When the Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan in 2021, they stepped back onto the world stage. But who are they? The word ‘Taliban’ means ‘student’. The Taliban started as a religious movement of ultra-conservative Muslim students in 1994. When the Taliban rose up and overthrew Afghanistan’s ruling warlords, many Afghan citizens were relieved by their promises to eradicate corruption and establish one united Muslim rule.
However, that relief was short-lived as the Taliban began imposing their own strict interpretations of Islamic law. Public floggings, amputations, and executions became common. Women and girls were banned from nearly all work and education. Minority religious practices were forbidden.
After al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden launched an attack from Afghanistan on the United States in 2001, the U.S. demanded the Taliban hand over bin Laden and al-Qaeda fighters. When they refused, the U.S. led a military invasion into Afghanistan, driving the Taliban into hiding. Over the next 20 years, they remained in their fallen state, but continued to attack the U.S. and their allies.
When American troops pulled out of the country in 2021, the Taliban quickly swept back in and regained power. The group’s renewed presence stirred panic among people remembering the former regime, and there was a mass exodus of Afghans and Western allies fleeing the country.
Today, accurate reports on life in Afghanistan are difficult to access since the Taliban strictly controls journalism and social media content from the country. Taliban leaders claim to be fashioning their version of Islamic society within a modern context. They want to legitimize their rule by establishing international partners, opening doors to receive more foreign aid, and gaining acceptance on the world stage.
Other Muslim-majority countries have been hesitant to establish ties with the Taliban. Islamic State fighters made their way into Afghanistan with the power shift, and while Taliban leadership has been wary of ISIS activity that could compromise their rule, they are generally tolerant of ISIS in the country.
Meanwhile, women, girls, religious minorities, and even moderate Muslims still suffer extreme oppression. Afghan Christians who are discovered by the Taliban often face punishment, kidnapping, or death.
Members of the Taliban are in spiritual bondage. And only God can liberate them. If they even question Islam, their lives are in danger. Therefore, the disillusioned must seek spiritual answers in secret.
But unlike when the Taliban was in control in the 90’s, there is now a vibrant and growing underground Church in Afghanistan! Before the Taliban regained power, Afghan Christians were already establishing underground networks and community connections in anticipation of greater persecution. Although nearly all of the Taliban remain unreached by the Gospel, there are believers who have courageously taken opportunities to share Jesus with them.
Who knows what God can do amongst the Taliban with these faithful seeds planted by Gospel witnesses and martyrs! There are even amazing stories of Taliban members having supernatural encounters with Jesus through dreams and visions! God is moving, even among the ranks of the Taliban. It may seem impossible to man, but with God all things are possible!