The secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), Hissein Brahim Taha, called for an international campaign to convince the Taliban to reverse a ban on female education.
He called on the Jeddah-based International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA) to lead the campaign, a week after the Taliban banned women from attending university.
In remarks carried by the Saudi Arabian state-linked Saudi Press Agency, Mr Taha said such a campaign would be according to “the teachings of the true Islamic religion that encourages the education of females”.
The OIC statement came as a spokesman for Afghanistan’s education sector said a quarter of Afghanistan's private universities risk closure because of the ban on female students.
A minister for higher education in the Taliban government, Nida Mohammad Nadim, defended the ban, saying it is necessary to prevent the mixing of genders in universities and because, according to him, some subjects are a breach of Islamic and Afghan values.
Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women and minorities, the Taliban have widely implemented a strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, since their takeover of the country.
They have banned girls from middle school and high school, barred women from most fields of employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms. Afghan society, while largely traditional, had increasingly embraced the education of girls and women over the past two decades under a US-backed government.
A spokesman for the private universities' union, Mohammad Karim Nasiri, said 35 institutions risk closure because of the ban. Male students have also been boycotting classes and exams in solidarity with their female counterparts, he added.
The OIC secretary general said that “the Taliban's decision is not based on Islamic law, especially since a team of scholars visited Afghanistan last June and held extensive meetings with Taliban scholars and government leaders”.
“There was agreement that Islam ensured women all their rights, including the right to education and work,” his statement said.
Afghanistan has 140 private universities in 24 provinces with a total of about 200,000 students. Out of those, about 60,000 to 70,000 are women. The universities employ about 25,000 people.