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Afghan Christians Are Very Online

Image: Courtesy of SAT-7

Since the fall of Afghanistan in August 2021, it has been nearly impossible for Afghan Christians to find fellowship.

Not that it was easy before.

“There was no local church where I could explore my questions about God,” said Parwin Hosseini, now living in Turkey. “But once I found answers abroad, I accepted Jesus.”

Her last name has been changed for security reasons, to protect her visa status.

A university graduate from Mazar-i-Sharif, Hosseini left her home country in 2019 and, unlike most local Afghans, is not a refugee. She fled her uncle’s arrangement of her marriage to a man nearly twice her age and obtained residency pursuing a master’s degree in economics. In Istanbul, a Turkish pastor gave her a Bible in Dari, her native language, and introduced her to an Afghan church when she moved to Ankara.

She had heard of the Good Book before. Today, she facilitates its study.

“I want to help evangelize women,” said Hosseini, coordinator for the nascent Afghan Bible College (ABC), “and then equip them for ministry.”

Begun in 2020 by a Korean missionary in Turkey, ABC is an online college with some in-person training. With ten affiliated lecturers, including three with PhDs, it aims to prepare leaders for the next generation of Afghan Christians—estimated to number up to 12,000 before last year’s takeover of their homeland by the Taliban.

No one knows how many remain in Afghanistan—but 12 are ABC students.

Many other Christians joined the national exodus sparked by the US military’s sudden withdrawal. Of the nations welcoming displaced Afghans, southern neighbor Pakistan tops the list, hosting more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees and asylum seekers (and 8 of ABC’s students). Neighboring Iran to the west and Germany follow (with 3 students each), while Turkey hosts 140,000 displaced Afghans (and 20 students). Out of ABC’s 50 students spanning five nations, Hosseini gets to be a mentor to its 15 women. And with the Taliban’s late-December suspension of college education for female students, her cadre is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on January 4, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.

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Why the Carnage in Pakistan?

Pakistan Lahore Easter
(via pakistantoday.com)

At least 69 people are dead in the Pakistani city of Lahore, many of them from Christian families celebrating Easter in a public park.

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility, stating it directly targeted Christians and promises further attacks in the future.

From Lapido Media, an anonymous British NGO worker provides a first-hand account:

A crowd of some 25,000 protesters had gathered in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city, and after prayers, started marching towards the capital. As night fell they arrived in front of the National Assembly building and fighting broke out.  Tear gas was fired, and the rioters smashed Islamabad’s new metro bus stations, assembled at great expense only a year earlier.

As we drove home from Easter Sunday celebrations we could hear the chanting: thousands of people in the heart of Pakistan’s capital city demanding that the government institute a policy of ethnic cleansing.

A challenging question is why such brutality exists, coupled with hardcore support for a blasphemy law that further targets religious minorities.

The author takes note of many signs of tolerance emerging after the tragedy in Lahore, and finds hope:

While there are Muslims who pray for the rights of Pakistani minorities; while there are Muslims who text me condolences on the Christian lives lost in Lahore; while there are Muslims who risk their lives to demand government action against radical clerics who openly declare their support for Islamic State –while such people exist, there is hope for Pakistan.

But he also lays blame on one man in particular who set it all in motion:

It is not easy to step back from three decades of officially-sanctioned Islamism; the retrogressive reforms of General Zia, who strengthened the blasphemy law and degraded the rights of Pakistani women, cannot be undone without a fight.

At such analysis Countercurrents balks:

There is a tendency among historians and analysts to place most if not all of the blame for the current state of affairs on the shoulders of the US-sponsored dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.

Instead, the author faults the very movement that created Pakistan in the first place:

In the late 1930s, elements within the Muslim elite, motivated by narrow and selfish interests, began to aggressively pursue an agenda involving the creation of a separate state for India’s Muslim population.

The oft-repeated phrase “Jinnah’s Pakistan” should be familiar to even the most casual observers. Those who conjure up this tired slogan whenever minorities are targeted must come to terms with the fact that it was the “Quaid” himself who set the dangerous precedent of using communalist rhetoric for political ends.

Jinnah, a westernized, non-practicing Muslim, cynically raised the cry of “Islam in Danger” as part of his campaign to drive a wedge between Muslims and Hindus and gain support for the partition of the Indian subcontinent among the sections of the Islamic clergy.

Based on the bogus claim that Muslims and Hindus constituted two distinct nations, the partition that gave birth to the “Land of the Pure” was a tragedy of immense proportions, resulting in an orgy of violence and untold suffering for millions of people on both sides of the artificial border.

What is happening is simply the inevitable result of official policy…

… rooted in Pakistan’s creation through the partition, that encourages the identification of Islam with the state, consequently diminishing non-Muslims to second-class status while also fanning the flames of religious fundamentalism and strengthening the power of the clerics.

Quartz, however, wants to absolve Jinnah, quoting:

His speech advanced the case for a secular, albeit Muslim-majority, Pakistan: ‘I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community … will vanish.’

And again:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State …

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

That this has not happened is a fault that rests in the decline of the state itself:

Pakistan’s most prominent human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, warns that the worst is yet to come. ‘Past experience has shown that the Islamists gain space when civilian authority weakens,’ she pointed out in an article a few years ago.

‘The proliferation of arms and official sanction for jihad have made militant groups a frightening challenge for the government. Pakistan’s future remains uncertain and its will to fight against rising religious intolerance is waning.’

I am no expert in Pakistan, but right or wrong, this is analysis. The greater question is what can be done about it.