Afghanistan Factbox

Afghanistan is one of the most oppressive countries in the world for Christians and many have fled abroad to find refuge. Decades of violent conflict brought terrible suffering to the people of Afghanistan and ruined the economy and infrastructure, leaving the country dependent on foreign aid.

The Taliban imposed an extremely repressive form of Wahhabist Islam on Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when it was overthrown and Hamid Karzai was sworn in as head of an interim government. However, after the adoption of a new constitution in 2004, the Taliban re-grouped and violence increased. In September 2014, President Karzai was replaced by President Ashraf Ghani.

In August 2021 the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, renamed it the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and changed its flag. President Ghani fled the country. Many Afghan citizens deemed vulnerable (including those who worked with the ousted government, the US and UK military forces and members of social, religious or ethnic minorities) were quickly evacuated. On 7 September 2021, the Taliban announced the formation of a new government and the implementation of strict Sharia law.

Christians in Afghanistan

Although Afghanistan had a significant Christian population before the Muslim invasions of the 7th century, Christianity came to be viewed as a Western religion. Afghans who leave Islam for Christianity are considered to have committed apostasy, for which the punishment under Sharia law is death, and are seen as traitors, bringing shame on the family. They face hostility from armed groups, community and family members who sometimes use violence to force them to return to Islam.

There is no public church building in Afghanistan and Christians can only meet in extreme secrecy in small groups. Despite the risk of discrimination, harassment, arrest and violence (including murder), the church has grown rapidly in recent years, with increasing numbers of Afghan Christians meeting in small groups. By 2021, it was estimated that there were around 10,000 Afghan Christians, many from the Hazara ethnic minority and almost all converts from Islam or children of converts.

The Taliban takeover has put the underground church at even greater risk of persecution. Thousands of Christians were part of the exodus following the takeover: already at risk of harassment, arrest and violence (including murder) if their faith was discovered, their situation had become even more dangerous.

(BBC, Barnabas, International Christian Concern, Open Doors, Operation World, Release International, Voice of the Martyrs Canada, World Watch List)