Clerics call for lifting of restrictions on Muharram commemorations

Ashura day in Herat. 2022. File photo.

Afghanistan’s Shiite Ulema Council has voiced concerns over the Taliban’s imposition of restrictions on Muharram ceremonies, particularly in major cities across the country.

During a press conference held on Sunday, the council’s leadership urgently appealed to the Taliban to put an end to these limitations and grant permission for the public display of Muharram flags.

Amid preparations to celebrate Muharram, which commenced on July 18 and will culminate on July 28 with Ashura day—a significant day of mourning and remembrance for those observing the occasion—worshippers face somber conditions under the shadow of Taliban restrictions.

“The people’s request is to remove all restrictions and not prevent the installation of flags. Imam Hussein is the axis of unity,” stated Mohammad Hashim Salehi, the head of the Afghan Shiite Ulema Council.

In unison with the mourning populace, all Shiite scholars of Afghanistan join in urging the Taliban to lift the constraints on holding mourning ceremonies and permit the installation and hoisting of flags, asserted Seyyed Hossein Alami Balkhi, a prominent member of the council.

The restrictions have also sparked criticism among a number of Afghanistan politicians in exile. Former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor condemned the limitations in a tweet and expressed concern that such restrictions might fuel ethnic and religious divides.

“Any restriction on religious festivals and ceremonies is a manifestation of stoning and is rooted in the thought of monopolization, exclusion, and oppression, and no other basis can be found for it,” Noor tweeted.

Similarly, freedom front, an anti-Taliban movement, voiced condemnation of the imposed restrictions in a separate tweet.

The movement labeled the Taliban an “anti-people group” intent on undermining religious tolerance and promoting an extreme and uniform narrative of Islam in Afghanistan’s society.

Kabul residents are also troubled by the restrictive measures that have been set in place. Despite the Taliban not officially endorsing such limitations on the Muharram ceremonies, they have unofficially cited security concerns as the basis for the restrictions.

According to a Taliban military official, 400 Taliban forces have been deployed to the west of Kabul to provide security during the Muharram ceremonies. The move comes in response to the need for a rapid and safe public response, and the security forces are now readily available to address potential threats, with 24-hour checkpoints implemented where necessary, disclosed Shamsullah Hammad, the commander of the 13th police district of the Taliban.

These restrictions on Muharram ceremonies mark just one instance among a series of limitations imposed by the Taliban since their return to power in Afghanistan nearly two years ago. The measures have affected various aspects of daily life, including the right to education and work for women and girls, as well as the way marriage ceremonies are conducted.

Despite mounting internal and external pressures and protests, the restrictions continue to increase, deepening concerns among the populace.