Women’s rights activist Tafsir Siyaposh attacks the Taliban

KABUL — When Tafsir Siyaposh sat down to debate a self-proclaimed religious scholar on Afghan television last September, the Taliban had just announced an all-male, all-Taliban caretaker government just a month after it returned to power in Afghanistan.

The 31-year-old former government spokeswoman was more than willing to argue with the man sitting a few feet away from her about the lack of women in the Islamic emirate’s cabinet. She wore a black abaya with gold trim and stared straight into the camera as she calmly asked why no women were consulted about the Taliban’s new interim government. Using his deep knowledge of Islam, Siyaposh wanted to show the Taliban and their supporters that the Afghan people did not need instruction in their religion.

She rattled off a litany of Islam’s most common recitations and sayings that should – but don’t serve – as a moral compass for a government calling itself an Islamic emirate.

KABUL — When Tafsir Siyaposh sat down to debate a self-proclaimed religious scholar on Afghan television last September, the Taliban had just announced an all-male, all-Taliban caretaker government just a month after it returned to power in Afghanistan.

The 31-year-old former government spokeswoman was more than willing to argue with the man sitting a few feet away from her about the lack of women in the Islamic emirate’s cabinet. She wore a black abaya with gold trim and stared straight into the camera as she calmly asked why no women were consulted about the Taliban’s new interim government. Thanks to his profound knowledge of Islam, Siyaposh wanted to show the Taliban and their supporters that the Afghan people did not need education in their religion.

She rattled off a litany of Islam’s most common recitations and sayings that should – but don’t serve – as a moral compass for a government calling itself an Islamic emirate.

“We recite: ‘On the right path’, God guides us on the right path, so why today, when we want God to lead us on the right path, do we deviate from this path? Siyaposh asked his co-panellist and host, journalist Bahram Aman. She pointed out that the Islamic Emirate does not grant Afghan women the rights that Islam gave them.

When her co-panellist retorted that Islam only prevents women from being presidents of a country, Siyaposh responded by saying that, for now, Afghan women are just waiting to do it again. part of the cabinet, not the presidency.

That night, his knowledge was clearly on display and that obviously impressed the young host. Aman was struck by the fact that the guests seemed to be on equal footing when talking about Islam. “We are so lucky to have two guests who have a deep understanding of religious issues,” he said.

Siyaposh insists that her knowledge of Islam is the norm, not the exception, among Afghan women. “Afghanistan was Muslim in the past, it is Muslim and it will remain Muslim tomorrow,” she told me. This conviction is why she has been motivated to confront the Taliban and their ideological supporters on the Afghan airwaves over the past year.

She often reminds people that she always wore black abaya with traditional embroidered trims, even during the Islamic Republic, and that it was her father who encouraged her to express herself and pursue excellence in studies and athletics without sacrificing her Afghan culture or Islamic beliefs .

“Every Afghan knows how to dress and respects the hijab in accordance with our Afghan culture,” she said in response to Taliban statements that their current restrictions on women are in fact a reflection of the Islamic faith and beliefs. Afghan traditions.

For her, whether Afghan women take to the streets to protest, appear on television or hold meetings and press conferences, they are not asking for much. What Siyaposh has been asking for for a year is a return of women and girls to all facets of Afghan society. Siyaposh says the most egregious offense committed by the Taliban is the continued closure of secondary schools for teenage girls. For Siyaposh, this is the ultimate example of disrespect for Islamic norms. When addressing this issue, she often refers to the story of when the Prophet Muhammad first received the word of God from the angel Gabriel. “What was the first word we said to him? ‘Lily.'”

But it’s not just high schools. Siyaposh wants all Afghan women to be able to return to work. Again, she returns to Mohammed, whose first wife, Khadija, was a notable businesswoman, arguing that women should not be kept out of the workplace.

And as a government worker who is now unable to do her job, she wants Afghan women included in government, saying women make up half the population and know better than anyone what they need.

Since the Taliban took power last August, the revitalization of women’s rights in Afghanistan has come to a screeching halt. Women were told not to return to most government offices (although they still received reduced government pay at home), and fewer ventured into the streets. They also need a male chaperone to travel long distances. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was replaced by the Taliban Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, whose workers wear white coats and “suggest” to women and men how to dress and behave in a Islamic emirate.

The Taliban “keep saying ‘give us time’, but what they don’t realize is that all we’re asking for are our basic rights under Islam,” Siyaposh said .

Like millions of other women in Afghanistan, Siyaposh’s life has seen major changes since the Taliban returned to power. She lost her job as a spokesperson in the former Western-backed Islamic Republic (although she still receives a salary) due to Taliban restrictions on education, employment and travel for women. But she refused to be confined within the four walls of a house.

Over the past year, Siyaposh has started teaching at a private university in Kabul. Most importantly, she has made countless appearances in local and international media. Each time, she has worked to remind the Taliban and their supporters that the religion she has practiced all her life grants rights to everyone, including women, rather than taking them away. Whether she addresses the Afghan public on television or has an intimate conversation with a group of friends in a Kabul residence, her conversations are always peppered with verses from the Koran, words of the Prophet Muhammad or writings of the 13ecentury poet Jalaluddin Balkhi, also known as Rumi.

“I’ve been with people, so I saw it was my duty to raise their voices,” she said.

Given the widespread nature of the Taliban’s repression of civil rights, she recognizes that all Afghans need support now. But she is most often called upon to speak about the restrictions the Taliban have (still) imposed on women. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are not allowed to attend secondary school.

“Right now, women feel excluded from education, economy and society, but that’s not Islam,” she said, explaining why she continues to go to television and to debate with men who try to find justifications for chaining women. “We must tell the truth at all times.”

She said the search for the truth is what has protected her during a year when the United Nations and human rights groups have repeatedly documented Taliban abuses in Afghanistan, women suffering from particularly brutal year.

Her authenticity has earned her a large following, although she has eschewed social media for traditional outlets. Whether she’s shopping in a market or just walking down the street, she said she gets stopped by supporters who want a selfie with her. Even the head of security at a high-end Kabul hotel turned out to be an avid follower. When he learned that she would be conducting an interview in the hotel cafe, his face lit up with joy. “I follow all his interviews. She is so smart and speaks well. It is truly a source of pride for the entire Afghan nation,” he said.

Siyaposh said the level of support is ultimately what has protected her – until now – at a time when so many other voices have been silenced. His deep roots in Afghan culture and his encyclopedic knowledge of Islamic theology offer a sort of shield against Taliban intransigence.

“When we respect Afghan culture, they can’t help but respect us.”