The musicians are among hundreds of artists — actors, writers, painters and photographers — who have fled Afghanistan in recent weeks. Many have left because they worry about their safety and see no way of earning money as the arts come under government scrutiny.
The Taliban is wary of nonreligious music, which they prohibited outright when they led Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. While the new government has not issued an official ban, radio stations have stopped playing some songs, and musicians have taken to hiding their instruments. Some have reported being attacked or threatened for performing. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in an interview with The New York Times in August that “music is forbidden in Islam” but that “we’re hoping that we can persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them.”
The Afghanistan National Institute of Music had long been a target of the Taliban. The school embraced change, adopting a coeducational model and devoting resources to studying both traditional Afghan music and Western music. The Taliban issued frequent threats against the school; Sarmast was wounded by a Taliban suicide bomber in 2014.
Afghanistan Under Taliban Rule
With the departure of the U.S. military on Aug. 30, Afghanistan quickly fell back under control of the Taliban. Across the country, there is widespread anxiety about the future.
The school became known for supporting the education of girls, who make up about a third of the student body. The school’s all-female orchestra, Zohra, toured the world and was hailed as a symbol of a modern, more progressive Afghanistan.
When the Taliban consolidated control over the country in the summer, the school was forced to shut down rapidly. Taliban officials began using the campus as a command center. Students and staff mostly stayed home, worried they would be attacked for going outside. Some stopped playing music and began learning other skills, such as weaving.
This content was originally published here.