Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Not one stone left upon another

I was surprised to read a report today drawn up by the U.S. State Department which declared that there are no public Christian churches left in Afghanistan. The International Religious Freedom Report on Afghanistan covering the period July to December 2010 describes the situation regarding non-Islamic places of worship:
In the 20th century, small communities of Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs lived in the country, although most members of these communities emigrated during the years of civil war and Taliban rule. By the end of Taliban rule, non-Muslim populations had been virtually eliminated except for a small population of native Hindus and Sikhs. Since the fall of the Taliban, some members of religious minorities have returned, many settling in Kabul.
Nuristanis, a small but distinct ethno linguistic group living in a mountainous eastern region, practiced an ancient polytheistic religion until they converted to Islam in the late 19th century. Some non-Muslim religious practices survive today as folk customs.
There are two active gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in Kabul and 10 in other parts of the country; there were 64 gurdwaras throughout the country before the war. There are four Hindu mandirs (temples) in three cities: two mandirs are located in Kabul, one of which shares a wall with a mosque; one is in Jalalabad; and one in Ghazni. Eighteen others were destroyed or rendered unusable due to looting during the mujahidin civil war.
There is one synagogue, located in Kabul, which is not in use for lack of a Jewish community. There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church's claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March (2010). Chapels and churches for the international community of various faiths are located on several military bases, PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams), and at the Italian embassy. Some citizens who converted to Christianity as refugees have returned.
The report also commented on the persecution of Christians in Afghanistan:
The government's level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals. Residual effects of years of jihad against the Soviet Union, civil strife, Taliban rule, popular suspicion regarding outside influence and the motivations of foreigners, and weak democratic institutions remained serious obstacles. In May 2010 video footage of Christian converts being baptized aired on an Afghan television station and was re-aired every night for a week due to its popularity with the public. The station did a series of follow up segments as well. In response, inflammatory public statements were made against Christian converts by two members of parliament. These incidents led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals. At least two individuals who converted from Islam remained in detention at the end of the reporting period. (Note: All individuals detained for conversion from Islam were released after the reporting period ended.) Negative societal opinion and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity. The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.
The detailed account is well worth reading in full to gain a snap shot of the state of religious freedom in Afghanistan at the turn of the year.

I read this report on the day the Morning Prayer reading is Mark 13:1-13.

It begins:
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
And ends:
and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

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