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The anti-Taliban Khutba of Mawlawi Abdul Shakoor Hanif

Shakoor's anti-Taliban speech departs from typical pro-Taliban Khutbas, and underscores the impact that dissenting religious voices can have against the Taliban regime


1 Mar 2024

Photo: © Afghan Witness, September 2023

Videos circulate of Shakoor's Khutba

On 2 February, multiple sources circulated a video clip on X (formerly Twitter) featuring Kunduz religious cleric Mawlawi Abdul Shakoor Hanif criticising the Taliban regime. Taken together, these video clips were viewed at least 24.6K times, as of the time of writing. During a Friday prayer Khutba[1] (sermon) at the Arzbigi mosque in Kunduz City, Shakoor said that the Taliban regime was oppressive, and claimed that the group did not adhere strictly to Sharia principles. 

Shakoor also questioned the independence of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and claimed that the Taliban was acting as a Pakistani puppet. To this point, he said: “How can you tell yourself that you are free when your authority is in the hands of Pakistan's ISI[2]?”

Shakoor then took aim at Taliban foot soldiers, asking them whether they fought for two decades to oppress their people or whether they aimed to establish an actual Islamic System. He then cited the Prophet's teachings, urging disobedience to orders issued by the Emir that conflict with Sharia, and warned against blind obedience. “God knows if you truly understand your Emir. Your leader could be ISI from Pakistan, and you may follow orders without grasping whom you are obeying,” he said. 

Shakoor also criticised the Taliban's taxation policies, asserting that Islam and Hanafi jurisprudence do not support the concept of taxation. He said that under the previous government, there was a tax, but noted that it was less burdensome; now, he said, people were suffering from poverty, but the Taliban continues to impose higher taxes on them. 

The Khutba also highlighted the way that those who speak out against Taliban oppression face severe consequences and are often labelled as being part of the (anti-Taliban) “Resistance” or “Daesh.” He claimed that those who are labelled as such are then often subject to raids, arrests, imprisonment, and brutal physical abuse, including genital torture. Under these conditions, he said, individuals may be coerced into confessing to crimes that they did not commit.  

Shakoor’s next target was the name “Afghanistan” itself. He said that it was a “colonial-imposed name,” which he considers to be a historical injustice. He said that the name was a deliberate act to conceal the region's identity as Khorasan, where Imam Mahdi[3] is expected to appear. He further asserted that the name “Afghanistan” came from colonisers naming the land after a small group of people from the Suleiman Mountains[4], called Afghan, Pashtun, or Pathan, who were known for their ruthlessness.

Shakoor then asserted his unwavering commitment to speaking out against oppression, even if it meant facing the threat of death. He claimed that, despite recurrent warnings and periods of staying home due to potential danger, he remains resolute in raising his voice for truth.


Alleged Taliban response

According to Aamaj News, the Khutba video is from January 2024. There were subsequent reports that the Taliban apprehended Shakoor sometime after his speech in the mosque. AW sources confirmed that the Taliban had arrested Shakoor and added that he was then transferred to Kabul for additional questioning. They also noted that Shakoor, a Salafi scholar and Tajik, hailing from the Shahri Buzurg district in Badakhshan province, had resided in Kunduz for the past two decades; during this time, he taught at various madrasas, including Ashraf-ul-Madaris, and led prayers across several districts including, recently, in the Arzbigi area of Kunduz city. 

AW confirmed, from the Ashraf-ul-Madaris Madrasa's Facebook account, that Shakoor, also known as Mufti Abdul Shakoor Hanif, was a teacher at this madrasa until at least October 2021, when the account was last active. His name appeared on the list of teachers and an article he authored was published on the page. It is notable that some posts on the page, dating from 2021, include narratives regarding religious issues related to Ibn Taymiyya, a Salafi scholar well-respected by the Islamic State group.       

Figure: Ashraf-ul-Madaris Madrassa's 2021 timetable, indicating teachers and their respective subjects. Shakoor’s name is highlighted in red.

Shakoor's criticism of the alleged imposition of the name 'Afghanistan' on Khorasan territory, coupled with the claim that Pashtuns are a collective originating from the Suleiman Mountains, constitutes a negative narrative about Pashtuns. Anti-Taliban and pro-resistance [WARNING: GRAPHIC] factions, in their propaganda, embrace this narrative to undermine the Taliban by emphasising their Pashtun identity and characterising them as regressive. 

Moreover, Shakoor's assertion that the taxation policy implemented by the Taliban lacks a basis in

Islam mirrors the ISKP stance on the same issue. On 25 January 2024, the ISKP-affiliated Al Azaim media published a 59-page booklet condemning the Taliban's collection of customs and taxes, noting that according to religious texts, these practices are un-Islamic.

Further critiques

On 2 February, following Shakoor's anti-Taliban remarks, Shia scholar Waiz Zada Behsudi criticised the Taliban for marginalising Shias. Addressing a Shia gathering in western Kabul, on the recent Taliban arrests of women, he highlighted historical grievances, including the 1995 murder of Shia leader Abdul Ali Mazari by the Taliban. Beshudi then underscored the Taliban's challenges with Afghanistan's Shia community, listing the exclusion of Jafari Jurisprudence and the recent Hijab-related arrests as key concerns.

Then, on 3 February, Mawlawi Syed Hamid Hussaini, a religious figure from Ghor province, in an interview with Culture TV, discussing the situation in his province, criticised the Taliban’s nepotism and lack of meritocracy in local governance. 

Religious scholars have previously criticised the Taliban on various occasions. For example, in December 2021, Mawlawi Abdul Qudos Almari, from Faryab province, characterised the Taliban as “criminals” and challenged the Taliban’s leader to a debate on Sharia principles. Then, in May 2023, Mawlawi Nooruddin, from Baghlan province, reportedly refused to mention the name of the Taliban’s Supreme Leader in a Khutba; it was later reported that unknown gunmen killed Noorddin in Nahrin district. Despite past incidents, this new wave of criticism is unique as it appears to originate from loud and from prominent mosques.

Previously released videos of anti-Taliban remarks by religious scholars resurface

Following the video of Shakoor going viral on social media, certain accounts strategically surfaced archival videos featuring clerics criticising the Taliban, amplifying them as integral to the Ulema's anti-Taliban remarks campaign. For instance, on 6 February 2024, a news account on X, boasting a following of over 15K, shared a video that had initially been published on 16 January 2022. In the footage, Mawlawi Abdul Qadir, a former prayer leader at the central mosque in Taluqan City, Takar province, who was ousted from this role prior to making these comments, claimed that some members of the Taliban were engaging in jihad not for the sake of Sharia but rather for personal gain, driven by motives of financial and political power.

On 9 February 2024, another video surfaced on social media featuring Mawlawi Zakaria Fayiz, the prayer leader of a mosque in Taluqan City. In this video, which dates to May 2023 and was originally shared by YouTube channel Mazhare Haq, Fayiz openly criticised the bias and exclusivity which he claims are prevalent in the Taliban regime. It is noteworthy, however, that Fayiz’ speech was not solely focused on criticising the Taliban; rather, he appeared to be denouncing ethnic and linguistic discrimination, from the Taliban and anti-Taliban groups, alike.  


Reactions to Shakoor’s remarks

Various pro-Taliban propagandists on X condemned Shakoor’s remarks and bias towards Pashtuns, and argued that if he has valid criticism against Taliban’s taxation, he can discuss it with the relevant Taliban officials. Other pro-Taliban accounts disseminated a narrative detailing Shakoor's history, alleging long-standing pro-Daesh and anti-Taliban sentiments. This narrative claims Shakoor encouraged his students in Ashraf-ul-Madaris Madrasa to join ISKP in 2018, leading to Taliban warnings against pro-ISKP activities at the madrasa. Similarly, another pro-Taliban account highlighted the alignment between Shakoor's arguments and those put forth by ISKP and the anti-Taliban resistance groups, claiming that he is advocating for the interests of both groups.

On the other hand, several anti-Taliban accounts lauded Shakoor's comments on the Taliban’s oppressive actions, hailing him as a courageous religious scholar for speaking the truth, with many accounts promoting and resharing parts of his speech. Sima Noori, a prominent Hazara activist, highlighted Shakoor's observations regarding the Taliban's imposition of oppressive taxes on the public, as well as their arrests and torture of dissenting voices. Meanwhile, Alisher Shahir, an Afghan journalist, drew attention to Shakoor's commentary on labelling adversaries with the tags of ISKP and anti-Taliban resistance groups, Moreover, Adalat Hasan Ali, an Afghan analyst, noted that the comments made by Shakoor and Behsudi served as a challenge to the Taliban’s brutal actions, which he said have transformed Afghanistan into a “slaughterhouse” and a landscape marred by violence.


Shakoor's anti-Taliban statements echo the tone of the Taliban's enemies, including ISKP and anti-Taliban Resistance Forces. His comments are significant as they represent a notable departure from earlier instances of religious scholars criticising the Taliban. His use of the Khutba, a platform where pro-Taliban messages are typically shared, adds significance to his dissent. 

The reactions to his critique underscore the impact and importance of dissenting voices from religious figures and mosques against the Taliban regime. The anti-Taliban critique from prominent Shia cleric Behsudi, although separate and community-specific, aligned with Shakoor's remarks. This led anti-Taliban accounts to leverage both instances in a unified communications effort. The critiques expressed by other Afghan clerics regarding the Taliban regime consistently revolved around the exclusivity of the regime; these concerns centred on the Pashtun-dominated structure of the Taliban regime among all critics. Additionally, the resurfacing of older videos criticising the Taliban within this campaign underscores the growing risk of misinformation and disinformation, emphasising the need for careful handling of information in such contexts.


[1] In contrast to other congregational prayers, the Friday Prayer unfolds within the expansive confines of a central mosque, attracting a diverse assembly of community members. The Friday Prayer Khutba (sermon) holds paramount importance, functioning as a pivotal means to convey crucial messages to the community, exploring significant and contemporary topics through the lens of Sharia.

[2] Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency. 

[3] Imam Mahdi, a Muslim redeemer, is expected to appear before the end of the world to establish peace and justice worldwide.

[4] One out of several historical narratives about the origin of Pashtuns is that the cradle of the race was within the Suleiman Mountains. 

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