Religious Influences – Majority and Minority Religions and Denominations

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Islam is the religion of virtually all Afghans.  Founded by Muhammad of Arabia in 622, Islam is based on a belief in one God, Allah.  Followers of Islam are known as Muslims.  Islam shares many figures with Judaism and Christianity, but Muslims cite Muhammad as the last and greatest prophet.  The Qur'an (Koran) is said to contain the will of Allah as revealed through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad and is the basic source of Islamic teachings.

Approximately 85% of the population is Sunni Muslim, while 15% is Shi'a Muslim. Other religious groups make up less than 1% of the population. There is a small, hidden Christian community; but there are no reliable figures on its size, estimates range from 500 to 8,000. There are roughly 2,200 Sikh and Hindu believers and more than 400 Afghans are followers of the Baha'i faith. In addition, there are small numbers of adherents of other religious groups, mostly Buddhist foreigners.

The major difference between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims is not religious but political.  The denominations differ in their belief in who was the successor following the death of the Prophet Mohammad.  Sunnis believe the successor should be chosen by leaders, while Shi’a believe the successor to Mohammad should be a direct descendent of the prophet.  Shi’a follow religious leaders called imams who are considered to be Mohammed’s successors.

Sufism is the esoteric and mystical school of Islam, founded on the pursuit of spiritual truth and direct knowledge of God through personal experience. Sufi orders trace their origins back to Prophet Muhammad via his cousin and son-in-law Ali. The Naqshbandi order is a notable exception to this rule, as it traces the origin of its teachings from the Prophet Muhammad to the first Islamic Caliph Abu Bakr. Individual Sufi leaders are respected for possessing karamat, the psychic spiritual power bestowed upon them by God to perform acts of generosity and blessings. Some Sunni and Shi'a claim to follow Sufism as well. Despite an image of being peaceful mystics, Sufis are also involved with politics and conflicts, but do not support violence or the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic laws. However, Sufis are opposed to western style democracy in Afghanistan. Sufi leaders claim 60% of Afghanis support and respect Sufi values. The area of Herat has the largest concentration of Sufi orders and many of its leaders are called on to mediate disputes between tribal leaders.

Back Home Next