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Interview with Afghanistan''s Hajj Minister Nematollah Shahrani - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Nematollah Shahrani, the Afghan Hajj and Islamic affairs minister and former vice president, said Taliban leaders used to view public school graduates who wrote on blackboards with chalk as non-Muslims. Shahrani said that the Taliban tarnished the image of Islam and Muslims in favor of

colonialism. He said he was extremely surprised as to how Mullah Omar, leader of the deposed movement, labeled himself &#34Amir al-Mu”minin&#34 (Prince of Believers) and asked his people to give him allegiance and obey him. He said it was ridiculous how Mullah Omar compared himself to Amir al-Mu”minin Umar Bin-al-Khattab, Amir al-Mu”minin Ali, May God be pleased with him, and Amir al-Mu”minin Uthman Bin-Affan, also known as &#34Thu al-Nurayn.&#34 Shahrani said the title Amir al-Mu”minin entailed unique qualifications that Mullah Omar did not possess. For the Taliban movement, he said, Islam was &#34a long beard which was at least two-fist long, a veil for women, and a short dress for men.&#34 Shahrani said leaders of the fundamentalist movement used to ex-communicate everyone who opposed them in thought or opinion. He said he does not ex-communicate anyone since this is against Islam. The Afghan hajj minister said Al-Talabah (the students) or Taliban were once Communists who later grew their beards and rode &#34the jihadist wave&#34 following the departure of Russians from Afghanistan. He said the Taliban”s ban on the education of women would have eventually created an ignorant Afghan nation.

In an interview with &#34Asharq Al-Awsat&#34 on the premises of the US Embassy in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of central Kabul last week, the Afghan minister said he met Bin Ladin, the Al-Qa”ida leader, twice to him at an Arab guesthouse in the border city during the fighting years against the Russians. Shahrani said Bin Ladin had a low voice. He said Bin Ladin is an evildoer. His acts, he said, are viewed as betrayal to Islam and Muslims and therefore, he should be put on trial.

Shahrani said he used to grow a beard during the years when he studied in Egypt or lived in Peshawar. He said he used to provide support for mujahidin against the Russians. The hajj minister said, &#34Taliban members would have cut off my head had they arrested me but God saved me from them.&#34 He said he was imprisoned for a period of time following the Communist coup d”etat. After his release, he said, he emigrated from Afghanistan and worked in favor of Afghan mujahidin. He added that he provided them with support for 20 years from the Diaspora in Peshawar. He graduated from the Faculty of Theology of the Al-Azhar University in 1968.

Shahrani, who is originally an Uzbek, is fluent in Arabic. At the beginning of the interview, he asked about Cairo neighborhoods and streets where he used to live, the city of Al-Bu”uth al-Islamiyah, Egyptian dishes including ful (java beans), ta”miyah (java beans fritters), balilah (boiled chickpeas), kushari (lentils, rice, and onions), white cheese, and pastrami, and the numerous cafes in the Al-Husayn neighborhood near his residence in &#34Al-Mujawirin.&#34 The Afghan hajj minister asked repeatedly about the Al-Uzbakiyah Wall near the Al-Atabah Square where he used to buy inexpensive books. He asked about the Lokandat al-A”ilat (Families” Hostel) on Al-Mu”izz li Din-Allah al-Fatimi Street where he used to live before he moved to the Al-Afghan ruwaq (living quarters of Al-Azhar University students in Cairo divided according to nationalities), and later to Ahmad Urabi Street in the Al-Muhandisin district.

Shahrani paid tribute to his former Al-Azhar teachers including Shayhks Jad al-Haqq, Abd-al-Halim Mahmud,

and Abd-al-Rahman Bisar, May God rest their souls. The Afghan minister, who was born in the district of Garam in Badakhshan Province in 1940, assumed several posts before he held the portfolio of minister of hajj and religious affairs in the new government following the election of Hamid Karzai as president of the country. He was formerly vice president

and head of the constitution committee in which Afghan legislators insisted that Islam was the major source of legislation in the country.

Shahrani emphasized that the Hajj Ministry was carefully monitoring sermons at mosques in all provinces of Afghanistan. He said there is no room for extremism or fundamentalism on the podiums of Afghanistan”s mosques. Mullah Shahrani translated a number of books from Arabic into Dari including &#34Banning Drugs in Islam&#34 and &#34Sacrificing Animals for Non-Muslims.&#34 He wrote a number of publications for the World Health Organization and more than 1,500 articles in several newspapers and magazines. Shahrani is fluent in Pashto, Persian, Uzbek, Arabic, and English.

Shahrani claimed that a committee at the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs is currently working on translating the fatwas (formal legal opinions) of Al-Azhar and the Saudi Dar al-Ifta (the body officially in charge of issuing fatwas).

He praised the Saudi Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for facilitating the travel of 30,000 Afghan pilgrims to perform hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam. Shahrani touched on his ministry”s priorities. He said that his ministry is working with other ministries including the Interior and Justice Ministries to fight drugs in Afghanistan and achieve unity among the Afghan people”s sectors following long years of fighting and strife. He said he hoped to see Afghanistan a powerful Islamic nation that has got rid of bribery and corruption in governmental offices following a quarter of a century of wars that have destroyed everything.

Shahrani said that the educating of women is an individual duty in Islam. He said, &#34An educated woman is more civilized than an uneducated one since she will feed her children useful knowledge, culture, and openness to life.&#34

He quoted the following verse from a poem by Hafiz Ibrahim: &#34A mother is a school. Prepare her and you prepare a civilized people.&#34 The hajj minister said three Al-Azhar professors worked under him to draft the articles of the new constitution. He said the committee for drafting the new Afghan Constitution drew the articles of the constitution from all

denominations although the civil law adopted the Hanafite doctrine in issues that pertain to inheritance and marriage. He said the new Afghan Constitution highlighted the role of Islam and the importance of democracy.

Shahrani said Article 3 of the constitution underlined the illegitimacy of laws that violate Islam or the values sanctioned by the constitution. He said Islam is the key source of legislation. No law, he added, is endorsed if it contravenes with Islam. The hajj minister said the new constitution approved the presidential system in Afghanistan where the president enjoys vast powers. However, he said, most of the important decisions should be ratified by a parliament that will be elected in the middle of this year. He said that the constitution maintains a balance in the distribution of powers. The constitution, he said, preserved the two official languages Pashto, which is the language of the Pashtuns, and Dari, the Persian language of Tajiks, since they represent the two major

ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the constitution

emphasized the total freedom of Uzbeks, Turkmans, Balushians, and Nuristanis to publish in their own languages.

Concerning human rights, Shahrani said the constitution has a special article, which stipulates that the government should establish a human rights committee that monitors human rights violations, handles all complaints, and follows them with the official parties concerned.

Regarding public freedoms, Shahrani said the constitution preserves the citizens” rights to free expression of ideas in harmony with the laws in effect in the country, demonstration, and formation of political parties and non-governmental organizations. He said the constitution sanctions the right of education for every citizen up to the secondary level.

Shahrani described the Al-Azhar educational institution as the safety valve for the Islamic world. He said its graduates are not extremists in the sense that they &#34avoid exaggeration or negligence in religion.&#34 He cited the following verse from the Koran: &#34Thus, have We made of you a nation justly balanced, that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves.&#34 He referred to a number of Afghan mujahidin leaders who graduated from the prestigious Al-Azhar including Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abd-al-Rasul Sayyaf, and Sibghatullah Mujadidi. Asharq Al-Awsat asked Shahrani if he would like to send a message to Al-Azhar and Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia. He said, &#34We need teachers, Islamic books, and scholarships for our children.&#34 He said the Shari”ah Faculty at the University of Kabul is in need of books

and teachers.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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