On December 14, 2023, the Taliban issued a directive banning texts deemed contrary to Sunni Hanafi guidance from libraries at private universities and higher education institutions.
The directive, signed by Sheikh Shakirullah Wahdat, the head of the Ministry of Education’s Invitation and Guidance department, states, “The Directorate instructs the cleansing of libraries in all private institutions in Afghanistan, removing books against Hanafi jurisprudence and those causing ideological issues.” It further specifies that these materials should be replaced by texts that focus on the Prophet Muhammad’s biography.
The directive takes place in the context of efforts by the Taliban to exert religious control over the higher education sector. The Taliban has nullified all higher education laws and regulations instituted by the previous government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and, on November 22, 2023, issued a similar directive calling for libraries to remove all books that were on their shelves during the previous government with books on the Prophet Muhammad. The Taliban’s Ministry of Education had also announced that each state university should have an Imam and religious preacher with the responsibility of ensuring that higher education instructors have strong religious beliefs and knowledge of the Quran.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the censorship of academic material and forced placement of exclusively religious content within academic libraries. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from encroaching on university autonomy, including the availability of published scholarly works. Actions targeting academic content undermine academic freedom and harm democratic progress generally.