Afghanistan’s controversial Shia Personal Status Law was championed and drafted by senior clerics who spent years studying in Iran and doesn’t reflect the will of most Afghan Shias, according to Hossain Ali Ramoz, executive director of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
The law, which obliges a wife to “fulfill the sexual desires of her husband,” prevents her from inheriting her husband’s wealth, and limits when she can leave the house, has been criticized for imposing Taliban-style restrictions on women. Following an international uproar, it has been placed on hold and is under review by the Afghan government.
In an interview with Maclean’s, Ramoz, a Kabul native currently studying for a graduate degree in communications at the University of Ottawa, says Afghanistan’s Shias, most of whom belong to the Hazara ethnic group, are typically among the most religiously moderate of Afghans. Hazara women appear in public with their faces uncovered. They are disproportionately represented, he notes, in national singing competitions.
The problem is their religious leaders, he says. “They are mostly trained in Iran, so they have a different thought. I separate what they think from what the people think. This law was decided among some mullahs and ulemas [senior Islamic scholars], not the people.”
Ramoz says that during the years of Taliban rule and the civil war before that, many Shia clerics studied in Iran’s holy city of Qom. Following the overthrow of the Taliban—which had brutally persecuted and on occasion massacred Afghan Shias—these clerics returned and took up positions on religious councils or in the Afghan parliament. From there they played a powerful role in drafting the controversial legislation, which Ramoz says is actually not popular with most Shias.
“We have a very conservative and very jihadi parliament that in a sense disagrees with human rights and democracy,” he says. “In Afghanistan, unfortunately, the relationship between MPs and their constituents is not as accountable and transparent as in the West.”