This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (Jamhuri-ye Islami-ye Afghanistan), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under Afghanistan’s Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) is the principal source for legislation.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in Southern/Central Asia. It is bounded by Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, China, and Pakistan. The capital of Afghanistan is Kabul. The official languages are Pashto and Dari; the latter also functions as the main language of government. The country’s population in 2016 was approximately 33.3 million. Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country, with about 85-90% of the country's population Sunnī and 10-15% Shīʿī. It is important to mention that before the Soviet War (and subsequent Afghan Civil War, followed by the ongoing U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan), Afghanistan was for centuries a religiously diverse country, with well-established communities of Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and Christians. Afghanistan is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Constitution & Legal Structure
Afghanistan is referred to as a presidential Islamic republic, in which sovereignty belongs to the nation. The current Constitution of Afghanistan was adopted in 2004. The system of government is based on principles of separation and checks and balances and has three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Afghanistan has a mixed legal system of civil, Islamic, and customary law. In rural, Pashtun areas, customary law, referred to as Pashtunwali or "way of the Pashtun," operates in conjunction with Islamic law at the local level.
Constitutional Status of Islamic Law
Islamic law is a principle source of legislation in Afghanistan. It is referenced throughout the Constitution, which declares Islam as the state religion (Article I). However, followers of other faiths are free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rituals (Article II). The Constitution further states that all laws of the country should be consistent with the tenets and provisions of Islam (Article III).
Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law
Islamic law has ultimate jurisdiction in all of Afghanistan, and in fact, before taking office, judges must swear an oath to respect sharīʿa and the Constitution.
Dominant School of Islamic Law
Afghanistan has no official school of Islamic law. The majority of the population is Sunnī (adhering to the Ḥanafī school), and there is a significant Shīʿī minority as well. In cases involving personal matters of Shīʿī Muslims, courts will apply Shīʿī jurisprudence (Article 131). Otherwise, they will apply Sunnī (Ḥanafī) jurisprudence.
Sources of Law for Legal Research
For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].