The Islamic Movement in Afghanistan
The story of the emergence of the Islamic movement in Afghanistan, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, is a story of reaction to modernization schemes that led to an increase in state activities from a minimum, as in traditional society, to a maximum in the period of transition to a modern society. As such, the movement is recent, a by-product of the modernization schemes that began in the late 1950s. It is also more dynamic since it was at the same time a response to the rise of communism associated with the modernization schemes financed mainly by the Soviet Union. In the process of modernization, people were drawn into greater participation in the modern sector through schools, courts, economic activity, communications, the army, and urban immigration. As Professor M. E. Yapp explains in the context of the Muslim societies in general, in Afghanistan this process also led to the politicization of religion when the state took over the functions formerly the domain of the religious classes and other institutions.
In the process of modernization, the Afghan middle class, composed of the educated elements, increased in numbers from a few hundred to nearly a hundred thousand. These educated persons were mainly from rural areas. The state-run free educational system had made it possible for industrious students of the rural areas to have access to institutions of higher education in Kabul, where they had been concentrated. The founding members of the Islamic movement were from rural areas associated with modern educational institutes, not traditional madrases. They were neither part of the political ruling circles nor dependent on the state, a point that may account for their militancy.
Professor Ghulam Mohammad Niazi and others were the founders of the Islamic movement in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar, though, states that the founders were twelve university students, including himself. He also states that the founding students invited the professors to join the movement, but most declined the invitation. He speaks specifically of the invitation to Professor Niazi, but he adds that all along, even from his prison cell, Niazi replied that while he supported the movement, he did not wish to take part in it as an official member. Hekmatyar concludes that “as state employees they [the professors] did not wish to become members of a movement which opposed it.”
The movement began in 1957, when Ghulam Mohammad Niazi established a small cell at the Abu Haneefa seminary in Paghman. He had just returned from Egypt, where, at University of al-Azhar, he had obtained a master’s degree in Islamic studies. On arriving in Paghman, he initiated a group of devout teachers to the cell and its numbers increased, especially after the fall of Premier Mohammad Daoud in 1963, when they regularly held clandestine meetings in Kabul. By 1969 the Islamists had set up a political action group with Professor Niazi as its nominal leader (amir). Hekmatyar’s comments above probably concern the students’ branch of this movement, which was founded in 1969 under the name of the Muslim Youth (jawanan-e-Musulman). He writes, “When Daoud staged a coup [in 1973] our party was very young. Only four years had passed of its founding.” Others called them the Islamic Brethren (ikhwan al-Muslimin). Hekmatyar probably did not know of the secret association of the professors, described by Barnet Rubin:
At the beginning of 1973, the movement, which also included a more secret association of professors, began to register its members and formed a leadership shura (council). Burhanuddin Rabbani, a lecturer at the shar’ia faculty of Kabul University, was chosen as chairman of the council. Ghulam Mohammad Niazi, the dean of the faculty, was recognized as the ultimate leader, but, because of the sensitivity of his position, he did not formally join or attend the meetings. The council later selected the name Jam’iyyat-e-Islami [Islamic Association]…for the movement.
In a pamphlet published by the Jam’iyyat, Who Are We and What Do We Want? it was stated that the movement was nothing but an attempt to liberate the people of Afghanistan from the clutches of tyranny and to bring about a renaissance in religion. In elaboration, Hekmatyar stated that the aim of the movement was “the overthrow of the ruling order, its replacement by the Islamic order [nizam], and the application of Islam in political, economic, and social spheres.” Similarly, Rabbani states, “For us Islam is a driving force, which concerns every aspect of our life.” In the view of an Islamist author, Gulzarak Zadran, the Islamic order is “the implementation by the Muslims of the laws of God on the creatures [human beings].” While castigating liberal democracy and socialist democracy in line with the views of Sayyed Qutb, Zadran adds, “Every other kind of law, custom, tradition, procedure, and concept has no place in Islam, because Islam is a complete religion, and the introduction in the Islamic society of the above-mentioned democracies and other similar concepts is against the Islamic injunctions and fundamentals, and a contrariety and a rebellion.” Reflecting Sayyed Qutb’s views in an even more negative form, Mohammad Yunus Khalis rejects not only “a republican form of government” but even “general elections.” In his view, the Council for Resolution and Settlement (shura-e-ahl-e-hal wa ’aqd), composed of pious and just Muslims, is to elect a Muslim as the leader of the community on the basis of competence and Islamic learning. The Islamists had as their aim to set up the Islamic order, or “Islamic revolution,” not only in each separate country but also “in the Muslim world.”
The views of Sayyed Qutb and other revolutionary thinkers of the Muslim world, especially leaders of the Muslim Brethren, influenced students of the colleges of law and theology of Kabul University as well as of the Madrasa of Abu Haneefa through foreign professors employed there. Also, the Afghan professors of the College of Theology who had studied at the University of al-Azhar in Cairo had disseminated these views through local journals, especially the weekly paper Gaheez, founded in 1968. Its editor, Minhajuddin Gaheez, had made it an anticommunist paper, but he was assassinated by a radical leftist in 1972. The Islamists also translated some works of Sayyed Qutb in vernacular languages. While most colleges of the university were affiliated with Western universities, the College of Theology was affiliated with the University of al-Azhar in Cairo.
Outside the Islamist circles some traditional ’ulama and religious leaders had already founded associations such as Khuddam al-Furqan (Servants of the Quran), Jam’iyyat-e-’Ulama-e-Mohammadi (the Association of Mohammad’s ’Ulama), and Qiyam-e-Islami (the Islamic Uprising) to combat atheism, wage Jehad-e-Akbar (great jehad), and oppose the pro-Soviet stand of the government. Among their founders were Sibgatullah Mojaddidi, the pir (religious leader) of Tagao; the pir ofQala-e-Biland, Hafizji Sahib of Kapisa; and Mawlawi Fayzani. On the strength of the support of such dignitaries, the ’ulama held demonstrations for over a month in Kabul until the government dispersed them, as already noted. When Daoud ruled as prime minister from 1953 to 1963, he did not tolerate opposition. Nevertheless, these associations did not achieve much.
The Islamists became active after they spread a clandestine leaflet, Tract of the Jehad, challenged the communists to debates, and held rallies on the campus. But their rallies were smaller than any of the rallies held by their opponents. This was evident to this author, who attended the rallies and was once beaten by the police when they attacked the university. Some Islamists called for “armed jehad,” but this call produced no response. Being latecomers in politics, the Islamists did not have many members until the end of the decade. Hekmatyar even states that until the Daoud coup in 1973 the Muslim Youth were engaged in cultural activities and that they became active as an organized group only afterward.
The progress that leaders of the movement had made was unknown to Hekmatyar. The progress consisted of recruitments on a big scale and the preaching of the cause in the countryside as well as the city of Kabul. Premier Moosa Shafiq encouraged the Islamists to be more active. During his short rule, Premier Shafiq also released Hekmatyar, who had been imprisoned for his alleged killing of a Maoist, Saidal Sukhandan. On the campus, too, the position of the Muslim Youth had improved. Hekmatyar states that “in the last years of the reign of Mohammad Zahir Shah we gained a majority of two-thirds of the seats of the Student Union.” By then the balance in the forces of university students had changed in favor of the Muslim Youth. “At the beginning of the 1970s the Islamic movement was stronger than the Maoists among the students, but its penetration of the army remained weak.” Because of the headway the Islamists had made, the leftist groups had gone on the defensive. The decline of the leftists was also evident in the results of the 1969 parliamentary election, in which only two of them were elected. The Islamic movement appeared to be on the way to becoming a party of the masses. Among other things, this threat prompted the communists to help Daoud to topple the monarchy in 1973.