February 11th, 2009 KABUL: Two men have spent over a year in jail and face death over printing a Quran in an indigenous Afghan language.

It all started out innocently enough. The translation was originally left at a major Kabul mosque in September 2007 with a note giving permission to reprint the text as long as it was given away for free. Some of the members of the mosque thought that the book would be useful for Afghans who didn’t read Arabic, so they took up a collection for printing. Then mosque’s cleric asked a longtime friend, Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, to get the book published.

After the book was published and it came to the attention of the country’s powerful Islamic council, the council issued an edict condemning the book and proclaimed that Zalmai who arranged for publication should be killed.

Zalmai pleaded for forgiveness before a January court hearing, saying he didn’t know that a stand-alone translation would be a problem. He has had difficulty in finding a lawyer to represent him in court. Most are afraid that the Islamic council will condemn them also if they take his case.

Zalmai and the Cleric were sentenced to receive 20 years in prison, while the publisher is facing 5 years. Also, several friends who were trying to help Zalmai to leave the country are serving jail time. While he did not violate any law in Afghanistan, he was accused of violating Islamic Shariah law by Islamic council for modifying the Quran. The council and the prosecutor are still trying to get the death penalty finalized for Zalmai and the cleric.

The Islamic council of clerics rejected the book because it did not include the original Arabic verses alongside the translation. They regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God and a translation is not considered a real Quran but potentially heretical unless the original Arabic is also included.

Response: This points out the difficulty in establishing an actual rule of law in Afghanistan. If everything is subject to the whims of a cleric council than justice is always going to be a moving target that will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.

This also points out the difficulty that Western nations and armies face in Afghanistan, a complete cultural disconnect! The death penalty for trying to make the Quran more available to the Afghan masses? Incredible and seemingly so ignorant from a Western perspective.

UPDATE 2/22/09: The two receive a sentence of 20 years in prison!       

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