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Christians in the Muslim World

Afghanistan: following the traces left by Thomas the Apostle

“We could talk of a Christian attitude, that is of an objective moral determined by the ten commands.” This was said by an ex-official of the Italian Army who wishes to remain anonymous and who served several times in Afghanistan. “In the Country of the Kites a deep-rooted Christianity does not exist. Neither traditionally nor through colonial importation”, again he says. “It is not like the Arab world where Christians are a minority of their region. Or as in Pakistan and India where the gospel was introduced by Europeans.”



The statistics talk of a Christian community between three thousand and ten thousand observant. A clandestine community. The Afghan law, in fact, does not recognize confessions other than the Islamic one. Evangelization is forbidden, as is Christian inspired scholastic instruction and the presence of any non-Muslim places of worship. Officially in Afghanistan the only churches allowed are where the diplomatic extra territoriality is recognized, that is in embassies and consulates.


“Some people talk of a group of nuns and priests who are active in Kabul”, our source says. “However, it is difficult to verify this information.”



The case of Deborah Rodriguez, an American protestant humanitarian worker is interesting. She arrived in Kabul in 2001 just after the fall of the Taleban. She opened a simple aesthetics salon in the city, an initiative that was successful and later became the subject of a book: the hairdresser of Kabul. It would be wrong to talk of Rodriguez as a woman who came to Afghanistan with the ambition to spread the gospel. Her work was and still is a secular commitment.


Yet Afghanistan is not completely cut off from the history of Christianity. History recalls the missions of the apostles Thomas and Bartholomew in Persia and Thomas in his the apocryphal gospel cites the province of Bactria, close to the mountain chain of Hindu Kush which today is within the borders of Afghanistan. Since then the presence of the Nestorian church, the Jesuits and the Armenians that passed through there are testimony of the attempts to introduce the gospel into Afghanistan also.



“We must also remember that the country had a great experience of religious Syncretism which started in the Caucasus and developed in Persia and Turkmenistan”. The official especially refers to the Zoroastrianism but also to the mystical Islamic trends. For example Sufism expressed in names like ‘Abdallâh al-Ansârî, , born and lived in Herat in the eleventh century, strict jurist but also the author of the Grida del Cuore, a passionate dialogue with god. These are demonstrations of an Afghan sensitive to the confrontation between faiths, more in the past than today.


Recent history in fact, is full of episodes which have seriously compromised possible dialogues between the local tribes and their representatives – both religious and lay – of a religion which is far from the local cultural beliefs. Today the Afghans associate Christianity with the presence of western soldiers. And some soldiers of the United States who committed acts of profanity have compromised the image of their country and also their culture. It is difficult therefore for the Afghans to separate Christianity from those who burn the Koran.


This behavior was instigated by an extremist protestant pastor, Terry Jones. He organized protests of explicit verbal violence against Islam and he is the author of provocation gestures. The dangerous acts he committed were emulated in Afghanistan. To justify these actions the psychology of war was used. There was talk of soldiers who were victims of unprecedented battle shocks. An analysis that even if the West can find a justification for them, their result incomprehensible for the local population.



A virtuous example of inter religious dialogue was offered by Serge Laugier de Beaurecueil, a Dominican friar and scholar in Islamic studies who died in 2005. De Beaurecueil, one of the three members that founded IDEO of Cairo, was drawn to Afghanistan due to his studies on the mystic al –Ansari, of whom he published a French translation. He then moved to Kabul and abandoned his academic career and dedicated himself to orphans and street boys. It is not by chance that his Un chretien en Afghanistan published in 1985 was republished in 2001. Unfortunately the story of de Beaurecueil is still an isolated one.