Islamic Studies Taliban
Abdullah Al-Arian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0088


In the aftermath of the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan at the hands of the mujahideen, religious fighters supported by the West, a movement of students from local Islamic schools began their bid for power. They came to be known as the Taliban, derived from the Arabic word for “student.” Made up primarily of ethnic Pashtun tribes, these survivors of the decade-long Soviet occupation formed militias to subdue the various regions of Afghanistan in 1994. By 1996, they had conquered nearly the entire country, ruling the population through a strict, literalist interpretation of Islamic law. In addition to its international isolation, human rights abuses, and destruction of historical artifacts, the Taliban became known for hosting the transnational terrorist organization al-Qaeda, and its leader, Osama bin Laden. However, it was only after the attacks of September 11, 2001, plotted by bin Laden from the remote regions of Afghanistan, that the Taliban became a major subject of interest to Western scholars.

General Overviews

The years preceding the 9/11 attacks yielded a limited number of studies, usually focused on Afghanistan’s transition from the Soviet era to the Taliban, as examined in Goodson 2001 and Maley 1998. Others have offered more broad historical studies of Afghanistan, attempting to place the Taliban phenomenon in a wider context, as in Edwards 2002 and Roy 1995.

  • Brentjes, Burchard, and Helga Brentjes. Taliban: A Shadow over Afghanistan. Varanasi, India: Rishi, 2000.

    A broad study of Afghanistan’s political and socioeconomic development. Provides historical context and geostrategic analysis of the rise of the Taliban.

  • Edwards, David B. Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    An anthropological look at the conditions that brought the Taliban to power, told through biographies of three important figures representing different segments of Afghanistan’s political culture.

  • Goodson, Larry. Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.

    Historical overview of Afghanistan’s history from the Soviet invasion through the rise of the Taliban.

  • Huwaydi, Fahmi. Ṭālibān: Jund Allāh fī al-Maʿrakah al-Ghalaṭ! Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 2001.

    An Islamic critique of the Taliban by a leading Egyptian intellectual. In Arabic.

  • Magnus, Ralph. “Afghanistan in 1996: Year of the Taliban.” Asian Survey 37, no. 2 (1997): 111–117.

    DOI: 10.1525/as.1997.37.2.01p0209h

    Short article highlights the developments in Afghanistan during the period in which the Taliban solidified its authority.

  • Maley, William, ed. Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

    A collection of essays by various scholars in the field. Examines the rise of the Taliban, the role of regional and international actors, and the future of Afghanistan.

  • Roy, Olivier. Afghanistan: From Holy War to Civil War. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press, 1995.

    Modern history of Afghanistan with special emphasis on the conflict of the 1980s and its aftermath. Concludes with the rise of the Taliban.

  • Rzehak, Lutz, ed. Die Taliban im Land der Mittagssonne: Geschichten aus der afghanischen Provinz: Erinnerungen und Notizen von Abdurrahman Pahwal. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert, 2005.

    Previously unpublished manuscript by the deceased Afghan intellectual Abdurrahman Pahwal, who witnessed the rule of the Taliban. Provides unique and personal insights of the situation on the ground. In German.

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