Afghan Clerics Strip Taliban Leader Omar of Power

A thousand Muslim clerics from around Afghanistan yesterday stripped ousted Taliban leader Mohammed Omar of his religious authority and declared the secular government of Hamid Karzai the legitimate law of the state.

Clerics strip fugitive Taliban leader of power (London Telegraph)

A crowd of 600 Afghan clerics gathered in front of an historic mosque yesterday to strip the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar of his claim to religious authority, in a ceremony that provided a significant boost to the presidency of Hamid Karzai. The declaration, signed by 1,000 clerics from across the country, is an endorsement of the US-backed programme of reconciliation with more moderate elements of the Taliban movement that Karzai has been pursuing ahead of the country’s first parliamentary elections, due in September.

Symbolically, the ulema shura, or council of clerics, was held at the Blue Mosque in the southern city of Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban movement. At the same venue in 1996 the Taliban leader held up a cloak said to belong to the Prophet Mohammed, which is kept in a shrine in the mosque. He was proclaimed Amir ul-Mumineen or Leader of Muslims by the same clerical body, one of the few occasions the title has been granted anywhere in the Islamic world in the modern era.

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With the assembled clerics seated on the marble floor before him, the head of shura, Maulvi Abdullah Fayaz, said: “Karzai is elected through free and fair election and religiously we have to obey his orders. None of the orders of the previous Emirs, including Mullah Omar, is accepted.”
He said that following the Taliban, “accepting their orders and through their orders killing people and destabilising the country”, was “against sharia law”. A list of 13 proclamations was read out during the three-hour ceremony.

As big a breathrough as stripping Omar is, the second part of the declaration is arguably more important. The recognition that secular authority, not the religious hierarchy, is the legitimate source of worldly law is the first giant step toward modernity. It was this crucial move, following the Thirty Years War, that began the transformation of the West into the epicenter of scientific, economic, and and political dominance.

Arthur Chrenkoff notes in today’s OpinionJournal that there have been numerous other positive developments in Afghanistan of late. The pace of change is what was surely on of the world’s backwaters three years ago is simply stunning. While we are a long way from being able to declare these changes permanent, we have moved much further, much faster than I would have believed possible.

Update: See also Chrenkoff’s roundups at Winds of Change and at his eponymous blog.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Middle East, Religion, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.