What is Sharia law? Rules of the Islamic law and what it means for women as Taliban take over Afghanistan

The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has sparked fears over the group’s interpretation of Sharia law and what this could mean for girls and women across the country.

But what is Sharia law and how have the Taliban interpreted it?

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What is Sharia law?

Sharia law is Islam’s legal system, which is based on the Quran and the rulings of Islamic scholars.

It acts as a code of conduct for Muslims to adhere to and aims to ensure they abide by God’s wishes in all areas of life, including daily routines and personal beliefs.

Sharia mainly relies upon teachings from the Quran and the Sunna, which are the sayings, teachings and practices of the Prophet Mohammed, but it also draws from Ijma’a - the consensus of Muslim scholars - and Qiyas, which is reasoning through analogy.

However, Sharia law can impact all parts of life for Muslims, depending on how strictly it is followed.

Some interpretations of Sharia law are used to justify and implement severe punishments such as amputation and stoning, as well as the unequal treatment of women.

How did the Taliban use Sharia law?

During its rule between 1996 to 2001, the Taliban was condemned for enforcing a strict and extreme version of Sharia law during, which included carrying out punishments such as public stonings, whippings and hangings.

The group also banned music and musical instruments, amputated the hands of thieves and stoned adulterers.

Women were not allowed to work or have an education, and from the age of eight they had to wear a burka and be chaperoned by a male relative if they wanted to leave their home.

Homes with windows on the ground and first floor were painted over, women were forbidden to go on their balconies and high heels were also banned.

Photographing, filming or displaying pictures of females in newspapers, books, shops or the home was not allowed, and women were banned from appearing on radio, TV or at public gatherings.

Women who disobeyed the rules were flogged in the street or in stadiums and town halls.

Many Afghans now fear the Taliban will reimpose cruel punishments and restrictive rules for women now the militant group has taken over the country.

However, a Taliban spokesman said in a recent press conference that the group is now committed to the rights of women within the framework of Sharia.

In the group’s first news conference since taking control of the country on Sunday (15 August), a spokesman said women would be free to work, but he gave little detail about other rules and restrictions.