General Information

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

National name: Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Afghanestan

Total area: 250,000 sq mi (647,500 sq km)

Population (2008 est.): 32,738,376

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Kabul, 2,206,300

Other large cities: Kandahar, 349,300; Mazar-i-Sharif, 246,900; Charikar, 202,600; Herat, 171,500

Monetary unit: Afghani

Languages: Dari Persian, Pashtu (both official), other Turkic and minor languages

Ethnicity/race: Pashtun 42%, Tajik 27%, Hazara 9%, Uzbek 9%, Aimak 4%, Turkmen 3%, Baloch 2%, other 4%

Religion: Sunni Muslim 80%, Shi'a Muslim 19%, other 1%

National Holiday: Independence Day, August 19

Literacy rate: 28.1% (2000 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $35 billion; per capita $800. Real growth rate: 7.5% (2007 est.). Inflation: 16.3% (2005 est.).

Afghanistan, approximately the size of Texas, is bordered on the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, on the extreme northeast by China, on the east and south by Pakistan, and by Iran on the west. The country is split east to west by the Hindu Kush mountain range, rising in the east to heights of 24,000 ft (7,315 m). With the exception of the southwest, most of the country is covered by high snow-capped mountains and is traversed by deep valleys.

Darius I and Alexander the Great were the first to use Afghanistan as the gateway to India. Islamic conquerors arrived in the 7th century, and Genghis Khan and Tamerlane followed in the 13th and 14th centuries.

In the 19th century, Afghanistan became a battleground in the rivalry between imperial Britain and czarist Russia for control of Central Asia. Three Anglo-Afghan wars (1839–1842, 1878–1880, and 1919) ended inconclusively. In 1893 Britain established an unofficial border, the Durand Line, separating Afghanistan from British India, and London granted full independence in 1919. Emir Amanullah founded an Afghan monarchy in 1926.

Soviet Invasion

During the cold war, King Mohammed Zahir Shah developed close ties with the Soviet Union, accepting extensive economic assistance from Moscow. He was deposed in 1973 by his cousin Mohammed Daoud, who proclaimed a republic. Daoud was killed in a 1978 coup, and Noor Taraki took power, setting up a Marxist regime. He, in turn, was executed in Sept. 1979, and Hafizullah Amin became president. Amin was killed in Dec. 1979, as the Soviets launched a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan and installed Babrak Karmal as president.

The Soviets, and the Soviet-backed Afghan government, were met with fierce popular resistance. Guerrilla forces, calling themselves mujahideen, pledged a jihad, or holy war, to expel the invaders. Initially armed with outdated weapons, the mujahideen became a focus of U.S. cold war strategy against the Soviet Union, and with Pakistan's help, Washington began funneling sophisticated arms to the resistance. Moscow's troops were soon bogged down in a no-win conflict with determined Afghan fighters. In 1986 Karmal resigned, and was replaced by Mohammad Najibullah. In April 1988 the USSR, U.S., Afghanistan, and Pakistan signed accords calling for an end to outside aid to the warring factions. In return, a Soviet withdrawal took place in Feb. 1989, but the pro-Soviet government of President Najibullah was left in the capital, Kabul.

The Rise of the Taliban

By mid-April 1992 Najibullah was ousted as Islamic rebels advanced on the capital. Almost immediately, the various rebel groups began fighting one another for control. Amid the chaos of competing factions, a group calling itself the Taliban—consisting of Islamic students—seized control of Kabul in Sept. 1996. It imposed harsh fundamentalist laws, including stoning for adultery and severing hands for theft. Women were prohibited from work and school, and they were required to cover themselves from head to foot in public. By fall 1998 the Taliban controlled about 90% of the country and, with its scorched-earth tactics and human rights abuses, had turned itself into an international pariah. Only three countries—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAR—recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government.

On Aug. 20, 1998, U.S. cruise missiles struck a terrorist training complex in Afghanistan believed to have been financed by Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Islamic radical sheltered by the Taliban. The U.S. asked for the deportation of Bin Laden, whom it believed was involved in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. The UN also demanded the Taliban hand over Bin Laden for trial.

In Sept. 2001, legendary guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Masoud was killed by suicide bombers, a seeming death knell for the anti-Taliban forces, a loosely connected group referred to as the Northern Alliance. Days later, terrorists attacked New York's World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and Bin Laden emerged as the primary suspect in the tragedy.

The U.S. Responds to the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks

On Oct. 7, after the Taliban repeatedly and defiantly refused to turn over Bin Laden, the U.S. and its allies began daily air strikes against Afghan military installations and terrorist training camps. Five weeks later, with the help of U.S. air support, the Northern Alliance managed with breathtaking speed to take the key cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, the capital. On Dec. 7, the Taliban regime collapsed entirely when its troops fled their last stronghold, Kandahar. However, al-Qaeda members and other mujahideen from various parts of the Islamic world who had earlier fought alongside the Taliban persisted in pockets of fierce resistance, forcing U.S. and allied troops to maintain a presence in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar remained at large.

In Dec. 2001, Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun (the dominant ethnic group in the country) and the leader of the powerful 500,000-strong Populzai clan, was named head of Afghanistan's interim government; in September 2002, he formally became president. The U.S. maintained about 12,000 troops to combat the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and about 31 nations also contributed NATO-led peacekeeping forces. In 2003, after the United States shifted its military efforts to fighting the war in Iraq, attacks on American-led forces intensified as the Taliban and al-Qaeda began to regroup.

President Hamid Karzai's hold on power remained tenuous, as entrenched warlords continued to exert regional control. Remarkably, however, Afghanistan's first democratic presidential elections in Oct. 2004 were a success. Ten million Afghans, more than a third of the country, registered to vote, including more than 40% of eligible women. Karzai was declared the winner in November, taking 55% of the vote, and was inaugurated in December.

In May 2005, 17 people were killed during anti-American protests prompted by a report in Newsweek that American guards at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had desecrated the Koran. In September 2005, Afghanistan held its first democratic parliamentary elections in more than 25 years.

Reemergence of theTaliban

The Taliban continued to attack U.S. troops throughout 2005 and 2006—the latter becoming the deadliest year for U.S. troops since the war ended in 2001. In 2004 and 2005, American troop levels in Afghanistan gradually increased to nearly 18,000 from a low of 10,000. Throughout the spring of 2006, Taliban militants—by then a force of several thousand—infiltrated southern Afghanistan, terrorizing local villagers and attacking Afghan and U.S. troops. In May and September, Operation Mount Thrust was launched, deploying more than 10,000 Afghan and coalition forces in the south. About 700 people, most of whom were Taliban, were killed. In Aug. 2006, NATO troops took over military operations in southern Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition. NATO's Afghanistan mission is considered the most dangerous undertaken in its 57-year history.

Attacks by the Taliban intensified and increased in late 2006 and into 2007, with militants crossing into eastern Afghanistan from Pakistan's tribal areas. The Pakistani government denied that its intelligence agency supported the Islamic militants, despite contradictory reports from Western diplomats and the media.

An August 2007 report by the United Nations implicated the Taliban in Afghanistan's opium production, which has doubled in two years. The report further stated that the country supplies 93% of the world's heroin. Southern Afghanistan, particularly Helmand Province, saw the largest spike.

The Taliban continued to launch attacks and gain strength throughout 2007 and into 2008. In February 2008, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Gates warned NATO members that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack on their soil is real and that they must commit more troops to stabilize Afghanistan and counter the growing power of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Taliban Attacks Become More Deadly

A suicide bomber attacked at a crowded dogfight near Kandahar in February, killing about 80 people and injuring nearly 100. A local police chief Abdul Hakim Jan was among the dead. It was the worst suicide attack since 2001. President Karzai survived an assassination attempt in April, when suspected Taliban militants attacked a parade to celebrate Afghan national day. The insurgents penetrated the security detail surrounding Karzai, suggesting they had inside help in planning the attack. In September, however, the Afghan government said it had evidence that Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, had masterminded the attack.

The U.S. had 32,000 troops in Afghanistan during the summer of 2008, the highest level since 2005, but that was not enough to stem growing violence in the country or the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Indeed, September 2008 was the deadliest month for U.S. and coalition troops since the American-led invasion began in 2001. Forty-six soldiers were killed; there were 31 U.S troop deaths in Iraq during the same period. In addition, a Pentagon report indicated that the U.S. is facing two separate insurgencies in Afghanistan: the Taliban in the south and a collection of militant bands in the east, which borders Pakistan. These adversaries seek the expulsion of "all foreign military forces from Afghanistan, the elimination of external government influence in their respective areas, and the imposition of a religiously conservative, Pashtun-led government." Some U.S. officials began to question the effectiveness of President Karzai and his ability to rein in the mounting insurgency. Those doubts were further justified in September, when the Taliban brazenly orchestrated a jailbreak in Kandahar, which freed about 900 prisoners, 350 of them were Taliban.

In August, as many as 90 Afghan civilians, 60 of them children, were killed in a U.S.-launched airstrike in the western village of Azizabad. It was one of the deadliest airstrikes since the war began in 2001, and the deadliest on civilians. The U.S. military refuted the figures, however, which were confirmed by the UN, claiming that the airstrike, in response to an attack by militants, killed less than 10 civilians and about 30 members of the Taliban.

The Pakistani military launched a three-week-long cross-border air assault into Afghanistan's Bajaur region throughout August, which resulted in more than 400 Taliban casualties. The continuous airstrikes forced many al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to retreat from towns formally under their control. However, the Pakistani government declared a cease-fire in the Bajaur region for the month of September in observance of Ramadan, raising fears that the Taliban will use the opportunity to regroup.

Islamic History and Muslims

The Islamic conquest of Afghanistan (656-870 CE) began after the Islamic conquest of Persia, when Arab Muslims shattered the might of the Persian Sassanians at the battles of Walaja, al-Qādisiyyah and Nahavand. The Arabs then began to move towards the lands east of Persia and in 652 captured the city, Herat.
The majority Religion in Afghanistan is Islam, with over 99% of Afghans being counted as Muslims. Of those, approximately 80% are Sunni 20% are Shi'a (estimates vary). There are about 30,000 to 150,000 Hindus and Sikhs living in different cities but mostly in Jalalabad, Kabul, and Kandahar. Also, there was a small Jewish community in Afghanistan (See Bukharan Jews) who fled the country after the 1979 Soviet invasion, and only one individual, Zablon Simintov, remains today. There is an estimated 3,000 - 5,000 Christians in Afghanistan. (See Christianity in Afghanistan) Most of these are former Muslims who converted. Buddhists, very few in number, probably number about 0.3% of the current population. Baha'is could be considered the second largest minority of Afghanistan with more than 20,000 members.
Approximately 99 percent of Afghans are Muslims, and out of them, eighty percent are Sunni of the Hanafi School; the rest are Shi'a, the majority of whom are Twelver along with smaller numbers of Ismailis. There is also a strong influence of Sufism among both Sunni and Shi'a communities.


The Caliphate.
The invasion of Persia was completed five years after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and all of the Persian territories came under Arab control, though pockets of tribal resistance continued for centuries in the Afghan territories.
During the 7th century AD, Arab armies made their way into the region of Afghanistan with the new religion of Islam. At this point in time the area that is currently Afghanistan had a multi-religious population consisting of Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jews, Kafirs, as well as others. The Arabs were unable to succeed in converting the population because of constant revolts from the mountain tribes in the Afghan area, which may have been recognized as Sind. In 870 AD, Yaqub bin Laith as-Saffar, a local ruler from the Saffarid dynasty of Zaranj, conquered most of present-day Afghanistan in the name of Islam. Dupree writes:

...Arab armies carrying the banner of Islam came out of the west to defeat the Sasanians in 642 AD and then they marched with confidence to the east. On the western periphery of the Afghan area the princes of Herat and Seistan gave way to rule by Arab governors but in the east, in the mountains, cities submitted only to rise in revolt and the hastily converted returned to their old beliefs once the armies passed. The harshness and avariciousness of Arab rule produced such unrest, however, that once the waning power of the Caliphate became apparent, native rulers once again established themselves independent. Among these the Saffarids of Seistan shone briefly in the Afghan area. The fanatic founder of this dynasty, the coppersmith’s apprentice Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, came forth from his capital at Zaranj in 870 AD and marched through Bost, Kandahar, Ghazni, Kabul, Bamyan, Balkh and Herat, conquering in the name of Islam..

From the eighth century to the ninth century, many inhabitants of what is present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and areas of northern India were converted to Sunni Islam. However, pockets of pre-Islamic people such as the Hindus as well as the Kafirs of Kafiristan (modern Nuristan) managed to remain untouched by Islam. It is surmised from the writings of Al Biruni that some Pashtuns living in Pakhtunkhwa (present-day western Pakistan) had not been completely converted. Al Biruni, writing in Tarikh al Hind, also alludes to the Pashtun tribes of Pakhtunkhwa as being neither Muslim nor Hindu, but simply Afghans which may mean that they practiced Pashtunwali.
During the end of the ninth century, the Samanids extended its rule from Bukhara to as far south as the Indus River and west into most of Persia. Although Arab Muslim intellectual life was still centered in Baghdad, Shi'a Islam, predominated in the Samanid areas at this time. By the mid-tenth century, the Samanid Dynasty had crumbled in the face of attacks from Turkish tribes to the north and from the Ghaznavids, a rising Turkic dynasty in Afghanistan.

Ghaznavid and Ghorid rule

Out of the Samanid Dynasty came the first great Islamic empire of the region, the Ghaznavid Empire, whose warriors forged an empire that spanned much of Iranian plateau and Central Asia and conducted many successful raids into South Asia. Their military incursions assured the domination of Sunni Islam in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of India. The most renowned of the dynasty's rulers was Mahmud, who consolidated control over the areas south of the Amu Darya then carried out devastating raids into India - looting Hindu temples in his wake. With his booty from India, Mahmud built a great capital at Ghazni (modern-day Afghanistan), founded universities, and patronized scholars. Mahmud was recognized by the caliph in Baghdad as the temporal heir of the Samanids. By the time of his death, Mahmud ruled a vast empire that stretched from Kurdistan to the entire Hindu Kush region as far east as the Punjab as well as territories far north of the Amu Darya. However, as occurred so often in this region, the demise in 1030 of this military genius who had expanded the empire to its farthest reaches was the death knell of the dynasty itself. The rulers of the Ghorid Empire of Ghor in modern-day Afghanistan, captured and burned Ghazni in 1149, just as the Ghaznavids had once conquered Ghor. Not until 1186, however, was the last representative of the Ghaznavids uprooted by the Ghorids from his holdout in Lahore, in the Punjab.
The Ghorids controlled most of what is now Afghanistan, eastern Iran, Pakistan, and northern India, while parts of central and western Iran were ruled by the Seljuk Turks. From 1200 to 1205 some of the Ghorid lands were conquered by the Shah of the Khwarezmid Empire, whose empire would, in turn, be defeated by the Mongols in 1220.

Mongol invasion and Timurid rule 1220-1506

Area of the Mongol Empire.

Area of the Mongol Empire.

Followings years of conquest in China and Central Asia, the Mongol Empire had emerged as a major world power of its day and attempted to co-exist with some of their neighbors including the empire of the Khwarezmia Shah and sent emissaries to establish diplomatic and trading links. As either a bluff to dissuade the Mongols from aggression or as simply a haughty sign of disrespect, the Khwarezmia Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II had the diplomats executed and sent their heads back to the Mongols and this prompted a military confrontation. In 1220, the Islamic lands of Central Asia were overrun by the armies of the Mongol invader Genghis Khan (ca. 1155-1227), who laid waste to many cities and settlements and created an empire that stretched from China to the Caucasus. The Mongols under Genghis Khan responded with great severity to the insults they had taken from Muhammad II and took out their revenge against the inhabitants of Khwarezmia including, for example, exterminating every human being in the cities of Herat and Balkh. This devastation had severe consequences for the natives of Afghanistan as the destruction caused by the Mongols depopulated many of the major cities and caused much of the population to revert to an agrarian rural society. Thus, Afghanistan became dominated by cattle breeding tribes who also specialized in horseback riding. Genghis Khan failed to extinguish or even particularly hamper Islam in Central Asia, if that was even his intent, as the religion continued to define many local inhabitants culturally. In fact, by the end of the 13th century, Genghis Khan's descendants had themselves become Muslims (many speculate that the Hazaras of Afghanistan are in fact the descendants of Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes) and even the title of 'khan' became a not so uncommon name adopted by many local inhabitants. From the death of Genghis Khan in 1227 until the rise of Timur Lenk (Tamerlane) in the 1380s, Central Asia went through a period of fragmentation.
A product of both Turkish and Mongol descent, Timur claimed Genghis Khan as an ancestor. From his capital of Samarkand, Timur created an empire that, by the late fourteenth century, extended from northern India to eastern Turkey. The turn of the sixteenth century brought an end to the Timurid Empire when another Central Asian ruler of Turkic-Mongol extraction, Muhammad Shaybani, overwhelmed the weakened Timurid ruler in Herat. Shaybani (also a descendant of Genghis Khan) and his successors ruled the area around the Amu Darya for about a century, while to the south and west of what is now Afghanistan two powerful dynasties began to compete for influence.

Mughal-Safavid rivalry, ca. 1500-1747

Babur made Kabul the capital of his Mughal Empire.
Early in the sixteenth century, Babur, who claimed descent from Timur on his father's side and from Genghis Khan on his mother's, was driven out of his father's kingdom in the Ferghana Valley (which straddles contemporaryUzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) by the Shaybani Uzbeks, who had wrested Samarkand from the Timurids. After several unsuccessful attempts to regain Ferghana and Samarkand, Babur crossed the Amu Darya and captured Kabul from the last of its Mongol rulers in 1504. In his invasion of Delhi Sultanate of India in 1526, Babur's army of 12,000 defeated a less mobile force of 100,000 at the First Battle of Panipat, about forty-five kilometers northwest of Delhi. The Delhi Sultanate was itself ruled by ex-patriot Afghan/Pashtun rulers, the Lodhi dynasty. Although the Mughal Empire would shift largely to India, Babur's memoirs, as related in the Baburnameh stressed his love for Kabul - both as a commercial strategic center as well as a beautiful highland city with an "extremely delightful" climate and was the Mughal Empire's first capital until being moved to Lahore and Delhi by later emperors.


North-west India in 1765.

North-west India in 1765.

Although Mughal rule technically lasted in parts of Afghanistan until the early 18th century, it came under constant challenge from local Pashtun tribesmen. The Mughals originally had come from Central Asia, but once they had taken India, the area that is now southeastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan was relegated to a mere outpost of the empire as even the name of a prominent Afghan city, Peshawar literally translates from Persian to City on the Frontier. Indeed, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, much of Afghanistan was hotly contested between the Mughals of India and the Safavids of Iran. The Safavids had held Herat and much of western and northern Afghanistan during the same time period that the Mughals controlled Kabul, Kandahar, and Peshawar. Just as Kabul dominates the high road from Central Asia into India, Kandahar commands the only approach towards India that skirts the Hindu Kush. The strategically important Kabul-Kandahar axis was the primary focus of competition between the Mughals and the Safavids, and Kandahar itself changed hands several times during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Safavids and the Mughals were not the only contenders, however. Less powerful but closer at hand were the Uzbeks of Central Asia, who fought for control of Herat in western Afghanistan and for the northern regions as well where neither the Mughals nor the Safavids were able to effectively challenge them. Many of the Uzbeks of Afghanistan arrived during this phase of northern Afghanistan's history.
The Mughals sought not only to block the historical western invasion routes into India but also to control the fiercely independent Pashtun tribes who accepted only nominal control from Delhi in their mountain strongholds between the Kabul-Kandahar axis and the Indus River - especially in the Pashtun area of the Suleiman Range. As the area around Kandahar changed hands back and forth between the two great empires on either side, the local Pashtun tribes exploited the situation to their advantage by extracting concessions from both sides. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Mughals had abandoned the Hindu Kush north of Kabul to the Uzbeks, and in 1622 they lost Kandahar to the Safavids for the third and final time.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, as the power of the Safavids waned, native groups began to assert themselves in Afghanistan. Early in the eighteenth century, a clan of the Ghilzai Pashtuns, later known as the Hotaki dynasty, overturned Safavid rule in Kandahar by 1708, and subsequently took-over and ruled most of Safavid Persia and Afghanistan from 1722 until 1736. The Ghilzai Pashtuns managed to briefly hold the Safavid capital of Isfahan, and two members of this tribe ascended the throne before the Ghilzai were evicted from Iran by the Turko-Iranian conqueror, Nadir Shah, who became known by some in the West as the "Persian Napoleon."
Nadir Shah conquered Kandahar and Kabul in 1738 along with defeating a formidable Mughal army in India, plundering Delhi, and massacring thousands of its people. He returned home with vast treasures, including the Peacock Throne, which thereafter served as a symbol of Iranian imperial might. Nadir Shah, as a Sunni Muslim, had surrounded himself with other Sunnis most notably those of Turkic and Pashtun background. One notable military officer was Ahmad Shah Durrani, an ethnic Pashtun who would come to shape the modern history of Afghanistan following the end of Nadir Shah's reign in 1747.

Twelver Shi'a
About 12-25% of Afghans are Shi'as. The most numerous Shi'a sect in Afghanistan is the Twelver Shi'a, who are mostly of the Hazara ethnic group living in the Hazarajat of central Afghanistan, and the Farsiwan of Herat Province. Mixtures occur in certain areas such as Bamyan Province where Sunni, Twelver and Ismaili may be found. Twelver Shi'a are also found in urban centers such as Kabul, Kandahar, Ghazni, and Mazari Sharif where numbers of Qizilbash and Hazara reside. Urban Shi'a are successful small business entrepreneurs; many gained from the development of education that began in the 1950s.
The political involvement of Shi'a communities grew dramatically during the politicized era during and following the Soviet invasion. Politically aware Shi'a students formed the hard core of the Afghan Maoist movement of the 1960s and early 1970s After 1978, Shi'a mujahidin groups in the Hazarajat, although frequently at odds with one another, were active in the jihad and subsequently in the fighting for the control of Kabul. During the political maneuvering leading up to the establishment of The Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1992, the Shi'a groups unsuccessfully negotiated for more equitable, consequential political and social roles. This heightened profile created a backlash among some Sunni groups, notably those associated with the Hezbi Islami of Mawlawi Yunus Khalis and the Ittihad-i-Islam of Professor Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf. Violent sectarian confrontations took place, particularly in and around Kabul.


The Ismaili Shi'a rejected the heir designated by the sixth Imam, Jafar al Sadiq (d.765), whom the Twelver accepted: Musa al-Kadhim. Ismaili communities in Afghanistan are less populous than the Twelver who consider the Ismaili heretical. They are found primarily in and near the eastern Hazarajat, in the Baghlan area north of the Hindu Kush, among the mountain Tajik of Badakhshan, and amongst the Wakhi in the Wakhan Corridor.
Ismaili in Afghanistan are generally regarded with suspicion by other ethnic groups and for the most part their economic status is very poor. Although Ismaili in other areas such as the northern areas of Pakistan operate well-organized social welfare programs including schools, hospitals and cooperatives, little has been done among Afghan Ismaili communities.
Considered less zealous than other Afghan Muslims, Ismaili are seen to follow their leaders uncritically. The pir or leader of Afghan Ismaili comes from the Sayyid family of Kayan, located near Doshi, a small town at the northern foot of the Salang Pass, in western Baghlan Province. During the Soviet-Afghan War this family acquired considerable political power.

Sufism has considerable influence in Afghanistan, in both rural and urban settings, especially among the middle classes of larger villages, town and cities.
Three Sufi orders are prominent: the Naqshbandiya founded in Bokhara, the Qadiriya founded in Baghdad, and the Cheshtiya located at Chesht-i-Sharif east of Herat. Among the Naqshbani, Ahmad al Faruqi Kabuli, born north of Kabul, acquired renown for his teachings in India during the reign of the Moghul Emperor Akbar in the sixteenth century. Sometime during the nineteenth century members of this family moved back to Kabul where they established a madrassa and a khanaqah in Shor Bazar which became a center of religious and political influence. Many Afghan Naqshbandi are linked with the Mujaddedi family. Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, leader of the mujahidin Jabha-i Nejat-i Melli party, became the head of this order when his predecessor, along with 79 male members of the family, were executed in Kabul by the Taraki-Amin government in January 1979. He served for two months as the first acting president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan established in April 1992.
Hazrat Naqib Sahib, father of Sayyid Ahmad Gailani Effendi, the pir of the Qadiriya, established the family seat in Afghanistan on the outskirts of Jalalabad during the 1920s. Pir Ahmad Gailani is the leader of the mujahidin Mahaz-i Melli Islami party. The leadership of both the Naqshbandiya and Qadiriya orders derive from heredity rather than religious scholarship.
Another famous Qadiriya pir named Mawlana Faizani came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, and was a leading critic against the creeping influence of communist philosophy. Jailed in the mid-70s, Mawlana Faizani disappeared when the khalqis came to power and remains missing to this day.
The Cheshtiya order was founded by Mawdid al-Cheshti who was born in the twelfth century and later taught in India. The Cheshtiya brotherhood, concentrated in the Hari River valley around Obe, Karukh and Chehst-i-Sharif, is very strong locally and maintains madrasas with fine libraries. Traditionally the Cheshtiya have kept aloof from politics, although they were effectively active during the resistance within their own organizations and in their own areas.
Herat and its environs has the largest number and greatest diversity of Sufi branches, many of which are connected with local tombs of pir (ziarat). Other Sufi groups are found all across the north, with important centers in Maimana, Faryab Province, and in Kunduz. The brotherhoods in Kabul and around Mazari Sharif are mostly associated with the Naqshbandiya. The Qadiriya are found mainly among the eastern Pushtun of Wardak, Paktya and Ningrahar, including many Ghilzai nomadic groups. Other smaller groups are settled in Kandahar and in Shindand, Farah Province. The Cheshtiya are centered in the Hari River valley. There are no formal Sufi orders among the Shi'a in the central Hazarajat, although some of the concepts are associated with Sayyids, descendants of the Prophet Mohammad, who are especially venerated among the Shi'a.
Afghanistan is unique in that there is little hostility between the ulama and the Sufi orders. Numbers of Sufi leaders are considered as ulama, and many ulama closely associate with Sufi brotherhoods. The general populace accords Sufis respect for their learning and for possessing karamat, the psychic spiritual power conferred upon them by God that enables pirs to perform acts of generosity and bestow blessings (barakat). Sufism therefore is an effective popular force. In addition, since Sufi leaders distance themselves from the mundane, they are at times turned to as more disinterested mediators in tribal disputes in preference to mullahs who are reputed to escalate minor secular issues into volatile confrontations couched in Islamic rhetoric.

Meaning and Practice

Islam represents a potentially unifying symbolic system which offsets the divisiveness that frequently rises from the existence of a deep pride in tribal loyalties and an abounding sense of personal and family honor found in multitribal and multiethnic societies such as Afghanistan.
Islam is a central, pervasive influence throughout Afghan society; religious observances punctuate the rhythm of each day and season. In addition to a central Friday mosque for weekly communal prayers which are not obligatory but generally attended, smaller community-maintained mosques stand at the center of villages, as well as town and city neighborhoods. Mosques serve not only as places of worship, but for a multitude of functions, including shelter for guests, places to meet and gossip, the focus of social religious festivities and schools. Almost every Afghan has at one time during his youth studied at a mosque school; for many this is the only formal education they receive.
Because Islam is a total way of life and functions as a comprehensive code of social behavior regulating all human relationships, individual and family status depends on the proper observance of the society's value system based on concepts defined in Islam. These are characterized by honesty, frugality, generosity, virtuousness, piousness, fairness, truthfulness, tolerance and respect for others. To uphold family honor, elders also control the behavior of their children according to these same Islamic prescriptions. At times, even competitive relations between tribal or ethnic groups are expressed in terms claiming religious superiority. In short, Islam structures day-to-day interactions of all members of the community.
The religious establishment consists of several levels. Any Muslim can lead informal groups in prayer. Mullahs who officiate at mosques are normally appointed by the government after consultation with their communities and, although partially financed by the government, mullahs are largely dependent for their livelihood on community contributions including shelter and a portion of the harvest. Supposedly versed in the Qur'an, Sunnah, Hadith and Shariah, they must ensure that their communities are knowledgeable in the fundamentals of Islamic ritual and behavior. This qualifies them to arbitrate disputes over religious interpretation. Often they function as paid teachers responsible for religious education classes held in mosques where children learn basic moral values and correct ritual practices. Their role has additional social aspects for they officiate on the occasion of life crisis rituals associated with births, marriages and deaths.
But rural mullahs are not part of an institutionalized hierarchy of clergy. Most are part-time mullahs working also as farmers or craftsmen. Some are barely literate, or only slightly more educated than the people they serve. Often, but by no means always, they are men of minimal wealth and, because they depend for their livelihood on the community that appoints them, they have little authority even within their own social boundaries. They are often treated with scant respect and are the butt of a vast body of jokes making fun of their arrogance and ignorance. Yet their role as religious arbiters forces them to take positions on issues that have political ramifications and since mullahs often disagree with one another, pitting one community against the other, they are frequently perceived as disruptive elements within their communities.
Veneration of saints and shrines (mazar, ziarat) is not encouraged in Islam and is actively suppressed by some groups. Nevertheless, Afghanistan's landscape is liberally strewn with shrines honoring saints of all descriptions. Many of Afghanistan's oldest villages and towns grew up around shrines of considerable antiquity. Some are used as sanctuaries by fugitives.
Shrines vary in form from simple mounds of earth or stones marked by pennants to lavishly ornamented complexes surrounding a central domed tomb. These large establishments are controlled by prominent religious and secular leaders. Shrines may mark the final resting place of a fallen hero (shahid), a venerated religious teacher, a renowned Sufi poet, or relics, such as a hair of the Prophet Muhammad or a piece of his cloak (khirqah). A great many commemorate legends about the miraculous exploits of Ali ibn Abi Talib , the fourth caliph and the first Imam of Shi'a Islam believed to be buried at the nation's most elaborate shrine located in the heart of Mazari Sharif, the Exalted Shrine. Hazrat Ali is revered throughout Afghanistan for his role as an intermediary in the face of tyranny.
Festive annual fairs celebrated at shrines attract thousands of pilgrims and bring together all sections of communities. Pilgrims also visit shrines to seek the intercession of the saint for special favors, be it a cure for illness or the birth of a son. Women are particularly devoted to activities associated with shrines. These visits may be short or last several days and many pilgrims carry away specially blessed curative and protective amulets (usually a tawiz) to ward off the evil eye, assure loving relationships between husbands and wives and many other forms of solace.

Politicized Islam
Although Shariah courts existed in urban centers after Ahmad Shah Durrani established an Afghan state in 1747, the primary judicial basis for the society remained in the tribal code of the Pashtunwali until the end of the nineteenth century. Sporadic fatwas (formal legal opinions) were issued and occasional jihads were called not so much to advance Islamic ideology as to sanction the actions of specific individuals against their political opponents so that power might be consolidated.
The first systematic employment of Islam as an instrument for state-building was introduced by Amir Abdur Rahman (1880-1901) during his drive toward centralization. He decreed that all laws must comply with Islamic law and thus elevated the Shariah over customary laws embodied in the Pashtunwali. The ulama were enlisted to legitimize and sanction his state efforts as well as his central authority. This enhanced the religious community on the one hand, but as they were increasingly inducted into the bureaucracy as servants of the state, the religious leadership was ultimately weakened. Many economic privileges enjoyed by religious personalities and institutions were restructured within the framework of the state, the propagation of learning, once the sole prerogative of the ulama, was closely supervised, and the Amir became the supreme arbiter of justice.
His successors continued and expanded Amir Abdur Rahman's policies as they increased the momentum of secularization. Islam continued central to interactions, but the religious establishment remained essentially non-political, functioning as a moral rather than a political influence. Nevertheless, Islam asserted itself in times of national crisis. And, when the religious leadership considered themselves severely threatened, charismatic religious personalities periodically employed Islam to rally disparate groups in opposition to the state. They rose up on several occasions against Amanullah Shah (1919-1929), for example, in protest against reforms they believed to be western intrusions inimical to Islam.
Subsequent rulers, mindful of traditional attitudes antithetical to secularization were careful to underline the compatibility of Islam with modernization. Even so, and despite its pivotal position within the society which continued to draw no distinction between religion and state, the role of religion in state affairs continued to decline.
The 1931 Constitution made the Hanafi Shariah the state religion, while the 1964 Constitution simply prescribed that the state should conduct its religious ritual according to the Hanafi School. The 1977 Constitution, declared Islam the religion of Afghanistan, but made no mention that the state ritual should be Hanafi. The Penal Code (1976) and civil law (1977), covering the entire field of social justice, represent major attempts to cope with elements of secular law, based on, but superseded by other systems. Courts, for instance, were enjoined to consider cases first according to secular law, resorting to the BCShariah in areas where secular law did not exist. By 1978, the government of the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) openly expressed its aversion to the religious establishment. This precipitated the fledgling Islamist Movement into a national revolt; Islam moved from its passive stance on the periphery to play an active role.
Politicized Islam in Afghanistan represents a break from Afghan traditions. The Islamist Movement originated in 1958 among faculties of Kabul University, particularly within the Faculty of Islamic Law which had been formed in 1952 with the announced purpose of raising the quality of religious teaching to accommodate modern science and technology. The founders were largely professors influenced by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a party formed in the 1930s that was dedicated to Islamic revivalism and social, economic, and political equity. Their objective is to come to terms with the modern world through the development of a political ideology based on Islam. The Afghan leaders, while indebted to many of these concepts, did not forge strong ties to similar movements in other countries.
The liberalization of government attitudes following the passage of the 1964 Constitution ushered in a period of intense activism among students at Kabul University. Professors and their students set up the Muslim Youth Organization (Sazmani Jawanani Musulman) in the mid-1960s at the same time that the leftists were also forming many parties. Initially communist students outnumbered the Muslim students, but by 1970 the Muslim Youth had gained a majority in student elections. Their membership was recruited from university faculties and from secondary schools in several cities such as Mazari Sharif and Herat. These professors and students became the leaders of the Afghan Resistance in the 1980s.
With the takeover of government by the PDPA in April 1978, Islam became central to uniting the opposition against the communist ideology of the new rulers. As a politico-religious system, Islam is ideally suited to the needs of a diverse, unorganized, often mutually antagonistic citizenry wishing to forge a united front against a common enemy; and war permitted various groups within the mujahidin to put into effect competing concepts of organization.
The mujahidin leaders were charismatic figures with dyadic ties to followers. In many cases military and political leaders replaced the tribal leadership; at times the religious leadership was strengthened; often the religious combined with the political leadership. Followers selected their local leaders on the basis of personal choice and precedence among regions, sects, ethnic groups or tribes, but the major leaders rose to prominence through their ties to outsiders who controlled the resources of money and arms.
With the support of foreign aid, the mujahidin were ultimately successful in their jihad to drive out the Soviet forces, but not in their attempts to construct a political alternative to govern Afghanistan after their victory. Throughout the war, the mujahidin were never fully able to replace traditional structures with a modern political system based on Islam. Most mujahidin commanders either used traditional patterns of power, becoming the new khans, or sought to adapt modern political structures to the traditional society. In time the prominent leaders accumulated wealth and power and, in contrast to the past, wealth became a determining factor in the delineation of power at all levels.
With the departure of foreign troops and the long sought demise of Kabul's leftist government, The Islamic State of Afghanistan finally came into being in April 1992. This represented a distinct break with Afghan history, for religious specialists had never before exercised state power. But the new government failed to establish its legitimacy and, as much of its financial support dissipated, local and middle range commanders and their militia not only fought among themselves but resorted to a host of unacceptable practices in their protracted scrambles for power and profit. Throughout the nation the populous suffered from harassment, extortion, kidnapping, burglary, hijacking and acts dishonoring women. Drug trafficking increased alarmingly; nowhere were the highways safe. The mujahidin had forfeited the trust they once enjoyed.

In the fall of 1994 a Muslim "student militia" came forth vowing to cleanse the nation of the excesses sullying the jihad. Their avowed intention was to bring in a "pure" Islamic state subject to their own strict interpretations of the Shariah. Many of the leaders of this movement called the Taliban (seekers or students of Islam) were one-time mujahidin themselves, but the bulk of their forces are comprised of young Afghan refugees trained in Pakistani madrassas (religious schools), especially those run by the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Islam Pakistan, the aggressively conservative Pakistani political religious party headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, arch rival of Qazi Hussain Ahmad, leader of the equally conservative Jamaat-e-Islami and long time supporter of the mujahidin.
Headquartered in Kandahar, initially almost entirely Pushtun, predominantly from the rural areas, and from the top leadership down to the fighting militia characteristically in their thirties or forties and even younger, the Taliban swept the country. In September 1996 they captured Kabul and ruled over two-thirds of Afghanistan.
The meteoric take over went almost unchallenged. Arms were collected and security was established. At the same time, acts committed for the purpose of enforcing the Shariah included public executions for murder, stoning for adultery, amputation for theft, a ban on all forms of gambling such as kite flying, chess and cockfights, prohibition of music and videos, proscriptions against pictures of humans and animals, and an embargo on women's voices over the radio. Women were to remain as invisible as possible, behind the veil, in purdah in their homes, and dismissed from work or study outside their homes. Like many before them, the Taliban wave the flag of women's chasteness to prove their superior Muslimness.
Because of the strong religious sentiments that animated their minds, rural Afghans were mostly captivated by the Taliban. Others looked on appalled at the rigidly orthodox dictates of these self-proclaimed arbiters of Islamic rectitude. To them Taliban interpretations of the Shariah were foreign deviations alien to the Islam practiced in Afghan society which has always stressed moderation, tolerance, dignity, individual choice and egalitarianism.

Mazari Sharif's Blue Mosque is a magnificent and sacred structure of cobalt blue and turquoise minarets, attracting visitors and pilgrims throughout the world.



Herat- Kharqah Masjid

Herat Masjid Jamah

Herat-Jama Masjid-Nawroz's street


Masjid Akhond zadah Nangarhar

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Islam in
Islam in Afghanistan (  , September, 2008).
Info please ( ,  September, 2008).
Islam Finder (  , September, 2008).
Anonymous, Documents from Representatives of Islamic Organizations in
Afghanistan, September 2008.