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Osama and Islamic Dystopia

OurIndonesia – I recently watched Osama, a movie about Afghanistan, which won the golden prize in the French film festival 2003. This movie is touching and contained a very strong message. Set in Afghanistan in the time of Taliban governance, Osama told about the hard life of women under the Taliban regime which governs in the name of religion.

Osama is a true story about a girl growing up. In a situation of compulsion, she tried to work for her family (her mother and grandma). Afterwards she disguised herself as a boy named Osama for at that time woman were forbidden to work.

Osama got a job in a simple bakery so that she could bring bread home every afternoon for her mother and grandmother who were ‘jailed’ in their home since they did not have muhrim to go out. That job ended when a Taliban agent suddenly seized her and sent her to a training camp for the mujahideen.

In the camp, Osama tried to be a boy. She tried to mix with other boys, run in the yard, climb trees, and learn to perform ablutions (after doing something ritually impure); an obligatory practice taught by a mullah in a common bathing place.

It is here that Osama’s identity is investigated. Her friends suspect her to be a girl and eventually Osama’s identity is exposed. She is afterwards punished and sent away to jail to await the verdict.

In the sharia court in a yard, together with other suspects, most of whom are women, Osama waits for her destiny. Everyone receives a death sentence, either being shot or stoned to death. Osama is worried and afraid to face it.

Osama was lucky! The judge who issued the verdict did not send her to the fire brigade or the stoning hole. With the consideration of her young age and orphan status, she was freed. Unfortunately, she had to marry a mullah: the old man who had taught her about ritual bathing.


Osama is not an extreme portrait about how Islam is implemented in real life. It is a real expression about the perception of religious texts in Mauslim schools. The Taliban are not a group of people who are fond of heresy (bid’ah): those who do something without an Islamic base.

What has been done by the Taliban is a reflection of Islamic doctrine and the references are easy to find in any classical book. The prohibition of work or going out for woman, the excessive male domination, the prohibition of disguise, stoning to death, the absolute authority of the mullah, the bathing, all are referred to in fikh literature.

Some people are proud of these since Islam is perceived to perfectly regulate every aspect of human life. In a famous quotation, Islam is perceived as both religion and the world. All things –small or big— are regulated in this religion; regulating state, running the law, controlling family, self management, and small things like going to bed, having intercourse, getting in and out of bathroom, and taking a bath after doing impure things.

I think, Taliban tried their best to understand and practice what they have learnt. In the beginning, they wanted to form a Muslim social order; an ideal society as illustrated in fikh literatures.

Fikh literature or Islamic classical literature has unique illustrations about how a Muslim society should be built. Unfortunately, most of the fikh problems regarding political order and social order have always been theoretical and never actually practiced in Islamic history.

The ulema or the writer of those fikh literature started from the assumption based on their perception about the ideal society. The main and only reference is the life of the Prophet in Medina. We can say that the referred model is a life in the beginning period of Islam; a civilization that had not yet matured.

Political theory explains that illustration or imagination about the ideal social order is called ‘utopian’. Taliban people in the time of Osama, tried to implement utopia in real life. They may have had good intentions, but their sources were not compatible with creating an ideal state.

Consequently, the model of an Islamic state implemented by the Taliban becomes dystopia; a place and situation which is always avoided since it is very bad. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia which is the illustration about an ideal state dreamed of by humans.

Muslims often assume an Islamic state or Islamic governance to be a utopia; an ideal model of the state. Unfortunately, for the countries which implement such concepts, like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Pakistan, their model of the state and governance is closer to dystopia rather than to utopia.


The Indonesian version of this article was published in IslamLib.