Prominent Shia cleric in Kabul calls on his followers to defy Taliban restrictions

A prominent Shia cleric in Kabul, Ayatullah Sayed Mohsin Hojjat, has expressed anger that the Taliban’s restrictions on Muharram processions and called on his followers to defy the rules.

Hojjat told his followers in a recent sermon that the Taliban should respect the Shia faith and “if they impose restrictions on our religious practices, you and I have to defy them.”

The cleric has dissented from the Taliban’s decision to bar Shia mourners from holding the Ashura procession and curtailing other religious freedoms, which, Hojjat claims, are the “defining” aspects of the Shia sect.

“If they ask us to remove our flags, we should not. If they order us not to raise banners, we should defy,” the cleric asserted. “Yes, they [Taliban] would beat us for resisting their rules, but we have to observe the Ashura no matter what.”

Since the beginning of the Muharram on July 18, the Taliban authorities have imposed severe restrictions on the Shia community across the country, spurring widespread condemnation and outrage in what critics believe is a “crackdown” on religious freedom.

These restrictions mean that the Shia community is forbidden to hold sermons in any local community mosques and places of worship except in limited locations, not allowed to raise religious flags and banners, set up refreshment stalls by the roadsides, tour in convoys around cities, hear the recitation of elegies in public transportation and more.

The Council of Shia Ulema in Afghanistan has strongly condemned and complained about the Taliban’s curbs, calling on the group to lift all restrictions.

Despite criticism and condemnation, the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior has vowed that the group has taken “serious measures to ensure security for the mourning ceremonies and parades during the Muharram”.