“There are still Christians in Afghanistan,” said Todd Nettleton, an author and radio host who works for the international humanitarian nonprofit Voice of the Martyrs. “I think during the time of the Taliban takeover a year ago, there was a lot of coverage that kind of suggested that all the Christians had fled the country.”
Nettleton explains that as the Afghan government crumbled last year, many Christians fled, because they knew the Taliban’s hardline theology and intolerance toward Christians, especially those who had converted from Islam. Many who were widely known to have renounced Islam for Christianity escaped to other countries, but the potentially thousands of Christians who remain face profound challenges.
“Those are the people who made the incredibly bold decision to stay in the country,” Nettleton said. “And their attitude was, ‘Listen, if all the Christians flee the country, who’s going to be here to share the gospel, who’s going to be here to be the church?’ And so they made that courageous decision to stay, even knowing that the Taliban would be taking over; knowing it was a very risky thing.”
Voice of the Martyrs labeled Afghanistan a restricted country, where beatings, torture and kidnappings are routine for Christians. Christians are forbidden to openly worship or evangelize in the country, where the population is 99.8 percent Muslim, and both local and national governments are “highly antagonistic” toward Christian believers. The number of Christians who are martyred there, though small, generally die without public knowledge, and converts from Islam often are killed by family members or other radicalized Muslims before any legal proceedings can begin.
Nettleton pointed out that while conditions for religious liberty certainly have worsened because of the Taliban, “the first line of persecution is your family members, it’s your neighbors.” Former Muslims who convert and then fail to show up for prayers at the local mosque often face suspicion from their tightknit communities. He recalled one Afghan man his organization is in contact with who was forced to move his family three times for such reasons during the first eight months of the Taliban’s restored regime.
Nettleton, however, is hopeful that Christian revival is possible in Afghanistan as its people see how poorly the Taliban is treating them. Noting how the Taliban claims to be following in the footsteps of Muhammad and adhering to the purest interpretation of the Koran, he said their oppression might lead some to question the merits of Islam.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice