Taliban’s strict restrictions on Muharram processions continue across Afghanistan

With the advent of the month of Muharram, the Taliban has recently imposed strict restrictions on the Shia religious procession across the country, sparking condemnation and outrage in what critics believe is a “crackdown” on religious freedom.

The Council of Shia Ulema has strongly complained about the Taliban’s curbs, calling on the group to lift all restrictions and allow the Shias to observe Muharram without fear.

Dr. Mohammad Amin Ahmadi, a former member of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations Team, alluded that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and people should be free to organize religious rituals and gatherings.

He added: “Governments are responsible to defend diversity and freedom of religion. If authorities in power cannot claim partiality, it means that it cannot represent the will of all people.”

Meanwhile, exiled leaders and anti-Taliban groups have claimed that the group’s “anti-Shia” worldview would fuel religious and ethnic tensions and threaten religious diversity.

Despite widespread 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.

| Shia ulema call on the Taliban to lift Muharram restrictions
| Exiled leaders condemn Taliban’s restrictions on the Shia community

We spoke with residents in the capital Kabul and the provinces of Balkh, Herat, and Ghazni where the Shia community’s religious ceremonies have been affected as a result of the Taliban’s curbs.

Restrictions in Kabul

The Taliban’s recent curtailment of religious freedoms of the Shia community across Afghanistan, mainly larger urban cities, has barred them from observing Muharram the way they used to before the Taliban’s return to power.

Sources in Kabul report that the Taliban authorities have largely clamped down on raising religious flags and banners in public spaces. The group has also prohibited people from holding widespread public sermons, limiting them to certain mosques and places of worship.

The community refreshment stalls by the roadsides and touring in convoys have been barred and people are not allowed to hear recitation of elegies in public transportation, sources noted.

“There is a small number of flags and banners raised in western Kabul and the tea stalls are nowhere to be seen,” A source in Kabul told KabulNow. “Before the Taliban’s rule, people were free to erect religious flags and other symbols and commemorate their traditional activities across the city. This year, it is different.”

Another source stated that people have been forbidden to hold sermons in their local community mosques and places of worship. He added: “Taliban authorities have restricted Shia communities to hold sermons in a few restricted places of worship.”

“If these restrictions remain intact, Taliban will likely impose further restrictions on the Shia community,” A resident of Kabul dissented. “It fears me if one day Taliban ban all Shia religious processions.”

Restrictions beyond Kabul

Similar concerns were raised by residents of Balkh, Herat, and Ghazni provinces.

A source in Balk told KabulNow that the Taliban authorities have not permitted the Shia mourners to parade through the streets and gather at the shrine of Ali, a vast complex of Blue mosque in the center of Mazar-i-Sharif city, where traditionally huge Shia worshippers throng to mourn the Ashura.

However, Mohammad Asif Waziri, Taliban’s spokesman for the police chief in Balkh, refused these restrictions and told KabulNow that the group’s security agency has taken “all necessary measures to provide utmost security for the mourners to commemorate the Ashura in a peaceful environment.”

“I am afraid of the security risks in Mazar-i-Sharif this year,” a resident of Mazar-i-Sharif told KabulNow. “As a Shia mourner, I urge the Taliban security authorities to maintain the security of the Shia mourners as they observe the Ashura rituals.”

Sources in Herat province have accused the Taliban forces of resorting to violence in some parts of the city.

“The Taliban forces removed religious flags and banners in the Bakrabad area of Herat,” a resident of Herat city told KabulNow, “When people showed resistance and protested, gun-wielding Taliban fighters violently dispersed people by firing in the air.”

This resident urged the Taliban authorities in Herat to allow people to commemorate the Ashura procession openly and freely in a similar fashion they used to do in the past.

A resident of Kabul told KabulNow that the Taliban’s restrictions stretch to remote regions too.

“The Taliban says they have imposed restrictions on Muharram due to security reasons, but they are implementing these measures even in remote villages where there are no serious security risks.” He stated.