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Muslim scholars and clerics: suicide bombings are un-Islamic.

A conference of religious leaders is set to meet in January in Afghanistan specifically to publicize the fact that suicide bombing violence is not in the Quran.

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For those who want to fight US forces, says Firotan, there are methods. "But this is not the way – to go to mosques, banks, bazaars, or shops. There, are 100 percent, some Taliban who are  [also] against these actions."

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As the Taliban has waged its insurgency in recent years, it has also increasingly targeted civilians, along with US and NATO military forces, Afghan security, and the government. By early summer, the toll caught the attention of the UN Special Representative Jan Kubis, who lamented in a speech that every morning started with “very sad news” of civilian deaths.

Addressing an Islamic cooperation conference in June, he said the previous “typical” week had 200 civilian casualties, with 57 dead. The week before registered 244 casualties, with 90 killed. One day saw three suicide bombings; another single day left 107 casualties.  

Such a soaring toll was "unacceptable," Kubis said. "We keep hearing reports of suicide bombings, intimidation, targeted killings, assassination of elders, religious leaders, teachers, and scholars, burning of schools – all done in the name of Islam."

Yet Kubis noted that different interpretations are also heard, based on the Quran, that show such acts to be un-Islamic. The result has been confusion and questions in the minds of many Afghans.

"They are not anymore sure what is the truth, what is right, what is wrong, what is Islamic, what is non-Islamic," said Kubis. He challenged the religious scholars to magnify their voices: "You have a major role, a major responsibility to help."

That message has been transmitted many times by many religious scholars and officials, over many years. But it has yet to break through to those who favor such attacks, as “religious” as their ideology is meant to be.

Easier said, than done

Even the writ of Taliban chiefs is limited, as shown by the example of fugitive leader Mullah Omar. In 1998 he condemned the use of anti-personnel landmines as "un-Islamic" and "anti-human."

Despite that, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) notes that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed by Taliban operatives are "by far the biggest killer of civilians" in Afghanistan. In the first nine months of this year, they caused 340 deaths – a nearly 30 percent increase from the same period the previous year.

Likewise, suicide attacks remain a pernicious killer, despite the volume of religious scholarship against it.

"Practically every family has suffered some form of attack by these suicide bombings or IEDs, and they don't look at it very kindly," says Massoumeh Torfeh, the director of strategic communications for UNAMA in Kabul.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban ambassador to the UN who is now a member of the High Peace Council, tasked by the government of President Hamid Karzai with talking to the Taliban, says the opinions of religious figures can have an impact.

"Afghanistan is a religious country, and absolutely the majority are listening to their religious scholars," says Mr. Mujahid. About the Taliban, he says: "They are human beings, and also they have their religious scholars."

Mujahid quotes the Quran, saying: "You have to fight against those who are fighting against you. But do not cross the limit."

That limit is beyond "proportional reaction," says Mujahid: "It means that when someone is fighting against you with their fists, you should not use a Kalashnikov."

The Taliban see themselves as "being attacked, that war is being waged against [them]," adds Mujahid. The High Peace Council is "trying our best to convince them that war is not to the benefit of any party [and to] settle everything by negotiations, not by fighting."

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