Although there were no reported prosecutions for apostasy or blasphemy, individuals who converted from Islam stated they feared repercussions, and Christians said they avoided situations where they might appear to the government to be proselytizing due to fear of reprisal. Hindus and Sikhs continued to encounter problems in cremating their dead, despite police protection for their rituals. Both groups continued to express fear of retaliation if they availed themselves of legal protection in disputes with neighbors. According to representatives of minority religions, the courts did not accord non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims and often subjected non-Muslims to Hanafi Sunni jurisprudence. Members of the Bahai faith said they suffered from legal discrimination and restrictions on their rituals. Shia Muslims, although holding some major positions in the government, said the number of positions did not reflect their demographics and complained the government neglected security in majority-Shia areas. The government conducted an effort to register madrassahs throughout the country and provided them with a standardized religious curriculum.
Individuals who converted from Islam said they continued to risk annulment of their marriages, rejection by their families and communities, loss of employment, and possibly the death penalty for doing so.
There were no reports of prosecutions for blasphemy or apostasy during the year, including of Bahais who, although labeled infidels, were not converts and as such not charged with either crime. One individual convicted of blasphemy in 2013 remained in prison serving a 20-year sentence.
Hindu and Sikh sources said the law did not hinder their communities from building places of worship, nor did the law restrict clergy from training other Hindus and Sikhs to become clergy. They could not, however, propagate their faith. Christians said they continued to avoid situations where the government might perceive them as seeking to spread their religion to the larger community out of fear of government reprisal.
The Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MOHRA) remained the primary government agency handling religious affairs. Its responsibilities continued to include managing pilgrimages (Hajj and Umrah), revenue collection for religious activities, acquisition of property for religious purposes, issuance of fatwas, educational testing of imams, sermon preparation and distribution for government-supported mosques, and raising public awareness of religious issues. The government continued to permit both Sunnis and Shia to go on pilgrimages, with no quota on either group.
As of the end of the year, MOHRA estimated between 4,800 and 5,000 mullahs were registered with and worked directly for MOHRA, receiving an average monthly salary of 4,700 afghanis ($69). While MOHRA said the ministry did not have the financial resources to create a comprehensive registry of mullahs and mosques in the country, MOHRA estimated that there were approximately 150,000 to160,000 mosques. Approximately 50,000 mosques had been registered in a database over several years with the financial and technical assistance of an NGO. MOHRA also estimated there were approximately 300,000 mullahs in Afghanistan. The minimum educational requirement for mullahs who applied to be prayer leaders in MOHRA-registered mosques remained a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, verified by the Ministry of Education (MOE).
While MOHRA continued to maintain a division of engineers to design new mosques and allocated a portion of its budget to help support the construction of new mosques, local groups paid the largest portion of the costs for new mosques and were not required to inform the ministry about the new construction unless they wished to request financial or other assistance.
As in past years, Hindus and Sikhs stated individuals who lived near cremation sites continued to interfere in their efforts to cremate the remains of their dead in accordance with their customs. Although the government had previously provided land for this purpose, Sikhs continued to express concern over the distance of the land from any major urban area and the lack of security in the region, which rendered the land unusable in their view. The government continued to provide police support to protect the Sikh and Hindu communities while they performed their cremation rituals. Members of the Bahai faith said they continued to face challenges and discrimination when attempting to tend to their dead in accordance with their customs.
Sikh and Hindu sources reported members of their communities continued to express concern over land disputes and said they often chose not to pursue restitution through the courts for fear of retaliation, particularly when powerful local leaders occupied their property. A Sikh leader reported the community had not been able to use land set aside by the government for burials and housing due to what he said were threats from local residents. The residents argued the land was private property and the government did not have the authority to give the land to the Sikhs. He said the residents were using the land as a dump.
Following an MOE effort to register madrassahs during the year, MOHRA reported there were 3,224 registered madrassahs and “Quran learning centers” throughout the country. The madrassahs served approximately 340,000 students mostly in Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar, and Herat provinces. The registration process required a school to have suitable buildings, classrooms, accredited teachers, and dorms if students lived on campus. Registration did not permit the government to control a madrassah, but qualified the madrassah’s diplomas and certificates for government recognition. Only certificates issued by registered madrassahs allowed students to pursue higher education at government universities. MOHRA did not offer data on the number of unregistered madrassahs, but estimated registered madrassahs “far outnumbered” unregistered madrassahs following the registration effort. The MOE had the authority to close unregistered madrassahs. MOHRA did not operate primary-level madrassahs. Mosques provided primary-level religious studies instead. MOHRA also ran 70 madrassahs which bestowed a two-year degree, including four higher-level madrassahs for female students only.
The MOE continued to require registered madrassahs to route private or international donations through the MOE or risk an MOE ban, although the MOE rarely imposed this penalty. According to government authorities, this system of channeling funds through the MOE allowed the government to monitor financial assistance to institutes of learning. The government also continued efforts to solicit donations from other Muslim countries and from private individuals to support madrassahs. The MOE required independent madrassahs to be accredited and disclose their funding sources.
The MOE, through its Department of Islamic Education, continued to provide registered madrassahs with a standardized curriculum. Madrassahs are required to have 60 percent religious instruction and 40 percent general instruction. Government-affiliated and funded madrassahs offered Islamic and secular education in accordance with the MOE curriculum.
There was one government-sponsored school for Sikh children, located in Kabul. The government previously had shut down the schools in Helmand and Ghazni provinces after enrollment declined. The government provided the same proportionate funding to cover staff salaries, books, and maintenance as it did for other schools. The MOE provided the curriculum for the Sikh school, except for religious studies. The community appointed a teacher for religious studies, and the MOE paid the teacher’s salary.
There was also a privately-funded Sikh school in Jalalabad supported by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, a Swedish NGO. A few Sikh children also attended private international schools. There also was a Sikh university student studying medicine at Kabul University. Hindus did not have separate schools but sometimes sent their children to Sikh schools. There were no Christian schools.
According to minority religious groups, courts continued to rely on Hanafi interpretations of Islamic law even in cases where such law conflicted with the country’s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons. For example, an advisor at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and the Disabled said the Supreme Court’s denial of an internship (judicial course) to a student with a physical disability was reportedly based on the court’s interpretation of Islam’s stipulation judges had to be of sound mind and body. In July the media reported some parliament members, as well as some religious leaders, objected to President Ghani’s nomination of a female Supreme Court justice. They claimed it was “anti-Islamic” for a woman to hold a position on the court. Due to the objections, parliament did not confirm her nomination.
Senior members of the Ulema Council, a group of influential Sunni and Shia scholars, imams, and Muslim jurists from across the country, continued to meet with the president and to advise him on Islamic legal issues. Through contacts with the presidential administration, the parliament, and ministries, the Ulema Council advised on the formulation of new legislation and the implementation of existing law. During the year, the council released statements supporting the “Islamic legitimacy” of the state. Although the council is officially independent of the government, its members received financial support from the state. The council also advised some provincial governments, although in villages and rural areas scholars, NGO representatives and government officials agreed decisions usually were based on local interpretations of Islamic law and tradition.
According to representatives of minority religions, the courts did not always accord non-Muslims the same rights as Muslims. They said the state, including the courts, traditionally acted as if all citizens were Muslims, and some basic citizenship rights of non-Muslims were not codified. As a result, they said, non-Muslims might be tried according to Hanafi jurisprudence.
Although Sikhs and Hindus had recourse to dispute resolution mechanisms such as a Special Land and Property Court, members of the two communities stated they felt unprotected by these mechanisms. They stated their community members generally did not take civil cases to court; rather, they preferred to settle disputes within their communities.
Members of the Bahai community stated there continued to be legal discrimination against them, particularly on the question of marriages between Bahai women and Muslim men.
Although Shia held senior positions in government and the law placed no restrictions on their participation in public life, some Shia stated the government neglected security in majority-Shia areas. They also stated appointments to government administrative bodies did not adequately reflect the demographics of the country.
A small number of Sikhs and Hindus continued to serve in government positions, including one at the municipal level, one at the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and one as a presidentially appointed member of the upper house of parliament.
Although four Ismailis continued to serve as members of parliament, there continued to be complaints from members of the Ismaili community about what they called the exclusion of Ismailis from positions of political authority.
The government continued to support judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions composed of members of different Islamic religious (Sunni and Shia) groups as part of an effort aimed at Muslim intrafaith reconciliation. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and MOHRA continued to work together for the stated goal of giving women the opportunity to attend mosques. The government-funded Moderation Center of Afghanistan continued to operate, focusing on intrafaith communication and promoting what the government viewed as a moderate interpretation of Islam. The center continued educational exchanges to send Shia and Sunni clerics to Kuwait for training and then appointed them as teachers in various provinces to train other clerics.