Afghanistan Religion

By | March 11, 2021

Prayer at the Blue Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan

Prayer at the Blue Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan

Due to its central location in Asia according to andyeducation, Afghanistan offered a picture of marked religious diversity in antiquity and in the early Middle Ages. In addition to the followers of Zarathustra (who, depending on the opinion, worked around 1800, 1000 or 600 BC on the south bank of the Aral Sea, according to a different reading in what is now northern Afghanistan and whose teachings had spread across the Iranian cultural area in the following centuries) were different forms of Hinduism. From the 1st cent. Chr. The Buddhism which, under the Kushan dynasty the dominant religion was, and in the valley of Bamiyan great, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, unfortunately Monuments brought forth.

Jewish colonies in the cities can be traced back to the Achaemenid period (around 500 BC), later Manichaeism and (Nestorian) Christianity found widespread use, Herat and Kabul were bishoprics.

With the first wave of Islamic conquests in the early 8th century AD, this colorful picture changed, and Islam increasingly displaced the older religions. The eastern half of today’s Afghanistan initially resisted Islamization, where Hindu kingdoms were able to hold up into the 11th century, but which were ultimately conquered by the Turkish-Iranian dynasty of the Ghaznavids.

Only in the extreme east, in the inaccessible valleys on the south side of the main Hindu Kush ridge, was the Kafiren people able to maintain their old polytheistic beliefs, which are close to the ancient Indian Vedic religion. Only Emir Abdur Rahman Khan was able to incorporate this area into the Afghan kingdom in 1895/96 and forcibly Islamize it; as a sign of the conversion of the “Gentiles”, their land was renamed Nuristan (“Land of Light”).

In today’s Afghanistan, almost the entire population (99%) professes Islam, predominantly in its Sunni form, only the Hazara and the small minority of the Kizilbash, who immigrated from Persia in the 18th century, are mostly Shiites. Sections of the “Tajik” population of the Hindu Kush and Pamir regions profess to the Shiite Ismaili sect with the Aga Khan as head.

Dealing with Islam is a necessary prerequisite for understanding Afghan culture and everyday life, as well as for any local practice. As a general introduction (even if from the point of view of devout Muslims, not “objective” religious scholars) is recommended; the holy book of the Muslims, the Koran, is available online in the intratext edition in a German translation with concordance functions.

Today, non-Islamic religious minorities only exist in the larger cities, especially in Kandahar and Kabul; these are almost exclusively Hindus and Sikhs who have settled as merchants in Afghanistan in the past centuries. The Afghan Jews in the 1960’s almost completely migrated to Israel.

Before the war, Afghan Islam presented a tolerant image, despite its piety, when it came to dealing with religious marginalized groups; In many places religious practice was shaped by various currents of Sufism, Islamic mysticism. The three traditionally most influential mystical orders in Afghanistan are the Naqshbandiyya, the Qadiriyya and the Chishtiyya. During the time of the Soviet occupation, the leaders of these orders (e.g. Pir Sayyid Gailani of the Qadiriyya) sometimes played a prominent role in the resistance movement.

A closely related phenomenon in Afghan Islam is the widespread popular worship of Sufi saints, which runs counter to the strict orthodox Islamic reading that God alone is due to worship; besides the organized mystics of the great orders there are also wandering dervishes (Malang, Malamati), who roam the country individually or in small groups, like the Hindu wandering ascetics (sadhus), make their living through donations from the population and often arouse the displeasure of the religious establishment with their provocative appearance and unorthodox beliefs.

With the “jihad”, the fight of the Afghans against the “unbelieving conquerors” from the north, however, the tendency to both the political instrumentalization of Islam and a rigid, law-oriented understanding of religious tradition increased, favored by the penetration of puritanical fundamentalists Currents from Saudi Arabia (Wahhabism) and the Indo-Pakistani region (Deobandi school) to Afghanistan. The climax and endpoint of this development was the Taliban regime with its severity unprecedented in the history of Islam.

For both the prewar period and the present it is generally true that Islam in Afghanistan is a natural part of everyday life in all social classes; It is true that in urban milieus influenced by the West, especially in Kabul and Herat, more liberal views are e.g. For example, the role of women is widespread, but a firm departure from Islam or even atheism are hardly known, not even among former supporters of the communist regime.