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Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 33.3 million (July 2016 estimate). There are no reliable statistics available concerning the percentages of Shia and Sunni Muslims in the country; the government’s Central Statistics Office does not collect data disaggregated in this way. Shia leaders claim Shia make up approximately 20-25 percent of the population, while Sunni leaders claim the Shia comprise only 10 percent.

The Shia population includes Ismailis and a majority of ethnic Hazaras. Other religious groups, mainly Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais, and Christians, comprise less than 0.3 percent of the population. The number of Sikhs and Hindus is declining due to emigration. Sikh and Hindu leaders estimate there are 180 Sikh and Hindu families totaling 900 individuals, which is a decline from 343 families totaling 2,000 individuals in 2015. Reliable estimates of the Bahai and Christian communities are not available. There are small numbers of practitioners of other religions, including one Jew.

The Hazaras live predominantly in the central and western provinces, while the Ismailis live mainly in Kabul and in the central and northern provinces. Followers of the Bahai Faith are based predominantly in Kabul, with a small community in Kandahar.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslim minorities stated they continued to face harassment and, in some cases, violence, although Hindus and Sikhs continued to be able to practice their religions publicly. Members of the Hindu community said they continued to face fewer incidents of harassment than Sikhs, ascribing the difference to their lack of a distinctive male headdress. Despite the differences between the groups, many Afghans reportedly continued to use the terms Sikh and Hindu interchangeably. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

According to the leader of the Sikh community, in September a man with a sword reportedly pounded on the gate of a Sikh temple in Kabul, shouting “convert to Islam.” A week after the incident, the leader of the Hindu/Sikh community reported he found a cow’s head in front of its temple compound in Kabul. Some Sikhs reported instances in which residents and high-ranking government officials told them they were “not from Afghanistan,” that they were “Indians,” and “did not belong here.”

Christians continued to report hostile public opinion toward converts to Christianity and to the idea of Christian proselytizing. Members of the Christian community, who often had converted to Christianity while in other countries, said they continued to worship alone or in small congregations in private homes out of fear of societal discrimination and persecution.

Women of several different religions reported local Muslim religious leaders continued to confront them over their attire. As a result, they said, many women continued to wear burqas in public in rural areas and in some urban areas. In urban areas, where most women no longer wore the burqa, almost all women said they continued to wear some form of head covering, either by personal choice or due to societal pressure. Many said they chose to cover to increase their security in public. The Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs and the National Ulema Council both stated there was no official pressure on women regarding their attire.

Minority religious leaders stated few places of worship remained for the decreasing numbers of Sikhs, Hindus and other religious minorities. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council, there had been 64 gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and mandus (Hindu temples) across the country, but residents of Kandahar, Ghazni, Paktya, and other provinces had seized approximately 30 sites in previous years. Fourteen of those remaining continued to be active, including two sites belonging to the Hindu community. The Hindu community reported it presented the list of its places of worship to the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs in an effort to stop further illegal seizures and to reclaim the land and buildings previously lost. Kabul’s lone synagogue remained inactive, and there were no public Christian churches. Worship facilities for noncitizens of various faiths were located at coalition military facilities and at embassies in Kabul. Buddhist foreigners were free to worship in Hindu temples.

Hindus and Sikhs continued to report interference in their efforts to cremate the remains of their dead in accordance with their customs from individuals who lived near cremation sites. A leader of the Hindu/Sikh community reported an incident in which unknown individuals threw stones and bricks at the community’s cremation site on the day following a fellow Sikh’s cremation. Although the government provided land to use as cremation sites, the distance from any major urban area and the lack of security in the region rendered the land unusable, according to Sikh leaders. The government continued to provide police support to protect the Sikh and Hindu communities while they performed their cremation rituals.

Members of the Sikh and Hindu communities reported they continued not to send their children to public schools due to harassment from other students. In the past, Hindus and Sikhs said they had sent their children to private Hindu and Sikh schools, but many of those schools had closed due to the decreasing sizes of the two communities as well as their members’ declining economic circumstances. Per the Sikh and Hindu Council, there was one school in Nangarhar and two schools in Kabul which remained operational.

According to Sikh leaders, a lack of employment opportunities remained the main cause of Hindu and Sikh emigration. They reported emigration continued to increase as economic conditions worsened and security concerns increased for the two communities. Hindus and Sikhs remained largely illiterate, they said, which continued to limit their employment opportunities.

Observers stated societal discrimination against the Shia minority by the Sunni majority continued to decline. They cited as an example the response to the suicide attack on the Enlightenment Movement when hundreds of Sunnis went to hospitals to donate blood for injured Shias. The observers said there continued to be reports of discrimination in different localities, however.

According to observers, suspicion of development assistance projects continued to exist among Muslim residents, some of whom reportedly suspected such assistance projects were surreptitious efforts to advance Christianity or engage in proselytizing.

Observers reported local Muslim religious leaders continued their efforts to limit social activities inconsistent with Islamic doctrine, such as female participation in sports.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future