Conservative Muslims fighting equality

NEW DELHI The more liberal elements in Afghan society have won a tussle over whether women should be allowed to sing on TV, despite fierce religious protests.

Afghan state TV aired footage of 1970s and 1980s star Salma singing an old hit earlier this month, defying a strong conservative sentiment in the Muslim country once ruled by the hardline Taliban militia.

A few days later it broadcast a clip of 1960s star Ustad Mahwash — and arts minister Sayed Makhdoom Raheen vowed that the broadcasts would continue.

It’s the first time a woman had been shown singing on public television for more than a decade.

The move enraged the Supreme Court, which complained the images were un-Islamic.

“We totally oppose this decision as an Islamic country,” Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahamad Manawi says. “The Supreme Court’s high council last year banned women singing and we still insist on our decision. It should be banned.”

However, Makhdoom Raheen said Jan. 17 that the Supreme Court had not formally complained and that the video clips would continue.

Mahwash, dressed in somber red and black veil, sang a love song, while Salma sung about homesickness and being a refugee.

Afghanistan’s first constitution since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 states that men and women have equal rights and duties.

Under the Taliban, women were banned from working and girls were not allowed to go to school.

President Hamid Karzai has tried to stay out of the spat, saying the Culture Ministry was handling the matter.

“Afghanistan has had women singing on radio and television for over 50 to 60 years,” he says. “People have welcomed it. But still we have to work in the context of today’s cultural and social environment and do whatever is suited to that.”

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