Forty Years Afghan Resistance – Nation Building in the Quran

Importance of Forty Years Period in the Quran

Published in: History
Date: 05 / 09 / 21

George W Bush, the US President who invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks in search of network that allegedly committed the attacks, said in his memoirs Decision Points: “Afghanistan was the ultimate nation building. We had liberated the country from a primitive dictatorship, and we had a moral obligation to leave behind something better. We also had a strategic interest in helping the Afghan people build a free society” because “a democratic Afghanistan would be a hopeful alternative to the vision of extremists.”[1] Even though the immediate mission of US led military alliance was to eliminate the terrorist network inside Afghanistan, its quite clear that this war had a bigger and longer mission: Nation Building. This became absolutely clear in 2011 after the prime suspect behind the 9/11 attacks named Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan continued for another ten years. The nation building mission was to replace the Islamic values and culture that are strongly embedded in the Afghan social fabric with Western secular liberal values and culture. And so the reason why this war continued for so long and ultimately failed in this project was because Afghans are a nation whom can be destroyed physically but its almost impossible to get Islam out of their hearts and minds. In his book, “The American War in Afghanistan, A History,” Carter Malkasian, a former adviser to senior U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan and Washington, says one reason for the futility of the American effort was the influence of Islam and resistance to foreign occupation. Those were factors, he says, that were not well understood by the Americans.[2]

After Taliban victory and realizing the futility of its mission to socially engineer the Afghanistan, US under President Biden decided to end the longest war of its history. During the recent chaotic evacuation withdrawal Biden admits the failure of such efforts to rebuild nations when he declares an end to "remake other countries": “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan, it’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries,” the president said.[3]

With the departure of last US troops on Aug 31, 2021, the conflict that plagued Afghanistan for last 40 years also came to an end. The conflict began with the Soviet invasion and occupation in 1979 which ended after 10 years with their defeat at the hands of mujahideen resistance and the Russian withdrawal on Feb 15, 1989. The 1990s to 2001 was a period of 10 years civil war in which we saw emergence of Taliban movement which struggled against Northern Alliance, a force of former Soviet era commandeers backed by Western countries which resulted in Taliban establishing their Islamic rule in 1996 on 90% of Afghanistan. This Islamic government however ended after Sept 11, 2001 with invasion of US led Western military alliance of NATO. The US led NATO invasion has now ended with their defeat at the hands of Taliban mujahideen, after struggling and resistance of 20 years. This effort to socially engineer through military force on part of USSR or US empires may have been actually a blessing in disguise. While they attempted to remake Afghanistan on their own ideology it seems that the divine was doing its own nation building of the Afghans. As per Quran the forty years of struggle and resistance is a very significant time period for individuals and nations. Through the forty years of conflict and resistance against foreign invaders much stronger and advanced than themselves, the Afghans have become stronger and much tougher today.

Just a few examples of the term forty in the Quran helps us understand the importance of this topic. Great Prophet’s like Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Prophet Musa (a.s) received prophethood at the age of forty. It was for forty days that Prophet Musa (a.s) fasted to receive revelation. The Quran brings our attention that an individual reaches their full intellectual and spiritual maturity when they reach the age of forty: (Al Quran 46:15) "…And so, when he attains to full maturity and reaches forty years...". The most significant Quranic parable that relates to the forty years of Afghan conflict are verses which mention Allah's punishments for Bani Israel as a result of their refusal to fight and take over the holy land when Allah ﷻ commanded them. They were destined to wander in the desert of Sinai peninsula for forty years: (Al Quran 5:26) Allah replied, “Then this land (the holy land) is forbidden to them for forty years, during which they will wander through the land. So do not grieve for the rebellious people.” This punishment was actually a blessing in disguise. Allah ﷻ had already destined for them to inhabit the holy land but was preparing them to face hardships and difficulties of a desert life so they regain their independent nature lost during Egyptian slavery. The forty years provided them the space to raise a generation that would be unlike those who had lived in Egypt and would not know slavishness. The forty years would produce the generation bred in desert conditions who would then have the strength and courage to face enemies greater than them and defeat them.

Ibn Khaldun explains that due to the slavery that Bani Israel underwent in Egypt for years under Pharaohs made them loose their courage and ability required to oppose and face enemies. Ibn Khaldun says that slavish conditions imposed on a nation makes them loose their independent nature, it destroys their vigor to free themselves from imposed obligations and humiliation by those who harsh handedly rule them. It was during their wandering in the desert that the weaker generation passed away and gave rise to a stronger generation with an independent nature. Along with tough desert life they also got used to facing enemies stronger than their own such as the Amalekites, the Amorites, the Edomites, the Midianites and the Moabites inhabiting the holy land and its surroundings. It was the new generation under leadership of Prophet Yusha (Joshua) that was able to fight and capture the holy land: (Al Quran 2:216) Fighting is enjoined upon you, while it is hard on you. And it could be that you dislike something, when it is good for you, and it could be that you like something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know. - And so we can safely assume that just as the forty years of survival in the tough desert environment and facing stronger nations in battles made Bani Israel strong enough to conquer the holy land, the Afghan resistance of last forty years has made them resilient enough to insha'Allah become an independent nation with potential to also become a regional political power. This divine process of nation building of last forty years that Afghanistan underwent must be for Allah ﷻ may have chosen them to play a leadership role in the upcoming future of the Muslim ummah. After all our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did indicate towards an unstoppable force that will emerge from the direction of ancient Khurasan where lies Afghanistan: "Black standards will come from Khurasan, nothing shall turn them back until they are planted in Jerusalem." [Jami at-Tirmidhi 2269]


[1] Bush on Nation Building and Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Paul D. Miller, NOVEMBER 17, 2010,

[2] Analysis: How Afghan war showed limits of US military power, Associated Press, By ROBERT BURNS, July 17, 2021,

[3] Biden says the era of U.S. nation building is over as he marks the end of the Afghanistan war, CNBC, Amanda Macias, TUE, AUG 31, 2021, 

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