AAN Papers

Beyond Jihad and Traditionalism: Afghanistan’s new generation of Islamic activists


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Not all Afghan youth who are politically active and who want to change the status quo fit into the often simplified categories of being either progressive and educated, or uneducated and subversive. There is an often-overlooked segment of Afghanistan’s youth that is educated and engages in modern political debates and activities, while at the same time aiming to replace the current democratic order with a sharia-based government. AAN’s latest report, “Beyond Jihad and Traditionalism” by AAN researcher Borhan Osman, explores their ideologies, activities and appeal of such groups.

The research has focused on four radical Islamist trends in Afghanistan: Hizb ut-Tahrir, which seeks a caliphate that encompasses the whole Muslim world and uses anti-nation state, clandestine political activism; Jamiat-e Eslah, the Afghan affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood which operates as a well-organised and grassroots-oriented organisation; the younger generation of Hezb-e Islami, which is seeking to revive the ideological cause of the party it inherited from the anti-Soviet jihad era; and a re-energised Salafism, which seems to become increasingly accepted as part of religious orthodoxy. The four groups reveal a snapshot of what appears to be a broader Islamic trend among segments of the Afghan youth.

Ideologically, the paper shows, all four groups’ stated aim is to fully bring Islam back into every field of life, but they differ on the details of what such an Islamic revival would look like and how it should be achieved. The diversity in the Islamic trends, in terms of message, level of organisation and political aims, means that there is a variety of ‘flavours’ on offer, allowing these groups to accommodate audiences with different types of religious dispositions. Looking ahead, all four groups seem poised to grow at a steady pace, both in terms of numbers and influence within public institutions, and to become an influential part of the country’s political landscape. How to accommodate these Islamist groups with other growing, and possibly conflicting, trends, such as the ‘secularists’, is likely to become one of Afghanistan’s pressing questions, as the country moves to self-reliance.

The full report can be downloaded here.

The executive summary can be downloaded here.

The accompanying dispatch to this report can be found here.

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