The Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been called the largest Muslim tribal society in the world. There are at least 30 major tribes, and countless sub-tribes and clans. Spread over a vast geographical area and riven by socio-economic, political, tribal and linguistic (dialectical) differences, Pashtuns nevertheless share a unique sense of common identity. Pashtun identity is based on four elements: Heritage (descent from a common ancestor); Islam (99.9% Muslim); the Pashtunwali Code of Honor ("The Way of the Pashtun"); and to some extent, Language (Pakhtu or Pashto). They live primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though there is a significant Pashtun diaspora in the Arab Gulf and many Western countries.
There have been efforts to reach the Pashtun since 1818, when William Carey translated parts of the Old Testament into Pakhto, based on interaction with Pashtun traders who caravanned (and settled) across north India and beyond. (In South Asia, the name "Pashtun/Pakhtun" was anglicized to "Pathan"—a name immortalized in Rudyard Kipling's novels and British colonial history. Today, the Pashtun in India, Bangladesh, and throughout South Asia are known as "Pathan".)
The first intentional mission to the Pashtun was launched by the Church Missionary Society in Peshawar, Pakistan (then Northwest India) in 1853. This was followed by over 150 years of faithful witness, through mission hospitals, schools, colleges, literature, friendship evangelism, and other forms of witness by national Pakistani (Punjabi) Christians and expatriate missionaries. Despite this record, and the slow but growing number of scattered Pashtun believers, a vibrant, indigenous, Disciple Making Movement has yet to take root and spread. This is true no matter where they live.
The majority of Pashtun live in Pakistan. They are concentrated mainly in the northern and western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The Durand Line (the border established under British colonial rule) divides traditional Pashtun homelands in Afghanistan and present-day Pakistan. However, due to tribal, linguistic, social and economic ties, the border is porous, and volatile—fertile ground for the drug trade, smuggling, and cross-border militancy. Armed opposition continues. Instability, endemic corruption, and on-going violence have led to widespread disillusionment—and the migration of tens of thousands of Afghans (mainly young men) seeking jobs and opportunity in Europe and the West. Some are in Bangladesh.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Bangladesh and Afghanistan governments have sometimes helped refugees from the other country. Pashtuns in Bangladesh must deal with a different language and culture. But they share the same Muslim beliefs and attend the same mosques.
What Are Their Beliefs?
No matter where they live, including Bangladesh, Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims. Blended in with their Islamic religion is Pashtunwali, their code of honor. Pashtuns highly value hospitality and a form of manliness that easily leads to violent conflicts.
What Are Their Needs?
Pashtun people need job opportunities. Often the best and the brightest manage to leave Afghanistan for countries with better economic prospects. The younger generation is caught between parents who hold to Pashtun ways and their peers at school who live in a different world.
Pray for the production and distribution of all forms of media in the Pashto language, including literature, videos, music, movies, radio, websites and social media.
Pray for Bible translations to produce good fruit, and opportunities for people to respond to the Lord of lords.
Pray for loving workers to serve among the Pashtun people—in education, business, healthcare, development, and other professional areas.
Believers. No one knows how many Pashtuns are following Jesus. Seeds of the gospel have been sown widely. The greatest barriers to faith are social and cultural. Pray for God's Spirit to strengthen and protect new believers and to empower their lives and witness.
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