The Muhammad Mustafa mosque sits in a fairly well-off part of Kabul where government employees and some high-ranking officials live. Muhammad Ehsan Saiqal, a moderate, 54-year-old Muslim who welcomes girls into his Quran classes, is the imam. The slight, gray-bearded cleric preaches against suicide bombings.
“Islam doesn’t permit suicide attacks,” he says. “If someone kills any Muslim without any cause, under Shariah law [Islamic law] it means that he kills the whole Muslim world.”
For the past decade or so, suicide bombings have become a standard tactic for Islamist militants in Afghanistan and its neighbor Pakistan. In an effort to stem these deadly bombings, the Afghan government convinced its neighbor to convene a joint council of religious scholars to issue a fatwa, or Islamic decree, banning suicide attacks.
But so far, the two countries have spent more time arguing about the conference rather than organizing it.
Saiqal supports the proposed conference of senior Islamic scholars, or ulema, to deal with the issue.
“Of course it will be very effective because ulema have proficiency in Islam,” he says. “They have reliable and rational explanations that will decrease the level of suicide attacks.”
That’s if the conference actually takes place.
Can They Move Forward?
“The Afghan government has been trying since long to mobilize the ulema against some tactics that the Taliban use,” says Borhan Osman, a researcher with the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul.
Osman says that while the Afghan and Pakistani governments agreed to go ahead with the conference, they have yet to agree on the details, notably which religious leaders should be invited.
But even if they do sort out the table-setting issues and move forward with the conference, people like Jawed Kohistani, head of the Afghan Freedom and Democracy Movement, have doubts about what it could achieve.
“The Taliban have internal structures to keep people isolated from the media,” Kohistani says. “So many Taliban won’t hear about the conference.”
Plus, Osman says, the Taliban have convened their own ulema councils over the years to rule that suicide bombings are acceptable.
“They’ve killed many ulema in Pakistan and Afghanistan because they were against suicide attacks,” he says.
But even though the Taliban might not be swayed, says Kohistani, Afghanistan and Pakistan must sort out their differences and hold the conference because it will pay off in the long run.
“The message will reach the people in the region,” he says, “and it will prevent young people from joining terrorist organizations.”