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Taliban Target: Scholars of Islam

One member of the Taliban’s leadership council suggested that part of the reason for the intensified targeting of religious scholars was the influence of the insurgency’s new leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. He is an ulema and madrasa leader himself, and is considered more of a religious ideologue than his predecessor, who was killed by an American drone in 2015.

The senior Taliban figure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering other members of the leadership, said that under Mawlawi Haibatullah’s orders, sermons were more closely watched than ever — and that straying from Taliban interpretations of Shariah law was punished “as harshly as possible.”

The Taliban’s statement this month after they gunned down Abdul Ghafoor Pairoz, 32, a prominent scholar in Kandahar who had written or translated more than 50 books, made the stakes clear.


A book that was in front of Mawlawi Hanafi when he was killed was ripped and covered in blood. Credit Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

They said he had been killed for considering “the current holy war in Afghanistan as illegitimate.” The Taliban said that “removing such a vicious element” was a signal to others that they were being watched, and that “insolence toward religious orders” would not be tolerated.

During the Taliban’s rule in the 1990s, Mr. Pairoz was a young student in Taliban madrasas in Kabul. When their government fell, he stuck to the path and moved to Quetta, Pakistan, where he completed seven years of higher education in religion to earn the title of mawlana. He remained active in Taliban circles in Quetta, where the Taliban’s leadership council operates from in exile.

But, as Mr. Pairoz read more and the war dragged on, he started questioning the religious foundation upon which the Taliban were fighting. He decided the only way to fight back was through an active religious discourse. His last book, a collection of essays titled “The Calling,” dealt with themes like religious pluralism and the need for tolerance.


Once the Taliban killed his brother, Waseel Pairoz received threats from them and had to move to Kabul from Kandahar. Credit Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

“He would translate orally from the text in front of him, and I would type,” said his younger brother Waseel Pairoz, who also pursued religious education.

After the Taliban killed his brother and released their statement, the younger Mr. Pairoz left Kandahar and now lives in Kabul.

“Pairoz always said that he loved this country, and that if he died for it, it would not be a regret,” another of his brothers, Mohammed Rasoul Pairoz, said. “The message he often delivered to the Taliban was that this world is meant for living — so live in it, and let others live.”

Source: NYT > World

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