An Afghan woman who fled the country has said that she is “free now” to worship, as she celebrates her first Easter in the UK.
Pari moved to the UK a few months ago, following the Taliban taking control of the country in August 2021, to join her husband, Ghul Zaman, who has lived in the UK for several years.
The couple’s names have been changed to protect their identity.
Her husband is Christian and whilst she does not identify as being religious currently, she hopes to learn more about Christianity.
She told the PA news agency via a translator: “I don’t understand a lot at the moment because I don’t know a lot about Christianity, but I want to understand more because when I was in Afghanistan, I wasn’t able to learn a lot about Christianity.
“I’m free now to learn more and to study and I want to find out more about how to worship, so that I can worship myself.”
The couple hope to attend a mass at their church to mark the occasion, since masses were postponed for two years due to coronavirus.
However, the reality for Christians in Afghanistan is far more bleak.
Christian charity Open Doors created The World Watch List 30 years ago, which ranks countries in terms of where it is most unsafe for Christians to live.
Primary data is collected using questionnaires sent to the charity’s frontline partners, which is compared to secondary data including media research, and this data is collated together by the International Institute for Religious Freedom to give countries a score out of 100.
As of 2022, Afghanistan was ranked number one, with a score of 98.
“Afghanistan was already number two, so things were already very difficult for Christians in Afghanistan,” Henrietta Blyth, the CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said.
“I think one of the things that’s most heartbreaking is when somebody comes to faith in Jesus, it’s impossible for them to tell the people they love. So parents can’t tell children, wives can’t tell husbands.
“If Christian men are discovered, they’re likely to be murdered and probably tortured beforehand… women and girls are being given to Taliban fighters as spoils of war… and the Christians have to behave as if they’re Muslims.”
Ghul Zaman was made aware of the harsh consequence Afghan Christians face when his father was killed for being Christian.
“On that day he was killed by someone, our family was finished.
“If someone is Christian (in Afghanistan), then what happened to my dad is happening to them as well.”
Ghul Zaman found solace in Christianity when he came to the UK, after listening to a priest.
“My heart was touched by God. I felt good when I received the prayer from the church leader. My belief was every day getting better and I got baptised… The church was my new life, new family,” he said.
“Being in Afghanistan… I cannot celebrate if I am in danger because safety is more important than everything.
“The Taliban does not recognise the Christianity religion in Afghanistan. There is no church, there is no Christianity leader to help people learn and teach, speak or celebrate.”
Despite Afghanistan being one of the least safe places for Christians, Ms Blyth said that in May 2020, some Afghans made the “courageous” decision to put non-Muslim on their identity cards, but the Taliban are now actively hunting these people.
“What’s extraordinary is people remain faithful to Jesus… and what faith in Jesus gives them – the hope, the freedom – is more important to them than the opposition and danger that they face,” she said.
“I think that’s really shocking for the persecutors.
“The whole Easter story is just so profound in terms of the hope it brings Christians who have been persecuted because we know our Lord went through it first.”
Andy Smith, 55, the pastor at X1 Church in Watford, said the reason refugees may be drawn to Christianity is because “the Christian church looks to welcome the stranger”.
He added: “The thing that’s attracted certainly a lot of the Afghans we’ve spoken to towards the people of the Christian church is that we always seem to be speaking of hope.”
The church helped Afghan refugees from September 2021, with the help of charity Welcome Churches, who put them in touch with refugees in hotels, with the X1 Church having supported around 600 refugees, through organising sports and crafts sessions, and providing essential items.
Mr Smith added that whilst the Afghans he works with are Muslim, they have expressed an interest in learning more about Christianity and plan on attending an event on international missions organised by the X1 Church in three weeks.