Sparks Surge of Interest in Christianity Among Afghans
By Patrick Goodenough
(Editor's note: Updates the website information in the eighth
(CNSNews.com) - An Afghan Christian leader in the U.S. has welcomed
reports that criminal charges may be dropped against an Afghan convert who
was threatened with execution for refusing to return to Islam. The case
has prompted strong international condemnation.
Hussain Andaryas said the publicity surrounding the Abdul Rahman case had
resulted in a surge of interest in Christianity among Afghans, strong
concern for the plight of Afghanistan's underground Christians -- and an
antagonistic response from Muslims.
On Sunday, Afghan officials were quoted as saying that Rahman would likely
be released soon while the case against him was examined further. Reports
said variously that this was due to a lack of evidence, or because of
doubts about the convert's sanity.
In a telephone interview early Monday, Andaryas said he understood from
well-placed sources inside Afghanistan that Rahman does struggle with
depression, but he was not insane.
Of the possibility that Kabul may declare him mentally unfit to stand
trial, he said that was simply "a matter of politics" and a
convenient way to "get rid of the shame."
Andaryas runs a collection of Christian websites in Afghanistan's
Dari-Persian tongue as well as daily radio programs and a weekly
He is in daily contact with individuals in his homeland, and has been
reporting for several years about the risks faced by Afghan Christians --
all converts from Islam and thus considered apostates worthy of death,
according to Islamic law (shari'a).
He said one of the websites, which carries news on Afghan Christians,
typically drew about 300 unique visitors every month, but since the Rahman
story emerged it had attracted half a million visitors.
The number of emails received also has risen enormously, and 13 people are
now tasked with responding to them.
The majority of emails are negative and many are abusive, coming from
Muslims who felt that Rahman and other apostates -- including Andaryas
himself -- should be severely punished.
But there also are many messages of support, he said.
And then there are emails coming from Afghans wanting to know more about
Christianity, asking where they can get a Bible in the Dari or Pashto
language, or sharing the news that they had become believers in Jesus
Among the most stirring messages are those from Afghan Muslims marveling
about a faith for which a man was willing to die and wanting to study the
"I strongly believe God is using this situation for His glory,"
Andaryas said. "One man's bold step has shaken the world."
Andaryas estimated there are up to 10,000 Christians in Afghanistan. He
based that figure on the 6,000 messages sent to his ministry since it
began in 1996, all from individuals inside Afghanistan who identified
themselves as believing Christians.
Even if some of those messages were not genuine, he said, the number would
be more than evened out by Christians living in remote areas without
access to computers; and those who are too scared to risk their safety by
In recent days a number of news reports have quoted Afghan clerics,
government officials and some ordinary citizens as saying the convert,
Abdul Rahman, should die.
President Hamid Karzai has been described as being caught between Western
pressure and hardliners at home demanding that the shari'a-required
punishment be meted out.
Andaryas acknowledged that the international uproar over the Rahman case
may make life more precarious for other believers in Afghanistan.
But the situation was dangerous already, he stressed, citing cases in
recent years where converts had been killed by Islamic zealots -- usually
Taliban adherents -- including in Kabul itself.
Christians were aware of the perils, and were careful not to take
Andaryas recalled instances like the one in which a father and two sons
all became Christians independently of each other, but were so careful
about keeping their new faith secret that more than a year passed before
each became aware of the others' conversion.
Devout Muslims, he said, take their guidance not only from the Koran but
also from the traditional collections of sayings and doings of Mohammed,
known as the Hadith.
"In the Hadith, which are the words of Mohammed himself, it has been
said multiple times that a man who leaves Islam must be put to death.
Muslims take this seriously. The Western media -- there is a big blinder
before their eyes, they don't understand that."
Andaryas' own journey took him from Afghanistan to Iran, where he said he
was caught communicating with a local Christian and arrested. In
detention, he was cut with a knife and beaten with a rod bearing the words
"confession or death" in Farsi.
"The three days and nights of torture in Iran brought me to
understand that God cannot be like that, that God does not need protection
for His religion, His way," he wrote later.
He later managed to leave Iran and eventually found his way to the U.S. by
way of Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan and India.