State Dept.: One Jew Left in Afghanistan; No Christian Churches

Michael W. Chapman | May 30, 2018 | 6:09pm EDT
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Jewish menorah with Star
of David. (YouTube)

( -- The U.S. State Department's latest International Religious Freedom Report for Afghanistan reveals that in the officially Islamic state there is one practicing Jew, one synagogue that is inactive, one Jewish cemetery that is used as an unofficial dump, and no public Christian churches. 

In addition, there are harsh penalties, including up to death, for crimes such as apostasy (from Islam), conversion, proselytizing, and blasphemy. 

The U.S. military invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to drive out the Taliban and help the Afghanis to establish a democratic government, which they now have, with a president/executive branch and a Parliament. However, after nearly 17 years of fighting, U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan and there is ongoing resistance from the Taliban and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP).

U.S. troops in Afghanistan.  (YouTube)

The Afghanistan war is the longest in U.S. history. To date, 2,411 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan.

As the Afghanistan 2017 International Religious Freedom Report states, the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan "establishes Islam as the state religion but stipulates followers of religions other than Islam are free to exercise their faith within the limits of the law."

There are an estimated 34.1 million people in Afghanistan and the majority are Sunni Muslim. Shia Muslims make up somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the population. The other religious groups -- Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais, Christians -- comprise less than 0.3 percent of the population, according to the report. 

"Sikh and Hindu leaders estimate there are 245 Sikh and Hindu families totaling 1,300 individuals in the country," reads the report. "Reliable estimates of the Bahai and Christian communities are not available."

(Screenshot: YouTube)

"There are a small number of practitioners of other religions, including one Jew," according to the report. 

Sikhs and Hindus are allowed to build places of worship and train their clergy, but they are not allowed to proselytize in Afghanistan. 

"Christians continued to worship alone or in small congregations in private homes due to fear of societal discrimination and persecution," said the State Department. "There continued to be no public Christian churches."

Reportedly, there are 12 Sikh temples and two Hindu temples in Afghanistan. In the past there were 64 temples (combined), according to the report. 

"Kabul's lone synagogue remained inactive," according to the State Department, "and a nearby Jewish cemetery was utilized as an unofficial dump." 

The Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslims "reported continued harassment from Muslims," according to the report. In addition, almost "all women reported wearing some form of head covering. Some women said they did so by personal choice, but many said they did so due to societal pressure and a desire to avoid harassment and increase their security in public." 

Sikh children. (AFP, YouTube)

In addition, there are media reports that Muslim religious leaders try "to limit social activities they considered inconsistent with Islamic doctrine, such as education for females or female participation in sports," reads the report.

There are also many mullahs who "support the Taliban or ISKP in their sermons."

Neither the Sikhs nor the Hindus send their children to the public schools because they are harassed by the Muslim kids there. There are a few private schools.

"The Sikh and Hindu Council reported one school in Nangarhar and two schools in Kabul remained operational," reads the report. 

Non-citizens can attend worship services at the coalition military facilities and at the embassies in Kabul. 

Some of the religious offenses in Afghanistan include apostasy, conversion, and blasphemy.

Apostasy is not defined in the criminal code but it "falls under seven offenses making up the hudood as defined by sharia [Islamic law]," reads the report. According to the Sunni Hanafi jurisprudence, "'if there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case,' behading is appropriate for male apostates, while life imprisonment is appropriate for female apostates unless they repent."

Hindus in Afghanistan.  (YouTube)

"Conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence applicable in the courts," states the report. "If someone converts to another religion from Islam, he or she shall have three days to recant the conversion. If the person does not recant, then he or she shall be subject to the punishment for apostasy."

The same punishment applies to proselytizing, trying to convert someone from Islam to another religion. Blasphemy is considred a "capital crime" and "accused blasphemers, like apostates, have three days to recant or face death, although there is no clear process for recanting under sharia," said the State Department. 

The Bahai faith is considered a form of blasphemy, according to the report, and "all Muslims who convert to it are considered apostates; Bahai practitioners are labeled infidels."

Afghanistan law pronhibits the publication of books and similar products that contain material "contary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and denominations," reads the report. "It also prohibits publicizing and promoting religions other than Islam and bans articles on any topic the government deems might harm the physical, spiritual, and moral wellbeing of persons, especially children and adolescents." 

Further, the law says a Muslim man "may marry a non-Muslim woman, but the woman must first convert if she is not an adherent of one of the other two Abrahamic faiths -- Christianity or Judaism," according to the report. "It is illegal for a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man."

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