Religion in Afghanistan
The official religion in Afghanistan is Islam, which is practiced by over 99% of its citizens. Sunni Islam makes up 69-89% of the total population while the remaining 10-19% are Shi'as and about 1% or less practice other religions.
At a population growth rate of 3.85, Afghanistan has the fastest-growing Muslim population in the world.
Afghanistan Jews and Greeks all left an imprint on its early history. Following Alexander the Great's brief 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 southern 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 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 723 to 733) and Umar ibn AbdulAziz (caliph from 717 to 720). 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. The remnants of a Shahi presence in Afghanistan's eastern borders were expelled by Mahmud of Ghazni during 998 and 1030.
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, polytheism and shamanism.
The 1979 Soviet invasion in support of a communist government triggered a major intervention of religion into Afghan political conflict, and Islam united the multi-ethnic political opposition. Once the Soviet-backed Marxist-style regime came to power in Afghanistan, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) moved to reduce the influence of Islam. The "atheistic" and "infidel" communist PDPA imprisoned, tortured and murdered many members of the religious establishment. 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 but today it is an Islamic Republic. 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
The Shi'a Muslims make up 10-19% of the total population of Afghanistan. Although there are some Sunnis amongs them, the Hazaras are predominantly Shi'a, mostly of the Twelver branch with some smaller groups who practice the Ismailism branch. The Qizilbash Tajiks of Afghanistan have traditionally been Shi'as.
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, which provided statistics for world countries to Britannica, there are also some Zoroastrians still remaining in Afghanistan. The figures vary widely though statistics show that 300,000 Afghans were counted as Zoroastrians in 1970.
Sikhs and Hindus
The Bahá'i Faith was introduced to Afghanistan in 1919 and Bahá'í have been living there since the 1880s. Currently, there are approximately 400 Bahá'í (according to a recent estimate) in Afghanistan.
Some unconfirmed reports state that there are 500 to 8,000 Afghan Christians practicing their faith secretly in the country.
There was a small Jewish community in Afghanistan who fled the country before and after the 1979 Soviet invasion, and one individual, Zablon Simintov, still remains today. It is thought that there are between 500-1000 secret Jews in Afghanistan who were forced to convert to Islam after the Taliban took control of the country. There are Afghan Jewish communities in Israel, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
- Irreligion in Afghanistan
- Islam in Afghanistan
- Buddhism in Afghanistan
- Bahá'í Faith in Afghanistan
- Christianity in Afghanistan
- Religious freedom in Afghanistan
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