Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, religious minorities face strident official discrimination and societal abuses. The Afghan law does not recognize confessions other than Islamic ones. The constitution states that Islam "is the religion of the state" and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Islam functions as the state religion, and apostasy, the act of renouncing Islam, is punishable by death absent recantation. For Christians in Afghanistan, this translates into the necessity to conceal one’s faith in public, or risk severe punishment and discrimination.

Scholarly Analysis: Christian Responses to Persecution in Afghanistan 

India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Laos, Pakistan, Indonesia

Panel: Findings from South Asia, with Dr. Paul Bhatti, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan for Minority Affairs
Moderator: Chad Bauman, Butler University
Speakers: Robert Hefner, Boston University
James Ponniah, University of Madras
Reginald Reimer, Expert on Christianity in Vietnam & Laos
Sara Singha, Georgetown University

Christian Demographics

The Afghan government does not recognize any of its nationals as non-Muslims. Muslims comprise 99 percent of the population of Afghanistan—80 percent Shi’a and 19 percent Sunni--and there are no clear estimates with regards to the remaining 1 percent of the population. In its 2013 Afghanistan International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. Department of State estimates that there are roughly 2,000-3,000 Christians in Afghanistan. It is believed that they often converted while living outside of their country. There are no public churches in Afghanistan and Christians practice either alone or in small congregations, meeting in private homes. The fact that Christians do not openly practice adds to the difficulty of having clear estimates of the number of Christians in Afghanistan.

History of the Afghan Christian Community

Christianity in the area which is now known as Afghanistan dates back to the second century A.D. and is believed to have been brough by the Apostle Thomas. Subsequent Muslim and Mongol conquests at the end of the first millennium, however, erased any influence the church possessed in the region. In the twentieth century, the post-Soviet rise of extremist Islamic governments in Afghanistan under the Taliban has continued to strangle the possibility of a large non-Muslim community within Afghanistan and has built an overwhelming social taboo toward the public practice of Christianity. The current Christian community is largely underground, as in the case of the small native Christian community.

Current Situation of the Christian Community

In Afghanistan, religious minorities face strident official discrimination and societal abuses. The Afghan law does not recognize confessions other than Islamic ones. The constitution states that Islam "is the religion of the state" and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Islam functions as the state religion, and apostasy, the act of renouncing Islam, is punishable by death absent recantation. For Christians in Afghanistan, this translates into the necessity to conceal one’s faith in public, or risk severe punishment and discrimination. Most Christians in Afghanistan select the former path. The production of printed materials contrary to the beliefs of Islam is also prohibited. Additionally, the state automatically considers all citizens to be Muslims and subjects them to Islamic jurisprudence.In 2013, public officials called for the execution of Christian converts as well as public investigations into the spread of Christianity in Afghanistan. Public opinion, too, remains hostile to Christian converts and proselytizing. Generally, then, Christians in Afghanistan are few in number and avoid public exercise or display of their faith because of the severe legal and societal violence against non-Muslims.