This is probably the first article of its kind that explores an abnormal behavior among some students of religious madrassas and its relationship with suicide bombing. The author offers some hypotheses and raises some questions regarding the phenomenon. The article is not intended to offend anybody or level any accusations. Please read the disclaimer. Esmael Darman
By Mohammad Moheq, Author & Researcher
Translated by Habib Rassa, Journalist
The Taliban have a reputation for implementing the Sharia laws scrupulously and strictly. Those who are not already aware of the Taliban’s life details, character, and behavior think that the Taliban’s excessive emphasis of them on the details of the Sharia laws may emanate from their godly, pious, and fully virtuous nature, and that they are not familiar with the variety and other patterns of life and, therefore, they cannot tolerate behaviors against Sharia. And that for this reason, they are ready to ignore their lives and commit suicide, while the truth is contrary to this. In fact, this is anti-Sharia acts that makes them commit suicide to cleanse themselves. In this article, the focus is to analyze this issue to some extent.
Field studies show that an interest in some anti-Sharia behavior is considerably prevalent among the Taliban in the period that they are still in madrasa and are passing through courses. Most of them have dealt with such behaviors, during adolescence in one form and in the following years in another form. The most famous and important behavior that is considered illegitimate in viewpoint of Islamic laws, and the punishment of which is more than that of ordinary sins, is joyful [sexual] relationship with the same sex, which is a chronic and deep-rooted phenomenon in such madrasas.
The consequences of misogyny
In these madrasas, they constantly stress on abstaining from any relationship with women. This emphasis is a reflection of the patriarchal culture, which opposes the presence of women in social life in any form. In this manifestation of culture, woman is a taboo, thus it is not permissible to speak about her let alone tolerate her presence in any form.
From this point of view, women are considered the cause of wrongdoing and perversion in men, of which one must stay away as much as possible. This wickedness is not limited to the active presence of women since any simple and inconsiderable behavior on the part of women can cause wickedness such as unveiling their face,[raising] their voice, their walking, etc, and that even includes women’s footsteps since according to this belief it leads to wickedness.
Women gradually fade from the conscious minds of men in this society, especially in these madrasas, which is a multifaceted manifestation of a patriarchal and female-suppressing tradition. The presence of women is possible only in the subconscious minds of the men in these madrasas; for instance, in their dreams or something like that. Nothing is said about women while they are awake, except about the limits and restrictions that Sharia has laid down on their behavior and the warnings that it has given to men about it, lest they get trapped or seduced.
In addition, not even a usual conversation with regard to women takes place among them, whereas it is very usual in other societies. This goes to the extent that even revealing the name of a woman from the relatives of a man is considered a big disgrace for them. Nobody wants people to know the name of their sister, mother, or that of a woman close to them. If somebody knows the name of one of them, it is as if they have found out a shameful fact about them. And this is exactly contrary to early Islam when people knew the names of the wives and daughters of many people, including those of the wives and daughters of the Prophet, and nobody considered it a problem.
With the omission of women from the minds and psyche of the men in this part of the patriarchal society, it is thought that they are immune to an important moral danger, which is thinking about women and being trapped by them, and that therefore, the way has been paved for training chaste and virtuous men.
The instinctive reaction of nature
Here nobody thinks about the fact that ignoring instinctive needs does not mean they are eliminated. When women have no presence in the lives of young people, it does not mean that men’s sexual desires are dampened and that they no longer have the need to fulfill them. This very obvious fact is easily ignored and no alternative is sought for it.
When young people see that women have disappeared from their life and that reaching them even by legitimate ways is associated with thousands of problems – to the extent that speaking about them has turned into a forbidden act and that dealing with them even in their fantasies is not possible, willy-nilly a new path opens before them. Like any other natural energy which faces a barrier causes the opening of new channels, here also the sexual needs and instinctive tendencies of these young people expose them to a new way: establishing relationships with the same sex.
From opposite sex to same sex
Although from the viewpoint of Sharia, having a relationship with the same sex is “haram” [religiously prohibited] and unlawful, which should be concealed and should not be practiced openly, based on the need, ways are sought for it. There is an old saying that need is the mother of invention. Here, too, the unmanageable sexual need finds a way or even ways for it.
The students that study at these madrasas are usually of different ages and educational stages and this difference leads to a kind of hierarchy in which a number of students, relying on physical strength and some others relying on their educational ability (which places them in the position of the teacher’s assistant), exert power on other students and get engaged in a type of exploitation and abuse, especially of those who have not yet reached their legal age and are considered children.
We should not forget that one of the problems of these madrasas is a lack of segregation of students based on their legal age. In these madrasas, a specific age for the admission of students is not considered. As a result, the child’s family can decide to enroll him to a seminary any time either due to poverty or due to their interest in having their child get religious education.
The first things the child or adolescent learns is to respect teachers and senior students. This kind of reverence is displayed in various ways, from standing up when they enter [the class] to kissing their hands and obeying their orders. This is a norm which has a value aspect. Breaking these rules is rarely possible as the infringer is considered ill-bred and will face disciplinary or corporal punishment.
The awareness of obligations instead of rights
A while later, the new student gets completely familiarized with the situation and learns to abide by the unwritten regulations. He learns to be in awe of elders and to consider them as their paragon. What is stressed here is fulfilling obligations and there is no word of students’ rights. As long as he fulfills the obligations, he can obtain some rights. The teacher, and at a lower level, the senior student who is the teacher’s assistant, have the prestige of both a commander in a military base and a religious guide among his disciples. Their remarks are often accepted without any dispute and their commands are carried out. Later, when they join armed jihad, this style of upbringing finds a tangible application…total obedience to elders and seniors.
The child or the adolescent who has lived here for a while and got used to the dominant situation is completely compliant and docile. The dominance of this situation paves the way for the domineering of elders, and this stirs the hidden temptations in them. This issue is not peculiar to these madrasas. Since a long time ago, humans have been so that when they would see that others respect and obey them, a variety of tendencies and temptations have germinated in their mind and different impulses occurred for them, particularly when the situation is so that it is associated with inner respect from subordinates and they do not have a motive for disobedience or argument.
By obeying and submitting themselves, the young and adolescent students, too, provoke temptations in elders and stir up their latent desires. Some elder students, who cannot resist the temptations, look at some juniors and adolescents as prey that can be reached easily and with whom they can establish a contact at any possible opportunity.
This is true that such things do not take place before the eyes of others and because it is not permissible religiously and the society is also sensitive to it (though not as much as adultery), effort is made to do it out of the public sight. However, those who live permanently and full-time in the madrasa become aware of this issue and sometimes they speak to each other about it. Even in cases when the elders are brazen and bold, they not only do not make much effort to hide it, but they also speak about it with others. They take pride in the fact that they have a delicious prey at their disposal. Those who have such a tendency but do not have such a capability or have not had the chance to access them, envy them.
Sometimes, a competition breaks out among the powerful over hunting better and more attractive preys, and those who are physically stronger form a gang so that they emerge against the rival gangs. In these competitions, they sometimes try to seize the more attractive prey from the rival gang by force.
This phenomenon is more prevalent in madrasas which are located in tribal environments and where the civil law does not have a strong presence. In cities which are developed to some extent and where civil institutions and government offices are tangibly active, the courage to form bully gangs decreases, and the ground is not very suitable for it. In order to trap the prey, therefore, they deem sufficient methods that are far from violence and we already pointed out to the fact that it is done by bringing up adolescents with obedience and docility.
The individual and social consequences
The victims of this situation are afflicted by severe psychological harms and struggle with it for many years. Some of them gradually get addicted to this and live with duality in their personality in the following years. In psychological terms, they get dual personality.
Some others take revenge when they get older. They do it by abusing other children whose fate has been put at their disposal. As a result, this trend continues for many years in their lifetime.
Afflicted by psychological complexes regarding the society, some others develop a black and dark view of all or majority of people. Owing to their expertise, when they find themselves in the position of preachers, they express aversion. They call most people infidel and deviant and make a big fuss out of it. They launch serious fights over very simple issues that are not that important religiously. They accuse the majority of the society of deviation and express these matters in a tone full of hatred and spite. Instead of relaxing the society and the audience and preaching the word of love and friendship, such preachers constantly develop pessimism and gloominess and somehow divest everybody of legitimacy. They constantly reproach people and make bitter complaints about their perversion and irreligiousity.
The climax of catastrophe
The catastrophe reaches its peak when some of the victims get conscience-pricked, for if in the first place, they got involved in the deed by force, in the next phases they have acquiesced in it with their own will. And since according to religious teachings, this action has been described as worse than adultery and many other sins, they consider themselves filthy sinners who have committed very abominable acts. And since they have had neither access to any psychiatrist and psychotherapist with the help of whom they could overcome their problem, nor the culture of the society permitted them to share their problem with anybody, they have always tried to hide and suppress it.
This heavy anguish makes them think they should clean themselves of its filthiness thoroughly. When they feel that such heavy grubbiness cannot be cleaned by customary worships such as repentance and asking forgiveness, fasting, etc, one of the shortest ways is to resort to suicide acts. They are already told that it is the highest type of sacrifice for sacred religious ideals.
On the one hand, this action inspires in them a sense of becoming a hero as they confront important powers. They think that by committing that act, they make the enemies of the religion tremble. On the other hand, they are relieved of the agony from which they suffered for years.
The dubious feigning of ignorance
What attracts attention here is as to why this phenomenon is never taken seriously? Why do teachers, who themselves have sometimes been victims to this situation and deem it strongly possible to happen to students too, ignore it easily and consider it a natural trend that has no solution?
More importantly, most of the students of these madrasas, even those who are not involved in these acts, come to terms with it and lose their sensitivity to it. They instead get agitated at shaved beards and other issues that are not of that importance in religious logic more than knowing about such acts by the madrasa students.
Once when the author advised one of the madrassa teachers to feel responsible towards what is happening among his students and prevent such acts, the teacher replied: “This phonemenon did not start today and we cannot do anything about it? Thirty years ago, when we were in our last year of our education and were studying a Hadith course [reports of statements or actions by Prophet Muhammad], some senior students would not let the teacher start the lesson until the younger student affiliated to them would come and sit beside them so that they could listen to the lesson with a calm mind.”
Most teachers and graduates of such madrasas are not ready to talk about this behavior either because they want to protect their honor or they are afraid of being accused of having had a prey or being a prey themselves. They are also afraid of harming their class [of religious scholars or classmates] and endangering their position. On the other hand, the culture of concealment and evasion from transparency puts a heavy cover on this phenomenon and no way remains for the acquisition of clear information and preparation of precise statistics about the prevalence and range of this phenomenon. Nevertheless, if somebody seriously intends to get into the root of this behavior, he will acquire some shocking information.
The first result that we will get is we will realize as to why the Taliban are so misogynist and cannot tolerate the presence of women in social life. Second, we will realize that their behavior does not stem from chastity and piousness as they have other reasons and factors. In addition, we will realize how one of the worst ways of trampling children’s rights takes place, something about which the world has limited knowledge.
Prevention of child harassment
If we want to end this situation, we need to take some measures. First, students who have not reached the legal age and those who have should be segregated and all of them should not be allowed to be in the same dorm. Second, children should be informed of their legal rights and immunity. There should also be strategies in place to protect these rights and pursue the complaints. Third, precise and classified data that have been prepared through accurate and authentic scientific methods should be put at the disposal of the society and families so that they become aware of its consequences and know their share of responsibility to prevent this behavior. Fourth, governments should increase official supervision over these madrasas and put an end to this disturbing and ill-disciplined situation.
Exception does not rule out the law
What we have said may not apply to all madrasas in which the Taliban have studied as some madrasas have tried to take some measures against this issue, but since this phenomenon has not been studied as an independent research topic, we cannot judge the level of their success in preventing this phenomenon, particularly that no calculated measures have been taken into account to address these young men’s needs. This problem is simply ignored, because it has not been recognized as a problem yet!
In addition, what mentioned above one should not deduce that all those who have studied at these madrasas have faced this problem. There are chaste and virtuous people who have avoided these problems. We will be able to evaluate the precise scale and specific percentage of those who have been preyed or have had prey after we evaluate it with precise field studies.
What is important to know is that one of the factors behind some of the students of these madrasas resorting to violent acts and suicide is their suffering from the oppression imposed by their coreligionists and colleagues. They get victimized themselves before victimizing others.
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