Religion in Afghanistan

Religions in Afghanistan

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Religion in Afghanistan
Blue Mosque in the northern Afghan city in 2012.jpg
Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif 22
The largest mosque in Afghanistan
Majority
Sunni Islam
Minority
Historic/Extinct
Controversy
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Religion in Afghanistan (2012)
religion percent
Sunni Islam
90%
Shia Islam
9.7%
Other religion
0.3%

Religion in Afghanistan (2012)

  Sunni Islam (90%)
  Shia Islam (9.7%)
  Other religion (0.3%)

Afghanistan is an Islamic emirate, in which most citizens follow Islam. As much as 90% of the population follows Sunni Islam.[1] According to The World Factbook, Sunni Muslims constitute between 84.7 - 89.7% of the population, and Shia Muslims between 10 - 15%. 0.3% follow other minority religions.

History

Religious demographics in the region known today as Afghanistan have shifted numerous times in history. In ancient and classical periods, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, followed by Buddhism were the primary religions in the region. Islam gradually became the primary religion in the region after first being introduced in the 7th century A.D., when the Rashidun Caliphate conquered parts of the region.

The religion Zoroastrianism is believed by some to have originated in what is now Afghanistan between 1800 and 800 BCE, as its founder Zoroaster is thought to have lived and died in Balkh while the region at the time was referred to as Ariana.[2][3] Ancient Eastern Iranian languages may have been spoken in the region around the time of the rise of Zoroastrianism. By the middle of the 6th century BCE, the Achaemenids overthrew the Medes and incorporated Arachosia, Aria, and Bactria within its eastern boundaries. An inscription on the tombstone of Darius I of Persia mentions the Kabul Valley in a list of the 29 countries that he had conquered.[4]

Before the arrival of Islam Southern Afghanistan used to be a stronghold of Zoroastrianism. There were close relations between Persia and Arachosia concerning the Zoroastrian faith.[5] It is believed that the Avesta had arrived in Persia through Arachosia. Thus the region is also considered as a "second fatherland for Zoroastrianism".[6]

Mainly concentrated in eastern and southern regions of present-day Afghanistan, early Indo-Aryan inhabitants (between 2000 and 1500 BCE) were adherents of Hinduism. Notable among these inhabitant groups were the Gandharis and Kambojas,[7] while the Pashayi and Nuristanis are contemporary examples of these Indo-Aryan Vedic people.[8][9][10][11][12] With a component of Vedic ancestors from the Pakthas, Pashtuns, the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, also widely practiced Hinduism and Buddhism.[13][14]

"The Pakthas, Bhalanases, Vishanins, Alinas, and Sivas were the five frontier tribes. The Pakthas lived in the hills from which the Kruma originates. Zimmer locates them in present-day eastern Afghanistan, identifying them with the modern Pakthun."[15]

Following Alexander the Great's conquest and occupation in the 4th century BC, the successor-state Seleucid Empire controlled the area until 305 BC when they gave much of it to the Indian Maurya Empire as part of an alliance treaty. The Mauryans brought Buddhism from India and controlled parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan until about 185 BC when they were overthrown.

In the 7th century, the Umayyad Arab Muslims entered into the area now known as Afghanistan after decisively defeating the Sassanians in the Battle of Nihawand (642 AD). Following this colossal defeat, the last Sassanid Emperor, Yazdegerd III, became a hunted fugitive and fled eastward deep into Central Asia. In pursuing Yazdegerd, the Arabs chose to enter the area from north-eastern Iran[16] and thereafter into Herat, where they stationed a large portion of their army before advancing toward the rest of Afghanistan. The Arabs exerted considerable efforts toward propagating Islam amongst the locals.

A large number of the inhabitants of the region of northern Afghanistan accepted Islam through Umayyad missionary efforts, particularly under the reigns of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik (caliph from 724 to 743) and Umar ibn AbdulAziz (caliph from 717 to 720).[17] During the reign of Al-Mu'tasim Islam was generally practiced amongst most inhabitants of the region and finally under Ya'qub-i Laith Saffari, Islam was by far, the predominant religion of Kabul along with other major cities of Afghanistan. Later, the Samanids propagated Islam deep into the heart of Central Asia, as the first complete translation of the Qur'an into Persian occurred in the 9th century. Since the 9th century, Islam has dominated the country's religious landscape. Islamic leaders have entered the political sphere at various times of crisis, but rarely exercised secular authority for long. Remnants of the Hindu Shahi dynasty in Afghanistan's eastern borders were expelled by Mahmud of Ghazni during 998 and 1030.[18]

Until the 1890s, the country's Nuristan region was known as Kafiristan (land of the kafirs or "infidels") because of its inhabitants: the Nuristani, an ethnically distinctive people who practiced Animism and ancient Hinduism.[19]

Men praying at the Blue Mosque (or Shrine of Ali) in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif

The 1979 Soviet invasion in support of a communist government triggered a major intervention of religion into Afghan political conflict. The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1980–1987) was a secular state; Islam united the multi-ethnic political opposition. The Soviet-backed Marxist-style regime and the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) moved to reduce the influence of Islam. The PDPA imprisoned, tortured and murdered many members of the religious establishment.[20] After National Reconciliation talks in 1987, Islam became once again the state religion and the country removed the word "Democratic" from its official name. From 1987-1992, the country's official name was the Republic of Afghanistan.[21] The Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and Zoroastrian minorities have declined since; in the 1970s, it is estimated the country had around 500,000 Sikhs and 200,000 Hindus, while perhaps 7–10,000 remained in 2017.[22][23][24][25][26]

The Taliban won the Afghan Civil War in the 1990s and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (1996–2001), an Islamic state and theocracy that imposed the Taliban's version of Islam on the parts of the country it controlled. After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, a new Islamic Republic was established in 2004 that combined state-sponsored Islam and democracy, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. With the fall of the Republic in 2021 and the return of the Taliban, it remains to be seen how the new Taliban treat the matter; their harsh suppression of journalism and foreigners have made getting reliable reports on the religious situation in Afghanistan difficult.

For Afghans, Islam represents a potentially unifying symbolic system which offsets the divisiveness that frequently rises from the existence of a deep pride in tribal loyalties and an abounding sense of personal and family honor found in multitribal and multiethnic societies such as Afghanistan. Mosques serve not only as places of worship, but for a multitude of functions, including shelter for guests, places to meet and converse, the focus of social religious festivities and schools. Almost every Afghan has at one time during his youth studied at a mosque school; for some this is the only formal education they receive.

Minority religious groups

Shia Islam

The Shias make up between 7%[1] to 20%[27] of the total population of Afghanistan. Although there is a tiny minority Sunnis among them, the majority of Hazaras are Shia, mostly of the Twelver branch with some smaller groups who practice the Ismailism branch.[28][29] The Qizilbash of Afghanistan have traditionally been Shias.[30]

Shia Muslims in Afghanistan are a source of tension between Afghanistan and its neighbor the Islamic Republic of Iran. The reigning Taliban are fiercely Sunni, while Iran is dominated by Shia Islam. As such, treatment of Afghanistan's Shia minority affect relations with one of Afghanistan's most important neighbors.

Modernist and nondenominational Muslims

One of the most important revivalists and resuscitators of the Islamic Modernist and non-denominational Muslim movement in the contemporary era was Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani.[31]

Zoroastrians

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, 2,000 Afghans identified as Zoroastrians in 1970.[32]

Indic religions

Historically, the Southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan had long periods of Hindu-Buddhist predominance.

There are about 1,300 Afghan Sikhs[33][34] and a little over 600 Hindus[35] living in different cities but mostly in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Ghazni.[36][37] Senator Awtar Singh was the only Sikh in Afghanistan's parliament of 2010.[38]

A notable remnant of the Buddhist history in Afghanistan were the massive Buddhas of Bamiyan statues, carved in the 6th and 7th centuries. The statues were destroyed in March 2001 by the reigning Taliban as idolatrous. Taliban soldiers used rockets and guns to destroy them.[39]

Baháʼí Faith

The Baháʼí Faith was introduced to Afghanistan in 1919 and Baháʼís have been living there since the 1880s. As of 2010, there were approximately 16,500 Baháʼís in Afghanistan.[40]

Christianity

Some unconfirmed reports state that there are 1,000 to 18,000 Afghan Christians practicing their faith secretly in the country.[41] A 2015 study estimates some 3,300 Christians from a Muslim background residing in the country.[42]

Judaism

There was a small Jewish community in Afghanistan who fled the country before and after the 1979 Soviet invasion. It is thought that there are between 500–1,000 secret Jews in Afghanistan who were forced to convert to Islam after the Taliban took control of the country in the 1990s. There are Afghan Jewish expatriate communities in Israel, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The last Jew, Zablon Simintov, left the country in 7 September 2021 after the Taliban took over the country.[43][44][45]

See also

  • flagAfghanistan portal

References

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  2. ^ Bryant, Edwin F. (2001) The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-513777-4.
  3. ^ Afghanistan: ancient Ariana (1950), Information Bureau, p3.
  4. ^ "Chronological History of Afghanistan – the cradle of Gandharan civilisation". Gandhara.com.au. 15 February 1989. Archived from the original on 9 September 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
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  13. ^ India: from Indus Valley civilisation to Mauryas By Gyan Swarup Gupta Published by Concept Publishing Company, 1999 ISBN 81-7022-763-1, ISBN 978-81-7022-763-2, page 199.
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  15. ^ Ancient Pakistan: Volume 3, University of Peshawar. Dept. of Archaeology - 1967, Page 23
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  39. ^ Dehghanpisheh, Babak (December 31, 2001). "Rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas". nbcnews.com. Retrieved November 27, 2021.
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  41. ^ USSD Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2009). "International Religious Freedom Report 2009". Archived from the original on 2009-11-30. Retrieved 2010-03-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  42. ^ Johnstone, Patrick; Miller, Duane Alexander (2015). "Believers in Christ from a Muslim Background: A Global Census". IJRR. 11 (10): 1–19. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  43. ^ Washingtonpost.com - Afghan Jew Becomes Country's One and Only - N.C. Aizenman
  44. ^ As Taliban take charge, uncertain future for Afghanistan's Jewish heritage sites
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