The constitution 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. Conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy, which is punishable by death, imprisonment, or confiscation of property according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which the constitution states shall apply “if there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case.” According to the Supreme Court, the Bahai Faith is distinct from Islam and is a form of blasphemy, which is also a capital offense under Hanafi jurisprudence. The law prohibits the production and publishing of works contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions. The criminal code punishes verbal and physical assaults on a follower of any religion with a prison sentence of not less than three months. As in the past two years, there were no reported prosecutions for apostasy or blasphemy, but individuals who converted from Islam to other religions stated they continued to fear punishment from the government and reprisals from family and society. Members of the Hindu and Sikh communities reported they continued to avoid settling disputes in the courts for fear of retaliation and preferred to settle disputes through community councils. Representatives of minority religions continued to report the courts denied non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims. A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions. Shia Muslims, although holding some major government positions, said the number of positions did not reflect their demographics and complained the government neglected security in majority-Shia areas.
The Taliban and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of ISIS and a U.S. designated terrorist organization, continued to attack and kill members of minority religious communities because of their beliefs or their links to the government. The ISKP publicly claimed responsibility for attacks killing over 100 members of the Shia community. In July a suicide bombing targeted a protest attended primarily by members of the Shia-majority Hazara community, killing at least 97 and injuring more than 260. In October gunmen entered the Karte-Sakhi mosque and opened fire on worshippers gathering to mark the Shia holiday of Ashura, killing 17 worshippers and wounding 58, including women and children. The ISKP claimed responsibility for both attacks. The Taliban were responsible for a number of kidnappings of Shia Hazaras and continued to threaten clerics with death for preaching messages contrary to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam. They warned mullahs not to perform funeral prayers for government security officials. The Taliban also continued to impose punishments on residents in areas under Taliban control according to their interpretation of Islamic law.
Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslim minorities stated they continued to face harassment and occasional violence. Hindus and Sikhs said they were still able to practice their religions publicly, although Sikhs reported instances in which they were told they did not belong in the country. Christians continued to report hostile public opinion towards Christian proselytizing and said they continued to worship privately to avoid societal discrimination and persecution. Women of several different religions reported local Muslim religious leaders initiated confrontations with them over their attire. As a result, they said, almost all women wore some form of head covering. Minority religious leaders stated only a few places of worship remained available for the decreasing numbers of Sikhs and Hindus, who were emigrating because of discrimination and the lack of employment opportunities. Hindus and Sikhs reported continued interference in their efforts to cremate the remains of their dead from individuals who lived near cremation sites, including an incident in which unknown individuals threw stones at a cremation site following a Sikh’s cremation. Observers stated discrimination against the Shia minority by the Sunni majority continued to decline, although there continued to be reports of discrimination in some localities.
U.S. embassy officers met with senior government officials to promote religious tolerance, to discuss the protection of religious minorities, and to enhance the government’s capacity to counter violent extremism. In particular, the embassy met with the Office of the National Security Advisor (ONSC) to assist in the creation of a national strategy to combat violent extremism. The embassy continued to meet with leaders of major religious groups, scholars, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss ways to introduce the public to a broader range of religious perspectives and enhance religious tolerance. Embassy outreach programs facilitated religious dialogue and the government’s effort to identify and counter the sources of violent extremism.
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.