The constitution proclaims that "followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law." However, it also 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." While the Government generally respected the right to religious freedom, years of Taliban rule and weak democratic institutions have contributed to intolerance manifested in widespread acts of harassment and sometimes violence against reform-minded Muslims and religious minorities.
Still recovering from twenty-five years of violence, the country has been moving into an age of greater stability and democracy. Since 2004, the country has held democratic presidential, parliamentary, and provincial council elections. In April 2006, President Karzai nominated a second cabinet, and by early August 2006, the new parliament had confirmed all of the twenty-five ministers nominated and all but one of the justices of the new supreme court. Efforts to reform the judiciary were underway with assistance from the
Despite reform efforts, there was an increase in the number of reports of problems involving religious freedom compared to previous years. Several high-profile cases involving religious freedom sparked demonstrations in major cities during the period covered by this report. The Danish cartoon controversy, in particular, resulted in several large demonstrations and more than a dozen deaths across the country. Condemnations of conversions from Islam and censorship increased concerns about citizens' ability to freely practice their religion.
The country's population was nearly entirely Muslim. Non-Muslim minority groups faced some incidents of discrimination and persecution. Conversion, which was generally held by many citizens to contravene Islam and Shari'a, garnered much public attention due to a high profile case that occurred during the reporting period. Due to societal pressure, most local Christians hid their religion from their neighbors and others. As a result, little information was available about this community or the challenges it faced. The local Sikh and Hindu populations, although allowed to practice publicly, continued to face problems obtaining land for cremation purposes and faced harassment during major celebrations. Within the Muslim population, relations among the different sects of Islam continued to be difficult. Historically, the minority Shi'a community has faced discrimination from the majority Sunni population, and such discrimination continued to exist.
Prior to the fall of the Taliban, the
The country has an area of 251,738 square miles and a population of approximately 25.8 million. Reliable data on religious demography was not available because an official nationwide census has not been conducted in decades. Observers estimated that 80 percent of the population was Sunni Muslim; 19 percent was Shi'a Muslim; and other religious groups, including Sikhs, Hindus, and one Jew, made up less than 1 percent of the population. There also was a small, hidden Christian community; there were no reliable figures on its size, but estimates ranged from 500 to 8 thousand. In addition, there were small numbers of adherents of other religious groups, mostly Buddhist foreigners.
Traditionally, the dominant religion has been the sect of Sunni Islam that follows the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. For the last 200 years, Sunnis often have looked to the example of the Darul Uloom madrassah located in Deoband near
Several regions were religiously homogeneous. Sunni Muslim Pashtuns, centered around the city of
In the past, small communities of Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Christians lived in the country; however, most members of these communities emigrated. Even at their peak, these non-Muslim minorities constituted less than 1 percent of the population. Most of the small Hindu and Sikh populations, which once numbered approximately 50 thousand persons, took refuge abroad during the many years of conflict; however, since the fall of the Taliban some minority members have begun to return. Non-Muslims, such as Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews, were estimated to number in the hundreds at the end of Taliban rule. During the reporting period, there were approximately 1,500 Sikhs and 100 Hindu families living in the country. There are five or six gurdwaras, Sikh places of worship, in
There were some missionary groups working in the country, but those that actively proselytized remained secret to avoid harassment or arrest by local officials.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The new constitution, ratified in January 2004, replaced the 1964 Constitution as law. Efforts continued to update the existing criminal and civil legal codes to bring them in line with the country's international treaty obligations. Full and effective enforcement of the constitution was an ongoing challenge due to the existence of a judicial system in need of significant reform.
The constitution proclaims that Islam is the "religion of the state"; however, it does not prohibit the practice of other religions. It states that "followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law." The constitution also declares that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." Interpretation of the constitution has proved difficult, since it contains both legal and religious elements.
The constitution makes no reference to Shari'a. Article 7 commits the state to abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other international treaties and conventions to which the country is a party.
Article 34 of the constitution protects freedom of expression and of the press. The press law, adopted in 2002, contains an injunction against information that "could mean insult to the sacred religion of Islam and other religions." The ambiguity surrounding what constitutes offensive material offers the potential for abuse of this clause to restrict press freedom and intimidate journalists. The press law does not require information to comply with Shari'a; however, the section on criminal rules states that if no punishment is prescribed in existing legal codes for crimes mentioned in the press law, then the punishment would be in accordance with Shari'a (Hanafi school). These rules also apply to non-Muslims. The law was reviewed by the Ministry of Information and Culture, and President Karzai signed the amended law on mass media in late March 2004. The law on mass media retains the broad and vague content restriction on "subjects that are contrary to principles of Islam and offensive to other religions and sects," but it excludes any reference to Shari'a. The law may be subject to change, since parliament had not reviewed it.
Proselytism was practiced discreetly; there are no laws forbidding the practice, even though it is viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam. The Government worked on revising the penal code to bring it in line with international standards during the reporting period.
Conversion from Islam is considered apostasy and is punishable by death under some interpretations of Shari'a. While the constitution makes no direct reference to Shari'a, and Article 7 of the constitution commits the state to abide by the international treaties and conventions requiring protection of religious freedom, no law contrary to the beliefs and provisions of Islam is permissible under the constitution. While not legally prohibited, conversion from Islam is strongly discouraged, and the legal consequences of conversion are subject to legal interpretation.
Some conservative elements advocated that the constitution should favor the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence associated with the Sunnis over the Jafari school used by the Shi'as. These elements also called for the primacy of Shari'a in the legal system; however, the constitution does not grant preferential status to the Hanafi school, nor does it make specific reference to Shari'a law. The constitution also grants that Shi'a law would be applied in cases dealing with personal matters involving Shi'as; there is no separate law applying to non-Muslims.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) conducted national consultations on transitional justice, promoted reconciliation at civil society gatherings, and through various media, continued to receive reports of abuses from citizens. In June 2005, President Karzai approved a Transitional Justice Action Plan which was adopted by the cabinet by the end of the year. In 2003, the Ministry of Interior established a Human Rights Department to investigate abuses, and this department set up local branches in the offices of chiefs of police. During the reporting period, all provinces had human rights departments to investigate abuses.
Only Islamic holy days are celebrated as public holidays. The Government has proclaimed the first day of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and the Tenth of Muharram (Ashura--both Sunni and Shi'a) as national holidays. All mark events on the Islamic calendar, and there were no reports that these holidays negatively affected other religious groups. The Shi'a community is able to celebrate openly the birthday of Imam Ali, one of the most revered figures in the Shi'a tradition.
The licensing and registration of religious groups is not required.
The components of the educational system that survived more than twenty-five years of war place considerable emphasis on religion. During the reporting period, the public school curriculum included Islamic content but no content from other religious groups. Non-Muslims were not required to study Islam. Detailed religious study was conducted under the guidance of religious leaders. There was no restriction on parental religious teaching. The national curriculum and textbooks that emphasize moderate Islamic terms and principles steadily replaced the preaching of jihad in schools. By the end of the period covered by this report, all schools in
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
There was no information available concerning restrictions on the general training of clergy.
While not legally prohibited, conversion is strongly discouraged since it is considered by many to be against the tenets of Islam. During the reporting period, there was one arrest of a convert to Christianity. In March 2006, Abdul Rahman, who converted to Christianity while living abroad during the Taliban regime, was detained for approximately one month and could have faced the death penalty for apostasy, but he was deemed not fit to stand trial before those charges could be brought against him. He was granted asylum in
Immigrants and noncitizens were free to practice their own religions. In
Since the fall of the Taliban, no political parties (other than the Taliban) have been officially banned for religious reasons; however, after the transitional government passed the political parties registration law in 2003, the supreme court temporarily banned communists from forming a political party on the ground that communists are atheists. The ban was later lifted.
Proselytism was practiced discreetly, since it is viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam. During the period covered by this report, there were a few minor incidents involving individuals attempting to proselytize. While there was no known action taken against these individuals, some chose to leave the country after being discovered. There were an unknown number of foreign missionaries in the country who worked discreetly to avoid harassment.
There were fewer reports during the period covered by this report of local government officials prohibiting music, movies, and television on religious grounds. The cable television audience in urban centers continued to expand, and unlike in previous years, televisions, radios, and other electronic goods were sold freely, and music was played widely. For example,
In January 2003, the supreme court banned cable television nationwide on religious grounds, but the ban was lifted in April 2003, when the Government passed a law allowing the resumption of cable services. In January 2004, Kabul Television broadcasted a female singer for the first time in more than a decade, prompting protests from conservatives on the supreme court, who briefly forced the station to stop airing such performances. Moderates in the Government lifted the ban later that month, saying women singers on television were permitted under the new constitution. In April 2004, officials in
In August 2005, Radio Bamiyan received isolated threats and complaints were filed against the station for allegedly providing un-Islamic and pro-American programming. In addition, a complaint petition was filed with the Ministry of Information and Culture.
In February 2006, a Kabul-based television station, Afghan Television, was fined $1,000 (50,300 afghani) for airing un-Islamic material. In addition, two local television stations were warned against programming that ran counter to local culture and did not conform to conservative views held by many in their respective localities.
In June 2006, several news agencies in Kabul claimed they were given a two-page document containing a list of restrictions on the broadcasting and publication of programs and subject matter which are against the morals and religious and accepted customs of the public that provoke people and cause security problems. The Government rejected reports that it had issued these instructions to local media restricting their activities.
Christian-affiliated international relief organizations generally operated throughout the country without interference. There were no reports of incidents of harassment during the period covered by this report. After an attack in late September 2003 that killed two employees of the Voluntary Association for Rehabilitation of Afghanistan, a Taliban spokesman accused the organization and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of preaching Christianity. There were no further details on the attack during the reporting period.
Both Sunnis and Shi'as were permitted to go on the Hajj, and there was no quota system for those making the pilgrimage. Participants were selected by lottery.
The Government does not designate religion on national identity cards and does not require individuals to declare a belief in Islam in order to receive citizenship. However, the state, including the courts, traditionally considers all citizens to be Muslim; therefore, some basic citizenship rights of non-Muslims were not respected.
Most women in rural areas wear burqas, a traditional full body and face covering. Since the fall of the Taliban, a number of women in urban areas no longer wear the burqa; however, a majority of women continued to wear some form of head covering either by choice or community pressure. Urban women did not wear burqas before the Taliban imposed this practice.
The constitution requires that the president and vice-president be Muslim and does not distinguish in this respect between Sunnis and Shi'as. This requirement is not explicitly applied to government ministers, but the oath required of ministers suggests adherence to the Islamic faith. The constitution has no religious requirement for members of parliament. There was one Hindu member in the upper house.
The Government failed to provide funding or assistance for Sikh schools. The Sikh community chose to send its children to its own schools because of reported abuse and harassment in government-run schools. A Sikh school in
In family disputes, courts continue to rely on a civil code that is based on the Sunni Hanafi school, regardless of whether the parties involved are Shi'a or Sunni. The civil code also applies to non-Muslims. In response to questions about marriage, the chief judge of the family court issued guidelines in accordance with the court's interpretation of Shari'a law. Most restrictive is the rule on marriage between non-Muslims, which stipulates that whether born in the country or elsewhere non-Muslims would not be allowed to marry. According to government officials, the court considers all citizens to be Muslims by default and therefore non-Muslim Afghans can be married as long as they do not publicly acknowledge their non-Muslim beliefs. In addition, the judges stated that a Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim woman, but if she is not "of the book", including Christian or Jewish, she must first convert; however, a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
Sporadic violations of religious freedom by some officials occurred.
In January 2003, the governor of
In June 2003, two editors of a weekly
In November 2003, twelve Tablighi preachers (itinerant Sunni missionaries) were detained for a day in
In May 2005, two students were suspended for a year from
On October 22, 2005, Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, a journalist and editor of a women's rights magazine, was sentenced to two years in prison by a tribunal for blasphemy for reprinting and commenting on two articles. The articles questioned the harsh punishment imposed on women accused of adultery and theft under traditional Islamic law and advocated that conversion from Islam should not be considered a crime. After being tried in court, his sentence was reduced to six months on appeal (half of this time was suspended), and he was released on December 22, 2005.
There were other unconfirmed reports that converts faced societal discrimination and threats across the country. The press reported the killings of five male converts to Christianity near the eastern border between June and August 2004, but these reports could not be confirmed.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor
In May 2005, news reports indicated that an Indian Hindu converted to Islam. The conversion ceremony was performed before supreme court representatives, the chief justice and chief of the supreme court, and local and international media. The conversion did not appear to have been forced.
Abuses by Terrorist Organizations
There were a few reported abuses targeted at specific religious groups by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report. Terrorist organizations attacked, and in some cases killed, several Muslim clerics for supporting the Government or for stating that activities conducted by terrorist organizations were against the tenets of Islam. There were reports of attacks on non-Muslim international organizations; however, there were no written records to validate the claims.
Attacks by remnants of the al-Qa'ida and Taliban networks continued during the reporting period. In a repeat of previous years, several killings of religious leaders and attacks on mosques were attributed to al-Qa'ida and Taliban members who objected to their victims' links with the Karzai administration and to their public interpretations of Islam. These attacks were perceived by the public to be an attack on the Government and not on Islam.
On June 1, 2005, a mosque in the southern city of
During the reporting period, numerous schools were attacked. While some claim schools allegedly connected with Christian groups were targeted by the Taliban, Muslim schools were also targets during the reporting period. Therefore, it was difficult to identify whether the motivation behind the attacks was religious or political. Unconfirmed press reports claimed that in September 2004, nine boys and a teacher died when a bomb detonated in the schoolyard of a madrassah in Zurmat. The madrassah offered morning Islamic lessons for local boys and with support from a foreign-funded agency, had added an afternoon curriculum of English, math, and other subjects taught in secular public schools. In addition, the teachers had been involved in helping men and women register to vote. Taliban terrorists claimed responsibility.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
The Government continued to stress reconciliation and cooperation among all citizens. Although it primarily was concerned with reconciliation of former Taliban combatants, it also expressed concern about religious intolerance. The Government responded positively to international approaches on human rights, including religious freedom, and worked effectively on high profile cases such as those of Mohaqeq Nasab and Abdul Rahman. The Government continued to indirectly emphasize ethnic and intrafaith reconciliation through the support of the judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions composed of members of different ethnic and Muslim religious (Sunni and Shi'a) groups. The Constitutional Commission also included a Hindu member to represent non-Muslim religious minorities. The Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Hajj also worked together to give women the opportunity to attend mosques. While women have always had the right to attend mosques, separate areas had to be designated for them. The new initiative provided for such spaces in larger mosques where room was available.
Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Relations between the different branches of Islam continued to be difficult. Historically, the minority Shi'a faced discrimination from the Sunni population. However, since Shi'a representation increased in government, there apparently was less hostility from Sunnis. Most Shi'a were members of the Hazara ethnic group, which traditionally has been segregated from the rest of society for a combination of political, ethnic, and religious reasons. Throughout the country's history, there have been many examples of conflicts between the Hazaras and other citizens. These conflicts often have had economic and political roots but also have religious dimensions. The treatment of the Shi'a community varied by locality. The active persecution of the Shi'a minority, including Ismailis, that existed under the Taliban regime has ended. Although some discrimination continued at the local level, Shi'as generally were free to participate fully in public life. The rigid policies adopted both by the Taliban and by certain opposition groups adversely affected adherents of other branches of Islam and other religious groups.
In February 2006, six persons were killed during the Shi'a Ashura processions in
Non-Muslim minorities such as Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians continued to face social discrimination and harassment and, in some cases, violence. This treatment was not systematic, but the Government did little to improve conditions in the last year. For example, in early October 2003, a grenade was lobbed at the only functioning Sikh gurdwara in
The AIHRC advocated for the rights of Sikhs and Hindus when this community complained in late 2003 that it was being denied access to its traditional cremation ground in
Some Sikh and Hindu children were unable to attend government schools due to harassment from teachers and students. The Government did not take sufficient steps to protect these children and reintegrate them into the classroom environment. There were no reports of discrimination toward Christians in schools.
After the fall of the Taliban, there continued to be episodic reports of persons at the local level using coercion to enforce social and religious conformity. In January 2006, religious scholars in Kunduz province issued a resolution describing the celebration of non-Muslim religious festivals as against Shari'a; however, the governor of the province stressed the importance of respecting religious freedom. During the reporting period, President Karzai and other moderates in the Government opposed attempts by conservative elements to enforce rules regarding social and religious practices based on their interpretation of Islamic law.
In contrast to previous years, there were no new reported cases of forced chastity examinations. In 2004, the AIHRC intervened and aggressively launched programs designed to educate all levels of society in the provinces where forced chastity exams were administered. The AIHRC conducted surveys in late 2004 that indicated the practice had declined significantly. From 2004-2005, in
Muslim clerics with political connections were also the target of violence. In May 2003, Habibullah, a Muslim cleric with close ties to President Karzai, was shot and killed outside a mosque in Deh Rawood district. Six persons were detained in connection with the killing. President Karzai issued a statement condemning it. By the end of the reporting period, there were no arrests and no further information on this case, including on the status of the persons originally detained. Also in May 2003, a well-known religious scholar, Mowlawi Haji Abdollah, was shot and killed after leaving a mosque after prayers in central
In June 2003, a mosque in
In April 2004, Maulana Abdul Bari, a former Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs in
In October 2005, in
In March 2005, a person in
On May 9, 2005, Newsweek reported that
Controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad created a widespread public backlash. More than twelve persons were killed and many injured in protests that lasted a week and took place in several provinces. Response by government officials was mixed with members of the supreme court calling for censorship of Danish media, in contrast to President Karzai who accepted apologies and called for calm.
The United States provided assistance for the cultural preservation of the Mullah Mohamood Mosque and the Shah Shaheed Shrine and granted money to sponsor, in cooperation with the Ministry of Hajj and Religion and a local NGO, a five-day conference in the fall of 2005 focusing on the role of the ulema (religious leaders) in the modernization and development of a democratic country. The conference helped to develop strategies for them to work with the Government. Over sixty religious leaders from across the country attended the conference as well as professors and scholars from
In total, the
During fiscal year 2003, the