group to consolidate its power, he said.

But he warned that the push was likely to backfire, especially in cities, where the population is more secular.

“I think this will actually further move away the students from being pro-Taliban. It’s the wrong idea. Some people stood with them not because they liked the Taliban but because they hated the internationals – so there’s a difference.”

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

In the name of modernization the West had introduced a secular system of education in Afghanistan and also tried to change the social system with infiltration of western culture . The Western culture and education system have brought many Scientific innovation no doubt but increase defiance of God Almighty Allah in almost every sector leading to breakage of social norms replaced by sexual abuse, abortion, alcohol, pornography, living together, gay living which are actually antinatural and detrimental to human civilization for this God Almighty Allah sent torments like COVID-19 pandemic, HIV AIDS, Monkey pox, unusual natural calamities and conflicts in the world. The Taliban had fought against the westernization so, once back in power they would try to implement their system in every sphere of life including the education system. Once lost in Afghanistan people of the West should not peep into their working style rather the Talibans should allowed to continue with their objectives and make peace in Afghanistan. All modernized nations had tried to bring changes in Afghanistan for twenty years so we should give them chance to go ahead with their objectives and see what happens next.

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