Why do Afghan Christians believe they face genocide from the Taliban – and how can we pray for our brothers and sisters in harm’s way?
Here’s what I learned when I traveled to Kabul to meet with Afghan Christian leaders in 2008 – and what I’m hearing today
With the rapid takeover of their country by the Taliban, Afghan Christians are steeling themselves for arrest, imprisonment and torture.
And possibly genocide.
As an American evangelist who worked in Afghanistan was quoted in ALL ARAB NEWS last week, “(The Taliban) are not looking for converts at this point, they are looking for extermination of Christians.”
An Afghan follower of Jesus Christ from a Muslim background told CBN News this same thing.
“Right now, we fear elimination,” he said. “The Taliban are going to eliminate the Christian population of Afghanistan.”
I am hearing these concerns from ministries all throughout the country.
Are these fears justified?
Based on the nature of the Taliban, I believe they are, and I will explain why in a moment.
But let me say first: We absolutely must pray without ceasing for our brothers and sisters to be strong and courageous no matter what evil befalls them.
We must pray that they will be lights in the darkness, that in both their conduct and their speech they will be witnesses of the true and glorious hope, redemption, transformation and eternal salvation they have experienced by placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And we must pray that Afghan Muslims who are terrified of being enslaved or slaughtered by the Taliban will see the hope in their Christian neighbors, and ask why their neighbors have hope amid such horror, and that the Christians will be brave enough to explain the good news of Christ’s great love and mercy with clarity and simplicity and trusting in the power of the Word of God – not their own wisdom or cleverness – to convince and persuade.
Joel C. Rosenberg meets with Afghan Muslim tribal leaders during a trip to Afghanistan in 2008 (Photo: All Arab News)
HOW MANY CHRISTIANS ARE THERE IN AFGHANISTAN?
Before Sept. 11, 2001, I’m told that there were fewer than 100 Muslim Background Believers in Christ (MBBs) in all of Afghanistan.
In October of 2008, I traveled to Kabul to meet with Afghan Christian leaders, and foreign missionaries, and assess the state of the church.
In my 2009 nonfiction book, “Inside the Revolution: How the Followers of Jihad, Jefferson, and Jesus Are Battling to Dominate the Middle East and Transform the World,” I reported that there were likely between 3,000 and 5,000 Afghan MBBs.
Today, CBN News reports that there are an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 MBBs living throughout Afghanistan.
Precise numbers are difficult if not impossible to gather, but these numbers seem consistent with the trendlines over the past 20 years.
And keep in mind that other Afghans have come to faith in Christ but emigrated to other countries, both out of fear for their own lives and out of a desire to pursue more freedom, security and opportunity for themselves and their children.
Thus, they are not included in this estimate.
MY VISIT TO KABUL
Over the years, I have talked to Afghan Christians, Afghan tribal leaders and a wide range of experts on the country.
What I learned and first shared in “Inside the Revolution” was chilling.
It is worth retelling here to understand some of the history of the country, and the history of the Taliban.
The more you know about the theology, ideology and history of the Taliban, the more you can understand why so many Afghanis are terrified, and desperate to flee.
That said, I am deeply impressed with the courage of many Afghan Christians who believe that God wants them to stay and be a witness for Christ to their countrymen, even if that leads to martyrdom.
We dare not forget them. We must pray for them. Encourage them. Resource them. And be their champions in a world that is abandoning them and their country.
Joel C. Rosenberg meets an Afghan Muslim tribal leader during a visit in Afghanistan in 2008 (Photo: All Arab News)
THE TALIBAN’S HISTORY OF TERROR
Long ruled by kings, the landlocked and poverty-stricken region became a nation-state in 1747, but held little interest for the West until the Soviets invaded in 1979. That should have been the end. To jaded Washington eyes, Afghanistan seemed destined to be swallowed up by Moscow to serve as another satellite state. But the Afghans refused to surrender. And Ronald Reagan refused to let them.
By the early 1980s, Afghanistan was quickly becoming the central front in the epic struggle between the forces of freedom and the Communists of the Kremlin. With tremendous bravery, unflinching resolve and billions of dollars in American aid and weaponry – including state-of-the-art Stinger anti-aircraft missiles – the Afghans eventually defeated the mighty Red Army and, by the end of the 1980s, drove every single Soviet soldier out of their country. It was a stunning victory. One for the storybooks. And then, to our shame, we forgot about Afghanistan again.
The United States had built up significant goodwill inside Afghanistan. We had forged strong, albeit covert, relationships with national leaders, tribal chieftains, and well-educated young people eager to reclaim and rebuild their nation. We could have provided humanitarian relief for the 5 million refugees wasting away in squalid camps on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. We could have helped the Afghans build schools and hospitals and farms and factories. We could have helped them build roads and electrical plants and drill thousands of wells to provide fresh water.
I’m not saying we should have done everything for them, but we could have helped. We should have helped. But we did not. Once the Soviets pulled out, we pulled out too.
Afghanistan, 2008 (Photo: All Arab News)
A RADICAL “PARADISE”
The provisional post-Soviet Afghan government collapsed in 1992, and into the vacuum rushed the radicals, specifically Mohammed Omar – aka “Mullah Omar” – the ferocious and fanatical mujahadeen commander who once lost an eye in a firefight with the Russians but recovered and went on to create the Taliban, one of the most extreme jihadist organizations on the planet.
Afghans had been raped and pillaged by the Evil Empire from the North, Omar noted, and they had now been abandoned and betrayed by the infidels from the West.
But this was cause for celebration, not sadness, Omar insisted. He argued that Allah had given Afghans a great victory in war and now it was time to give him thanks by constructing a purely Islamic country, governed by Sharia law, built on the sacred ashes of the past.
Not everyone was enamored of Omar’s vision, much less wanted to see him in charge. But Omar was not about to take no for an answer. He believed he was chosen by God and was fighting for God and that God would give him victory. By the mid-1990s, after years of brutal, bloody tribal warfare and horrific sectarian violence, the fighters of the Taliban had successfully suppressed most of their opposition and had secured control of the country.
In a world of blind men, a one-eyed man – literally – was now king.
It is difficult to put into words the reign of terror the Taliban unleashed on the people of Afghanistan.
To talk to Afghans who suffered through the hellish conditions these radicals created, as I had the opportunity to do, is to wind up in tears at the nearly unbelievable stories they tell.
Wives were beaten by their husbands without reason, with the regime’s encouragement.
Women were forbidden to style their hair.
They were forbidden to wear nail polish.
They were forced to wear blue burkas that covered them head to toe and were practically suffocating in hot weather.
Children were beaten by their fathers and psychologically abused.
Their schools were shut down.
Their toys were taken from them.
Movies were forbidden.
Television was forbidden.
Radio was forbidden, except for a station that continuously taught from the Qur’an.
Games were forbidden.
Kite flying was forbidden.
Concerts were forbidden.
Playing music in public was forbidden.
New Year’s celebrations were forbidden.
Christmas decorations were forbidden.
Christianity was most certainly forbidden.
Museums were closed.
Zoos were closed.
Dissenters were jailed.
Others were murdered.
Apostates were executed.
Afghanistan, 2008 (Photo: All Arab News)
“If you ever wanted to see Satan operating in the open, Afghanistan was it,” said a friend of mine who used to travel to Kabul frequently before 9/11. “The Taliban was true evil, unmasked, unrestricted. I have never seen anything like it.”
It was into this radical “paradise” that Mullah Omar invited Osama bin Laden.
Omar extended an invitation for the al Qaeda leader and his terror network to come back to Afghanistan after a season in Sudan, set up their training camps in the Hindu Kush Mountains, and enjoy a sanctuary far from the Americans, the British and the Israelis, who were beginning to understand the threat they posed to the West.
Bin Laden gladly accepted the offer. Sure, he would rather have overthrown the Saudi royal family, seized control of the Arabian Peninsula and set up “the base” in Mecca or Medina. But the icon of Sunni jihadists considered Afghanistan holy ground, and a second home. And it was there that he and his colleagues began plotting the 9/11 attacks and trying to purchase weapons of mass destruction.
Once again, all seemed lost for the Afghan people.
Yes, the vast majority were proud, traditional Muslims.
Yes, most believed the Qur’an taught them to wage jihad in defense of their country, and they had done so to repel the Soviets.
Yes, they had been grateful for outside help from America and Saudi Arabia alike.
But they had not signed up for this. They were not ethnically Arabs. They were not theologically Wahhabis. They were not politically Fascists. And yet now, suddenly, after all their sacrifice and suffering, here they were, slaves of the Salafists.
Their children were being recruited for jihad or forced to do unspeakable things in the name of Allah. Hope was fading quickly. Depression was rising. Drug use was rampant. The country was becoming the world’s No. 1 source for opium and heroin, and there seemed no way out.
Then came 9/11.
The West was suddenly awakened from its slumber. It suddenly remembered Afghanistan. It suddenly had to. The liberation of that ancient country began.
But now it is over. The world is abandoning the people of Afghanistan. Evil is on the move. Darkness is descending.
Yet God remains sovereign.
He loves His children in Afghanistan, those who have given up everything to follow Jesus Christ.
We must, too.