There are few people who would argue with the fact that, since 9/11, the Taliban have become synonymous with Islamic-based extremism and acts of terror. Waging convert-or-die campaigns, brutalizing their Muslim minorities, and burning young girls with acid for attending school have been usual and customary for the terror group.

With the recent meteoric fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, fears of an “ISIS 3.0” are rising, with many asking questions about the global plans of the Taliban and what will happen next. Let’s take a quick look at how the Taliban formed, who they are, what they believe and why.

The beginnings

When Muhammad died in AD 632, a dispute raged over who would lead Islam. One side believed anyone could assume leadership whereas another side argued only someone from Muhammad’s family should rule.

The first group won out and were referenced as the Sunnis (followers of the way) with the other group being labeled Shiites (the party of Ali, a member of Muhammad’s family). From a national perspective, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the leading powers of the two branches of Islam, with the heart of Sunni Islam being Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and Iran being home to the Shiites.

The Taliban are Sunni Muslims and adherents to the Salafist doctrine, which looks back to the early years of Islam to understand how Muslims today should practice their faith. They reject any kind of religious innovation with one practical outworking of that being the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law).

Always remember that Islam, especially to groups like the Taliban, is more than a personal religion: it dictates the social and political culture as well. Of the three different Salafist categories (the quietists, activists and jihadists) the Taliban fall squarely into the third.

“Talib,” the singular form of Taliban, means “student,” especially a religious learner. The term references the role of their religious school in Pakistan, called a madrassa, that has helped shape the group. As for the teaching’s logical outworking, their use of violence has been on display for everyone to see, with Afghans, in particular, having experienced the group’s brutality firsthand.
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