Afghanistan’s People, Relligions and Languages

Afghanistan’s People, Relligions and Languages

The large landlocked region in the north of Southwest Asia, today known as Afghanistan, has been a crossroad for centuries and the victim of war and changing political control. This has contributed to varied and diverse cultural groups, languages and religions through history.

While no census has been compiled in Afghanistan, the CIA World Factbook lists the following approximation of the leading population in terms of cultural groups:

  • 42% Pashtun
  • 27% Tajik
  • 9% Hazara
  • 9% Uzbek
  • 4% Aimak
  • 3% Turkmen
  • 2% Baloch
  • 4% Other

The term “Afghan” is the correct term used to describe the people and culture of Afghanistan. Their official currency is known as the “Afghani.”

The word “afghan” was first found in the work of al-Biruni in the 10th century. It generally referred to the tribes living west of the Indus mountains. Afghan may actually be a synonym for Pashtun from ancient times.

Languages of Afghanistan

Afghans are speakers of Indo-European languages related to Persian, and a minority are speakers of Turkic languages.

Afghan Persian is actually the language known as Dari. It is a close relation to the Persian spoken in Iran. Many of the speakers of the language are not native speakers, but it is a second language, or lingua franca, for official communication purposes. There is much bilingualism in the country.

The CIA World Factbook lists the following most used languages in Afghanistan as:

  • Afghan Persian or Dari (official language) 50%
  • Pashto (official language) 35%
  • Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%
  • 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%

Religions of Afghanistan

Today the major religions of Afghanistan are sects of Islam, with 80% of the population being Sunni Muslim and 19% being Shia Muslim. Historically, however, there was much diversity in followers of various religions in Afghanistan including populations of Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Hindus.

Buddhism was brought to southern Afghanistan from India chiefly by the Mauryans, and in the 1st century C.E. the Kashans became patrons of the Buddhist culture in Afghanistan. The two great Buddha statues of Bamyan of the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan were created in the 6th century.

Zoroastrianism is believed by some to have originated in Afghanistan as Zoroaster is thought to have lived and died in Balkh.

The Nuristanis, up until the 1890s, practiced animism, polytheism and shamanism and as such, Nuristan was also known as Kafiristan, or the land of the unbelievers or infidels.

Until the late 1980s there were large communities of Hindus and Sikhs living in Kabul and other cities of Afghanistan.


  • CIA. The World Factbook. Afghanistan. Accessed 31 2010.
  • Encyclopaedia Iranica. Afghanistan. Accessed 31 2010.

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