JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghan religious scholars on Saturday slammed a ban on female education, as a senior Taliban minister warned clerics not to rebel against the government over the controversial issue.
Girls cannot go to school after sixth grade in Afghanistan, with the education ban extending to universities. Women are prohibited from entering public spaces, including parks, and most forms of work. Last week, Afghan women were barred from working at the United Nations, according to the world body, though the Taliban has yet to make a public announcement.
Read more: The United Nations says Afghanistan is the world’s most repressive country for women
Authorities present the education restrictions as a temporary suspension rather than a ban, but universities and schools reopened in March without female students.
The ban sparked a fierce international uproar, further isolating the country at a time when its economy is collapsing and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis.
Two well-known religious scholars inside Afghanistan said on Saturday that the authorities should reconsider their decision. Public opposition to Taliban policies is rare, although some Taliban leaders have expressed disagreement with the decision-making process.
One scholar, Abdul Rahman Abid, said institutions should be allowed to re-admit girls and women with separate classes, hire female teachers, set staggering schedules, and even build new facilities.
He told the Associated Press that knowledge is obligatory in Islam for both men and women, and Islam allows women to study.
“My daughter misses school, and I feel ashamed, and I don’t have an answer for my daughter,” he said. “My daughter asks why girls are not allowed to study in the Islamic system. I don’t have an answer for her.”
He said reform was necessary and warned that any delay would be at the expense of the global Muslim community and also weaken the government.
Another scholar, a member of the Taliban, told the Associated Press that there is still time for ministries to solve the problem of girls’ education. Toryali Heimat cited ministries that include the inner circle of the supreme leader, Hebatullah Akhundzadeh, who is based in Kandahar.
On his orders, the government banned the girls from attending classes. Heimat said that there are two types of criticism, one that destroys the system and the other that corrects criticism.
“Islam allowed both men and women to learn, but the hijab and school curricula must be observed,” Hemmat said. “Corrective criticism should be given and the Islamic Emirate should think about it. Where there is no criticism there is potential for corruption. My personal opinion is that girls should reach the university level.”
Read more: The Taliban says women are banned from universities in Afghanistan
Acting Minister of Higher Education Nida Mohamed Nadeem said on Friday that clerics should not speak out against government policy.
He made his remarks after another scholar, Abd al-Sami al-Ghaznawi, told students at a religious school that there was no dispute about girls’ education. He said Islamic texts are clear that girls’ education is acceptable. Ghaznawi could not be reached for comment.
It appeared that Nadim was targeting Ghaznawi by mentioning “an honorable scholar” at the top of a video statement posted on social media.
“I encouraged the people to revolt, what is the result?” Nadeem said. “The result is that rebellion against this (the ban) is permitted. If people are encouraged to rebel against the system, will it benefit Muslims?”
The minister could not be reached for comment. But his spokesman, Hafez Ziaullah Hashemi, confirmed Nadeem’s remarks without giving further details about who they were directed at or the reason behind them.