By Sifatullah Zahidi
KANDAHAR -- Hundreds of religious scholars from across Afghanistan gathered in Kandahar last week to call for peace and declare anti-government militant groups illegitimate in the eyes of Islam.
Religious scholars from Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces were joined by officials from Afghanistan's High Peace Council (HPC) and the Afghan Ulema Council April 3 at Ghazi Amanullah Khan Hall in Kandahar city.
The gathering comes as Afghans from all walks of life are protesting against the Taliban, calling on them to join the peace process and cease their violence against civilians.
All of the militant groups in Afghanistan are insurgents and acting against the tenets of Islam, said Abdullah Ishaqzai, a member of the Helmand Provincial Ulema Council.
"The killing of Muslims is haram, and groups standing against an Islamic government are insurgents," he told Salaam Times, asking the militants, "For whom are you fighting? The Koran and Islam do not allow you to do so. The Koran and Hadith also say 'Do not fight and kill your brothers.'"
"Now all of the religious scholars and the people of Afghanistan know who the insurgents are," Qiamuddin Kashaf, chairman of Afghanistan's Ulema Council and a member of the HPC, said at the event. "We will no longer be deceived. The country's enemies are fighting our soldiers."
"Peace is a pillar of Islam. Everyone has to accept it. Those who do not accept it are opposing Islam and the Koran," he said.
"If two sides are in a fight and one attacks another, then you have to stand with the oppressed ones who call for peace," Kashaf said.
"Suicide bombers launch attacks and kill civilians. They have strayed from the way of Allah, and they are not Muslim," Fazlulhaq Fazli, a member of the Kandahar Provincial Ulema Council, said at the gathering.
"Come and make peace, and do not kill your brothers anymore," he urged the Taliban. "With whom are you fighting? All those who are here are Muslims. If you do not accept this, you yourselves have deviated from the way of Islam."
"We request our Taliban brothers to stop killing Afghans who are merely walking the streets and those who are allegedly affiliated with the government ... because all Afghans are brothers," he said.
"The Taliban pull passengers off buses on the highways and kill them without prosecution, which contradicts Islamic rules," Abdul Salaam Ahmadi, a religious scholar from Zabul Province and a member of his province's ulema council, told Salaam Times.
"The Taliban act against the religion of Islam," he said. "Religious scholars consider their acts violations of the Koran. All of their deeds are the work of insurgents and rebels, and the government has to fight them."
As in other provinces, in Kandahar Province the HPC is authorising religious scholars to talk to Taliban militants in an effort to to join the peace process.
"We are giving you the absolute responsibility to hold talks with [militants] wherever they want," Akram Khpalwak, an advisor to President Ashraf Ghani and secretary of the HPC, told participants.
"Religious scholars have always made decisions in regard to peace," said Abdul Hameed Uruzgani, the imam of Uruzgan Province's central mosque and a member of the province's ulema council.
"The Taliban who are fighting this Islamic government should soon change their path and make peace," he told Salaam Times. "Foreigners have come to help us. The Koran and Sharia law allow their assistance with Muslims in any area."
"Those who fight the government are not Muslims; they have shown that they have always targeted and martyred the innocent," Uruzgani said.
"If the Taliban do not accept peace, the government should take action and fight them," he said.
"All those who have gathered together here are religious scholars, and all of their words are in the light of the Koran and Hadith," Abdul Khaliq Balakarzai, a Kandahar Province tribal elder and religious scholar, told Salaam Times.
"Militants are not Muslim because they are opposing Islam," he said. "The Taliban should make peace and stop fighting."
HPC Chairman Mohammad Karim Khalili expressed hope that residents of Kandahar will succeed in bringing peace.
"Seeking peace does not mean surrender by the Taliban; instead, it means having a peaceful life," he said at the gathering.
How likely is it that the Taliban will fracture after the recent ceasefire exposed divisions in the group?