Being a Christian in Afghanistan is nearly impossible, making it one of the darkest countries on earth for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Long the crossroads of invaders and traders and influenced by the cultures around it, Afghanistan has suffered from civil and regional wars almost non-stop for many decades.  The combination of wars and Islam make it very hard to be an Afghan Christian.

Over 99% of Afghans are Muslim. Some sources suggest there may be a few hundred to a few thousand Christians in the country worshiping in secret, but the government acknowledges none.

The Only Church in Afghanistan

There is one legally recognized Christian (Roman Catholic) church in Afghanistan today. It was authorized to be built within the Italian embassy after Italy was the first country to recognize Afghanistan’s independence in 1919.  The Italian-Afghan treaty of 1921 included a clause allowing the construction of the chapel which was actually built in 1933 and completed in the 1950s.

Motorcade of President Eisenhower's visit to Kabul, Afghanistan in 1959

A Short Lived Protestant Church

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Afghanistan in 1959.  During the visit, President Eisenhower requested permission from King Zahir Shah to construct a Protestant church in Kabul  for the use of the diplomatic corp and expatriate community in Afghanistan, on a reciprocal basis for the Islamic Center of Washington that had recently been built in Washington, DC for the Muslim diplomats.  

Christians from all around the world contributed to the non-denominational church construction. At its dedication, the cornerstone  carved in Afghan alabaster marble read: "To the glory of God 'Who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood' this building is dedicated as 'a house of prayer for all nations' in the reign of H.M. Zahir Shah, May 17, 1970 A.D., 'Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Cornerstone'."

The Church building however was destroyed just 3 years later on June 17, 1973, the same day Mohammed Daoud Khan seized power from his cousin (and brother-in-law) Zahir Shah and declared himself president of the newly created Republic of Afghanistan.

Since the destruction of the 1970 church building, no place of worship has been authorized for Protestant Christians in Afghanistan.  

Afghanistan is a very dangerous place for Christians, both locals and expatriates

  • August 5, 2001, 6 Afghans and six women and two men, from Germany, America and Australia working for NGO Shelter Now International were arrested.  They were freed in a rescue mission in November 2001. The arrested staff of Shelter Now were accused of converting Afghan Muslims to Christianity.
  • In 2002, Afghanistan adopted a law that contained a sanction against publication of “matters contrary to the principles of Islam or offensive to other religions and sects.”
  • In 2003, a top Taliban general Mullah Dadullah , said that the Taliban would continue to fight until the "Jews and Christians, all foreign crusaders" were expelled from Afghanistan.
  • In January 2004, Afghanistan adopted a new constitution that provides for the freedom of non-Muslim religious groups to exercise their faith and declares that the state will abide by the UN Charter, international treaties, international conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the constitution does not extend explicit protections for the right to freedom of religion or belief to individual Muslims who make up nearly the entire population. 
  • In 2005 President Hamid Karzai attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
  • In February 2006 Abdul Rahman (born 1965) was arrested and threatened with the death penalty for converting to Christianity.  On March 26, 2006, under heavy pressure from foreign governments, the court returned his case to prosecutors, citing "investigative gaps" and suspicions that he was 'mentally unbalanced'.  He was released from prison to his family on the night of March 27 and he promptly fled to Italy after the Italian government offered him asylum.
  • On July 19, 2007, 23 (sixteen women and seven men) South Korean missionaries of the Saemmul Presbyterian Church were captured and held hostage by members of the Taliban in the Ghazni Province while traveling from Kandahar to Kabul. Bae Hyeong-gyu, a 42-year-old pastor of Saemmul Church was executed on July 25.  On July 30, Shim Seong-min, a 29-year-old  man was executed. Later, due to negotiations by the South Korean government resulted in two women, Kim Gyeong-ja and Kim Ji-na, being released on August 13 and the remaining 19 hostages on August 29 and August 30.
  • In September 2008, the Afghan parliament passed a new media law which prohibits propagation of religions other than Islam, all works and materials that are contrary to the principles of Islam, and all works and materials offensive to other religions and sects.
  • In 20th October 2008 Gayle Williams, an aid worker for SERVE Afghanistan of joint British and South African nationality, was shot on her way to work in Kabul by two men on a motorbike.  A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for her execution and said she had been killed "because she was working for an organization which was preaching Christianity in Afghanistan".
  • In May 2009, it was made public that Christian groups had published Bibles in the Pashtun language and the Dari language. The Bibles were sent to American soldiers at the Bagram Air Base. When a military chaplain became aware of the soldiers' plans the Bibles were confiscated and eventually burned.
  • In June 2010 Noorin TV a small Afghan television station showed footage of men it said were reciting Christian prayers in Dari and being baptized stating the the men were Afghans who had converted to Christianity. As a result two humanitarian agencies, Norwegian Church Aid and Church World Service of the United States, were suspended after it was suggested in this report that they had converted Afghan Muslims to Christianity. Later Noorin TV admitted that there was no evidence against the two agencies and that they had been named because of the word “church” in their names.  The TV report sparked anti-Christian protests in Kabul and in Mazar-e Sharif. In parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for Muslim converts to Christianity to be executed and another lawmaker Qazi Nazir Ahmad, from the western province of He-rat, said killing a converted Muslim was “not a crime”.
  • On August 5, 2010, ten members of the International Assistance Mission Nuristan Eye Camp team were killed in Kuran wa Munjan District of Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan.  Killed were six Americans, two Afghans, one Briton and one German while one team member was spared. Both Hizb-e Islami and the Taliban initially claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing the doctors of proselytism and spying. These claims were later refuted by Taliban leaders in Nuristan and Badakhshan, who said that the dead were bona-fide aid workers, condemned the killings as murder, and offered their condolences to the families of those killed. These killings reinforce the suspicions Christian-affiliated groups face from some Afghans and government opponents and the serious risks faced by aid workers in the Afghanistan.
  • In February 2011, International Christian Concern celebrated the release of an Afghan man who had been imprisoned for nine months for converting to Christianity, but said another convert was still in detention after he allegedly give a copy of a Bible to a friend.

Example of Calls to Execute Afghan Christian

Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics)
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Understand Afghanistan's complex history a little better.

Location of Afghanistan in Asia