We praise God that, at time of writing, we seem close to finding a safe and free country which will allow our persecuted Afghan brothers and sisters to settle and rebuild their shattered lives. Please pray for the success of our efforts.
Christians in Afghanistan – first-generation converts and their children – were forced to flee or compelled to hide as the Taliban swiftly overran the country in the weeks leading up to a planned withdrawal of US and other NATO forces. Taliban fighters took control of the capital city Kabul on Sunday 15 August.
As early as July the Taliban announced that under their Islamist rule Christians must re-convert to Islam, leave the country, or be killed. Afghanistan – already a very dangerous place to be a Christian – had become a country where each believer must immediately choose between their faith and their life.
As well as working tirelessly to find refuge across the world for Afghan Christians, Barnabas Fund has been able to support the living costs of those still in neighbouring countries, as well as those hiding within Afghanistan itself.
Christianity extinguished in a land of Islamist extremism
It is believed that there was first a Christian presence in Afghanistan in the second century, but the Church there was extinguished by the rise of Islam. The only known church building of the last several decades was demolished by Afghan soldiers in 1973; the congregation continued to meet elsewhere until 2010, but their fate is from that point unknown. A chapel exists at the Italian embassy in Kabul – but Italy now plans to move the embassy to Qatar.
The Taliban emerged out of the chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. The mujahideen (jihadi fighters) were the heart of the anti-Soviet resistance, strengthened by arms and cash funnelled through Pakistan by Saudi Arabia and the United States. It was a mujahideen commander, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who formed the Taliban, which, with the capture of Kabul in 1996, sealed their control of Afghanistan itself.
The capture of Kabul in August 2021 presages a return to the strict enforcement of sharia (Islamic law) which characterised Taliban rule from 1996 until the US-led invasion of 2001. The Taliban confirmed that this was their intention in the months before taking control again in 2021, and when a new government was announced on 7 September, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada – as far as is known the Taliban’s leader – declared that “in the future, all matters of governance and life in Afghanistan will be regulated by the laws of the holy sharia”.
“Islam stands alone among world religions in officially prescribing a range of severe punishments for any of its adherents who choose to leave their faith – punishments that include the death sentence.” *
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
The promise of death for all converts from Islam
Sharia law demands death for apostates from Islam. In Freedom to Believe: Challenging Islam's Apostasy Law Barnabas Fund’s International Director Dr Patrick Sookhdeo explains, “Islam stands alone among world religions in officially prescribing a range of severe punishments for any of its adherents who choose to leave their faith – punishments that include the death sentence.” *
The four schools of law in Sunni Islam – the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali – and the main Shia school – Jafari – all prescribe death for apostasy.
Dr Sookhdeo explains, “Although the Hanafi school of sharia, which predominates in Afghanistan, specifies death only for adult sane male apostates from Islam (with imprisonment for adult sane female apostates), the Taliban’s track record of an ultra-strict interpretation of sharia means it is very likely they will kill all apostates, both men and women, and probably their children too.”
Western forces in Afghanistan, including the US and the UK, recognised that the death penalty for apostasy is fully compliant with sharia. When NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) wanted in 2010 to prove the sharia credentials of the then Afghan government, they initiated the issuing of a fatwa calling for the killing of those who leave Islam.
Christians struggling to find a place of safety
It was certain therefore that Christians who remained in Afghanistan would be killed for their faith in Christ unless they could escape. But escape was not easy.
As Taliban fighters closed in, Kabul airport remained under the control of US forces. In order to be considered for evacuation, Christians were required to submit their names, contact details and the reason for their vulnerability to the US authorities – a terrifying prospect when publicly identifying oneself as a Christian could lead to execution or extra-judicial murder and, ultimately, there was no guarantee that an application for evacuation would be accepted.
Thankfully, some Christian families were able to escape the country overland. Barnabas Fund has been channelling your generous donations to support the living costs of these believers who have been forced to leave everything behind.
Yet the Muslim-majority countries surrounding Afghanistan are not themselves very safe for followers of Christ. This is why Barnabas Fund, through our Operation Safe Havens, has worked tirelessly to find a safe and permanent place for our persecuted brothers and sisters who have fled over the borders to wherever they could find.
We trust that by the time you are reading this, the government of a safe country will have agreed to allow the first few hundred Afghan Christians to settle in its territory.
Nevertheless, more Christians will be trying to escape from Afghanistan. The UK – despite its deplorable role in the 2010 apostasy fatwa which called, in effect, for the murder of Afghan Christians – has, at time of writing, given no indication that Christians fleeing certain death at the hands of the Taliban would be welcome there. Neither have any other Western countries.
More work to do for our suffering family
As well as those who have fled into neighbouring countries, Barnabas Fund is in direct contact with several hundred Christians – men, women and children – who remain in Afghanistan. Working in much secrecy and danger, our Afghan Christian project partners have channelled your donations in order to support the living costs of believers who are internally displaced and trying to evade capture by the Taliban.
Whether they remain in Afghanistan, settle in a neighbouring country or seek security elsewhere in the world, Afghan Christians still need your help.
You can join our letter-writing campaign asking the government to allow Afghan Christians to settle here in the UK (www.barnabasfund.org/resources). Please consider donating to support Afghan Christians wherever they are – £150 ($200; €175) could provide one month’s food and accommodation for an Afghan family on the move within the country, cut off from their normal means of support; £50 ($70; €60) provides food, rent and utilities for a week for a family newly arrived in a neighbouring country.
As always, please bring our brothers and sisters before the throne of grace, where all those who belong to Christ may find help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Project reference: 01-901 Needy and persecuted Afghan Christians
* To purchase, visit www.barnabasfund.org/resources/books