A friend asked if Afghanistan was Hindu and/or Buddhist before it was Muslim. Well, ‘yes’ would be a safe answer, but two other faiths which were prevalent in Afghanistan before Islam were Zoroastrianism and Christianity.
- Zoroastrians believe there is one God called Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and He created the world.
- Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, as some Westerners wrongly believe. Zoroastrians believe that the elements are pure and that fire represents God’s light or wisdom.
- Ahura Mazda revealed the truth through the Prophet, Zoroaster.
- Zoroastrians traditionally pray several times a day.
- Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple orAgiary.
- The Zoroastrian book of Holy Scriptures is called The Avesta.
- The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:
- The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.
- The Younger Avesta – commentaries to the older Avestan written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.
Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. And for those wondering how Christianity reached the Indian peninsula…
Legend based on the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and other ancient documents suggests that Saint Thomas preached in Bactria, which is today northern Afghanistan. An early third-century Syriac work known as the Acts of Thomas connects the apostle’s ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. According to the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and compelled him to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes (or Habban), to his native place in northwest India. There, Thomas found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian (Southern Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India) King, Gondophares. The Apostle’s ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.
Bardaisan, writing in about 196, speaks of Christians throughout Media, Parthia and Bactria and, according to Tertullian (c.160–230), there were already a number of bishoprics within the Persian Empire by 220. By the time of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (AD 226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity.
All of the Afghani faiths resisted conversion to Islam for centuries after the seventh century rise, with varying degrees of success. (In the 15th century, the Church of the East was eradicated in the area by Muslim Mongols; Buddhists held on until the 19th century.) But, eventually, Islam won the battle. The war, of course, continues.
Looking into these things resembled peeling back a huge onion. Therefore, I’m posting this to give myself preliminary markers to investigate as much as to answer my friend’s question. Feel free to offer corrections and insights.
Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel, tentatively titled, Arlen’s Harem, will be done in 2016. Follow her on Twitter.
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