When I visited Afghanistan during the last days of communist Russia's political domination, I found Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, entirely intact, but today, under the so-called Islamic regime of the Taliban, the greater part of Kabul has been destroyed. And now the people of Afghanistan are faced with such great hardship as they have never before faced in their entire history.
The Taliban hold Russian communism to be "kufr" while regarding themselves to be the representatives of Islam. How strange it is that "kufr" inflicted only minimal harm upon Afghanistan, while "Islam" has almost totally ruined the country - to such an extent that people are compelled to flee from their own homeland. Sadly, all this is being done in the name of Islam. Judging from the result, one can say that this is nothing more or less than the de-Islamization of Islam.
Added to the long horrible list of depredations carried out in the name of the Afghan version of Islam, there is the extremely sad event of the demolitions which began on March 1. Following the order of their religious chief, the Taliban began blasting the statues of Gautam Buddha with dynamite and attacking them with bulldozers. They said that they were doing this in accordance with the teachings of Islam, for Islam did not permit idolatry.
This is a totally non-Islamic act. It is true that Islam is against idolatry, but there is certainly a clear difference between weaning people away from idol-worship and the destruction of idols. There are verses in the Quran which state: "Do not worship idols". But there is no verse in the Quran which says: "Destroy idols". The way of Islam is to purify that heart of idolatry; it is not to destroy statues made of stone.
Let us look at the history of Afghanistan in this connection. According to early tradition, Islam entered Afghanistan during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad himself. Later, the Prophet's close companion, Khalid ibn Walid came here with other believers. At that time the majority of the population were Buddhist. Many of them converted to Islam. This process of the peaceful propagation of Islam continued and, by the end of the 10th century AD Islam had spread throughout Afghanistan. It is worth noting here that during the time of the Prophet Muhammad when Islam entered Afghanistan, the statues of Gautam Buddha had already been carved out 500 years earlier, in the mountainsides of Afghanistan. Just as these statues were safe prior to the advent of Islam, they continued to remain safe throughout the fourteen hundred years of the Islamic era. It is only in recent times, during Taliban rule, that these statues have been held to be un-Islamic and subjected to demolition. Now the question arises as to whether the Taliban have a better knowledge of Islam than that of the Sahaba (the Prophet's companions), the Tabiun (the companions' disciples) and other great Islamic scholars of the past.
The truth is that while the Taliban are ostensibly smashing idols, what in reality they are doing is demolishing Islam. Far from serving the interests of Islam, this initiative is doing it the greatest harm. Islam believes in the principle of tolerance between different religions. This verse was revealed in the Quran during the Makkan period: "For you your religion, for me mine". (109.6). We find many practical examples of adherence to this principle in Islamic history. For instance, during the period of Umar Faruq, the Second Caliph of Islam, Palestine was conquered. At that time an agreement was reached between the Caliph and the Christian authorities. One of the clauses of this agreement, signed by the Caliph Umar, was that the Christian churches as well as the statues of Mary and Christ placed in the churches and the Cross would remain as they were.
The statues of Gautam Buddha carved in the mountains may have been objects of worship in the past, but today they enjoy the position of historical monuments. They no longer belong to a particular religious group: their status is that of symbols of a historical heritage common to all mankind. The principle of Islam, applicable to this state of affairs, is to remove the issue from the private or the national sphere to the universal sphere.
It is unfortunate that, despite international protests, Afghanistan's Taliban government has decided to go ahead with the demolition of statues of historical and religious importance in the country. Demolition of places of worship and statues of religious personalities is totally un-Islamic and unwarranted. Indeed, Islam orders us to respect the places of worship of other religion and certainly does not permit their destruction.