'Read!': Why this young Afghan girl is reminding the Taliban what 'Iqra' means

Afghanistan women protest
6 min read
13 January, 2023
The Taliban's hollow promise to ensure further education for Afghan women has all but been betrayed. But one 18-year-old is holding a solo protest against the recent university ban to remind the Taliban of the importance of education in Islam for all

Eighteen-year-old Marwa is covered from head to toe to protect herself from the harsh winter cold as she stands in a solo protest against the Taliban, holding a handwritten sign that reads Iqra – the first word revealed to the Prophet Muhammad from Allah which means to read.

Her protest comes following the Taliban's latest assault on women's rights, banning university education for women and prompting outrage.

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Some women have tried to protest the ban, but they have been swiftly dispersed. 

A video of Marwa standing up against Taliban gunmen in charge of preventing girls from entering Afghanistan's largest university, Kabul University, went viral. Her standing was unique – a young woman challenging a Taliban decree with a Quranic word.

"Even breathing has become difficult for Afghan women"

In an interview with The New Arab, Marwa said that with this "resistance action," she wanted to show that Afghan women are not cowardly and weak and can demand their rights.

"The Taliban are afraid of us, but women are not afraid of the Taliban," she tells The New Arab.

"If the Taliban oppresses us collectively, we will stand alone and raise our voice against oppression and defend our rights."

Marwa, who is skilled in painting and aspires to one day study at the Korea National University of Arts in Seoul to become an international artist, says that she never thought that one day the Taliban would rule Afghanistan.

"Right now, we are stuck in a terrible nightmare. I hope this nightmare will end and we will go back to our previous state," Marwa added. 

Afghan female students stand in a queue after they arrive for entrance exams at Kabul University [Getty Images]
Afghan female students stand in a queue after they arrive for entrance exams at Kabul University [Getty Images]

Marwa lives with her parents, four sisters and two brothers. Although she says that her family supports her, they did not agree with her solo protest. She stood up against the Taliban gunmen without their consent.

"When I heard that the Taliban had closed universities to girls, the image that formed in my mind was a dark image – an image that my parents had told me about from the first round of the Taliban's regime in the 90s and that I always had in my mind. The image of ignorance."

"The Taliban's behaviour is not Islamic, but a tribal and primitive view that does not accept women as human beings"

She says that the Taliban's behaviour is not Islamic, but a tribal and primitive view that does not accept women as human beings.

This young woman says she felt proud when she stood in front of the Taliban gunmen in front of Kabul University and raised the 'Iqra' sign.

"I was definitely not afraid; my message was truth and justice and I did not know anything called fear that day."

Marwa says that during the stand against the Taliban gunmen, even they were not literate to know that the 'Iqra' word is Quranic.

"They insulted me with obscene words, and then I was threatened with guns and electric shocks. When I stood up, they brutally attacked me," the 18-year-old reveals. 

Marwa, who played cricket before the rule of the Taliban and wanted to become a player in the women's national cricket team, says that with the arrival of the Taliban, this dream and passion has also disappeared. 

She says that now she wishes that at least one day, without gender discrimination, everyone will have the opportunity to study.

Marwa adds with a lump in her throat that being a woman in Afghanistan is a big crime, which is punished through repression and punishment.

"Even breathing has become difficult for Afghan women."

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Closing the gates of universities to girls after school brought international reactions and, this time, not only Western countries but also international Islamic organisations and institutions called this act of the Taliban un-Islamic. 

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey also issued statements calling the Taliban's actions against Islamic teachings. 

Global reactions have not resulted in any results so far.

Marwa says that she is not satisfied with the world's reaction to the Taliban, and she does not expect it either, because according to her, Afghan women are not important to the world. 

She adds that right now the daughters of Taliban leaders, who they themselves admit, are studying in universities and schools in different countries of the world, including Pakistan and the UAE.

"Instead of pressuring and sanctioning the Taliban, the world is helping and sending weekly cash bags under the name of humanitarian aid to the Taliban's regime."

"If the situation continues, Afghanistan will be completely dark, broken and desperate"

Marwa says that the continuation of the status quo will destroy Afghanistan. She says that the rule of the Taliban will endanger world peace

"The ideology of violence will not be restricted to Afghanistan, one day it will spread to the region and the world."

What Marwa says isn't the situation of limited women in Afghanistan, but it's the suffocating situation of thousands of women.

With the rule of the Taliban on August 15, 2021, countless restrictions have been imposed on women in this country.

Girls no longer have the right to study in secondary schools and universities, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. Under the rule of the Taliban, Afghan women no longer have the right to go to parks, sports clubs, and public women's baths. 

Marwa says that the picture of the future is a dark and unclear one. She adds that women's dreams are completely broken in Afghanistan and there is a broken nation full of pain. 

She adds that in addition to the current dark situation, hunger has also prevailed in Afghanistan and this situation will become more critical.

"If the situation continues, Afghanistan will be completely dark, broken and desperate."

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Despite all of these, Marwa says that she has not lost her hope and motivation and if she used to read one page previously, now she reads ten pages. 

She says once again, with anger and a lump in her throat, that if she looks back sometime later, she does not want to see a weak and poor woman. 

"My dreams are not finished and I will fight for them."

Abu Muslim Shirzad is a university lecturer and researcher on security and political matters in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. 

Follow him on Twitter: @MuslimShirzad