Religion in Afghanistan

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Religion in Afghanistan (2012)
religion percent
Sunni Islam
Shia Islam
Other religion

Religion in Afghanistan (2012)

  Sunni Islam (89.7%)
  Shia Islam (10%)
  Other religion (0.3%)

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic, in which most citizens follow Islam. As much as 90% of the population follow Sunni Islam.[1] According to The World Factbook Sunni Muslims constitute between 82.7 - 89.7% of the population, and Shia Muslims between 10 - 17%. 0.3% follow other minority religions.


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. It is believed that the Avesta had arrived in Persia through Arachosia. Thus the region is also considered as a "second fatherland for Zoroastrianism".[5]

The Indo-Aryan inhabitants of the region- mainly in the southern and eastern parts of the country were adherents of Hinduism. Notable among these were the Gandharis[6]

The Pashayi and Nuristanis are present day examples of these Indo-Aryan Vedic people.[7][8][9][10][11]

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 Hinduism and 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[12] 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).[13] 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.[14]

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 [15]

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, 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.[16] 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[17] 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[edit]

Shia Islam[edit]

The Shias make up between 7%[1] to 20%[18] of the total population of Afghanistan. Although there is a tiny minority Sunnis among them, the Hazaras are predominately and overwhelmngy Shia, mostly of the Twelver branch with some smaller groups who practice the Ismailism branch.[19][20] The Qizilbash Tajiks of Afghanistan have traditionally been Shias.[21]

Modernist and Nondenominational Muslims[edit]

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.[22]


According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, 2,000 Afghans identified as Zoroastrians in 1970.[23]

Dharmic religions[edit]

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

There are about 1,300 Afghan Sikhs[24][25] and a little over 600 Hindus[26] living in different cities but mostly in Kabul, Jalalabad, and Ghazni.[27][28] Senator Awtar Singh was the only Sikh in Afghanistan's parliament.[29]

When the Talibans were in power, the Buddha statues were destroyed. Taliban soldiers used rockets and guns to destroy them.

Baháʼí Faith[edit]

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.[30]


Some unconfirmed reports state that there are 1,000 to 18,000 Afghan Christians practicing their faith secretly in the country.[31] A 2015 study estimates some 3,300 Christians from a Muslim background residing in the country.[32]


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.[33] 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. There are Afghan Jewish communities in Israel, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Chapter 1: Religious Affiliation". The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity. Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. August 9, 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  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". 15 February 1989. Archived from the original on 9 September 2012. Retrieved 19 May 2012.
  5. ^ The idea of Iran. An essay on its origin, Gnoli Gherardo, page 133
  6. ^ UNESCO World Heritage Centre: Taxila
  7. ^ Minahan, James B. (10 February 2014). Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 217. ISBN 9781610690188. Historically, north and east Afghanistan was considered part of the Indian cultural and religious sphere. Early accounts of the region mention the Pashayi as living in a region producing rice and sugarcane, with many wooded areas. Many of the people of the region were Buddhists, though small groups of Hindus and others with tribal religions were noted.
  8. ^ Weekes, Richard V. (1984). Muslim peoples: a world ethnographic survey. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 601. ISBN 9780313233920.
  9. ^ Khanam, R. (2005). Encyclopaedic ethnography of Middle-East and Central Asia. Global Vision Publishing House. p. 631. ISBN 9788182200654.
  10. ^ "The Pashayi of Afghanistan". Bethany World Prayer Center. 1997. Retrieved 11 April 2019. Before their conversion to Islam, the Pashayi followed a religion that was probably a corrupt form of Hinduism and Buddhism. Today, they are Sunni (orthodox) Muslims of the Hanafite sect.
  11. ^ Richard F. Strand (31 December 2005). "Richard Strand's Nuristân Site: Peoples and Languages of Nuristan". Archived from the original on 1 April 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  12. ^ Arabic As a Minority Language, by Jonathan Owens, pg. 181
  13. ^ The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, by Thomas Walker Arnold, pg. 183
  14. ^ Ewans, Martin (2002). Afghanistan A New History. Psychology Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-415-29826-1.
  15. ^ Klimberg, Max (October 1, 2004). "NURISTAN". Encyclopædia Iranica (Online ed.). United States: Columbia University. Archived from the original on 2010-02-01.
  16. ^ "COMMUNISM, REBELLION, AND SOVIET INTERVENTION". United States: Library of Congress Country Studies. 1997. Retrieved 2010-12-09.
  17. ^ Vogelsang, Willem (2001). The Afghans. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-631-19841-3. Retrieved 2009-03-22.
  18. ^ "Country Profile: Afghanistan" (PDF). Library of Congress Country Studies on Afghanistan. Library of Congress. August 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-04-08. Retrieved 2010-09-03. Religion: Virtually the entire population is Muslim. Between 80 and 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni and 15 to 19 percent, Shia.
  19. ^ 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica - Hazara (Race)
  20. ^ Ehsan Yarshater (ed.). "HAZĀRA". Encyclopædia Iranica (Online ed.). United States: Columbia University. Archived from the original on 2013-11-17. Retrieved 2007-12-23.
  21. ^ "Qizilbash". United States: Library of Congress Country Studies. 1997. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
  22. ^ "Sayyid Jamal ad-Din Muhammad b. Safdar al-Afghan (1838–1897)". Saudi Aramco World. Center for Islam and Science. 2002. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  23. ^ Archived January 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Solidarity for Sikhs after Afghanistan massacre". Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  25. ^ "Country Policy and Information Note Afghanistan: Sikhs and Hindus/" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  26. ^ "Country Policy and Information Note Afghanistan: Sikhs and Hindus/" (PDF). Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  27. ^ Majumder, Sanjoy (September 15, 2003). "Sikhs struggle in Afghanistan". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2009-02-22. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
  28. ^ Melwani, Lavina (April 1994). "Hindus Abandon Afghanistan". New York: Archived from the original on 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2010-09-03. January Violence Is the Last Straw-After 10 Years of War, Virtually All 50,000 Hindus have Fled, Forsaking
  29. ^ Archived November 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ "QuickLists: Most Baha'i (sic) Nations (2010)". Association of Religion Data Archives. 2010. Retrieved 2020-10-17.
  31. ^ 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ - Afghan Jew Becomes Country's One and Only - N.C. Aizenman