Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country; about three fourths of the Muslims are Sunnis (largely Sufis) and the rest Shiites. Pakistan is an Islamic republic but the country’s constitution guarantees equal rights to Muslims and non Muslims although often this does not seem to be the reality in practice.

Pakistan was essentially created as a Muslim homeland and Islam is the state and official religion. Many of the Sunni Muslims are Sufis. Sufi traditions of love, peace, progress, perfection and support of the poor have strongly influenced Islam in Pakistan. Islam arrived in Sindh in the eighth century. From what is now Pakistan the Sufi grew and spread over the Indian sub-continent.

Christian make up about 2 percent of the population;Hindus about 1 percent. Very small religious minorities include Parsis, Ahmedis (Mirzais), Kalash, Sikhs, Bah'a'i, Buddhists and Jews. The largest Christian group belongs to the Church of Pakistan, an umbrella Protestant organization. Roman Catholics are the next largest group of Christians. There are around 2,000 Hindu temples and shrines, mostly in Sindh and Balochistan. The Kalash in Chitral, maintain indigenous, shamanistic beliefs. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

While most Muslims are of the Sunni and Shia sects, there are several religions with connections to Islam. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims but many other Muslims don’t regard them as such. They do not accept Muhammad as the last prophet and were officially declared non-Muslims by the government in 1974. Zikris form another group that regard themselves Muslim but are rejected by Sunni leaders because they practice ceremonies that are considered non-Muslim. An offshoot Shia sect, the Ismailis, led by Prince Karim Aga Khan, are prominent in some northern areas. There are also some in the Karachi area. Shia-Sunni tensions have increased in recent years and there have been some violent incidents.

Non-Muslim Minorities

Non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan include Christians, Sikh, Parsis (Zoroastrians) and Kalash. The most visible groups of non-Muslim minorities are Hindus and Christians. Hindus are found largely in the interior of Sindh and in the vicinity of Quetta in Balochistan. Christians, representing almost all West European dominations, are found throughout the country; many are engaged in menial work. Other minorities include Zoroastrians (also called Parsis), largely concentrated in Karachi, and members of groups relatively recently designated as non-Muslim, notably the Ahmadiyyas. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The various religious minority groups have secured separate representation in national and provincial assemblies but still have limited influence on national policy. They finally united around a common issue in October 1992 when the government of Nawaz Sharif decreed that religious affiliation would be indicated on identity cards. These cards were needed for a range of activities, including attending school, opening a bank account, registering to vote, casting a vote, and obtaining a passport. Members of minority groups organized demonstrations to protest this discrimination, which they argued would demote them to the ranks of second-class citizens. They argued that safeguards existed for them both within Islamic law and in the promises that had been made to them in 1947. The government soon rescinded the decree. *

There have been various threats to minorities from different sources that have roots in Islamization efforts in the 1970s and 80s and have been exacerbated as the Sunni extremist Taliban and al-Qaida movements. A new government commission for minorities was set up in 2020. A Hindu was nominated as chairman of the commission which also has representatives of the Christian, Sikh, Zoroastrian and Kalash communities. Government officials and the head of the Council of Islamic Ideology are also members. commission for minorities. [Source: Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam, Reuters, May 7, 2020]

Religious Number in Pakistan

Muslims make up 96.4 percent of the population. Of these 85-90 percent are Sunni and 10-15 percent are Shia (Shiites). Others (including Christian and Hindu): 3.6 percent (2010 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2019: “Sources vary on the precise breakdown of the Muslim population between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sunnis are generally believed to be 80-85 percent of the Muslim population and Shia, including Hazara, Ismaili, and Bohra (a branch of Ismaili), are generally believed to make up 15-20 percent. Unofficial estimates vary widely with regard to the size of minority religious groups. Religious community representatives estimate religious groups not identifying as Sunni, Shia, or Ahmadi Muslim constitute 3 to 5 percent of the population. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2019, United States Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom]

“According to the 2017 provisional census results, the population is 1.6 percent Hindu, 1.59 percent Christian, 0.22 percent Ahmadi, and 0.32 percent others, to include Baha’is, Sikhs, and Parsis. Taking account of the Ahmadi boycott of the official census, however, community sources put the number of Ahmadi Muslims at approximately 500,000-600,000. Estimates of the Zikri Muslim community, located in Balochistan, range between 500,000 and 800,000 individuals. Several minority rights advocacy groups dispute the provisional results of the 2017 census and state the numbers underrepresent their true population.”

About 5,000 Parsis (believers in Zoroastrianism) live mainly in Karachi. Hindus, many of them nomads, live primarily in the South account for less than 1 percent. In Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Quetta there are small communities of Buddhists and there are a tiny group of animist Kalash living in Chitral on the Afghan border.

Pakistani Government and Religious Restrictions

Pakistan was founded to promote religious freedom, and the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. However, Islam is the state religion, and the constitution states that religious practice is “subject to law, public order, and morality.” The government also has Islamic institutions such as the Federal Shariat Court and the Council of Islamic Ideology, which advise politicians on the congruence of legislation with Islamic injunctions. It is debatable whether the government has established such institutions for religious or political reasons, but the government has promoted Islam as a means of unifying numerous ethnic groups. Nevertheless, political, economic, and religious differences have been manifested in occasionally violent conflicts between religious communities, particularly between Sunni and Shia militias. [Source: Library of Congress, February 2005 **]

Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Though Pakistan is a multiethnic and multilingual society, it has a long history of marginalizing minority groups. Shiite Muslims have been the target of radical Sunni Muslim groups for years.” In 2009, “in the central Punjab city of Gojra, a mob of 1,000 angry Muslims set more than 40 Christian homes ablaze, killing seven people.” [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010]

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”:“Though the constitution provides for religious freedom, the government has placed restrictions on a number of religious groups” and says “actions or speech contrary or derogatory to Islam are illegal. There have been many cases of trials, imprisonment, and even death sentences based on the violation of these "blasphemy laws." Religious minorities face a great deal of harassment and discrimination and have been the object of physical violence. The Ahmadis, as an unrecognized offshoot of Islam, face a particular level of discrimination. They are prohibited by law from referring to themselves as Muslims or posing as Muslims in anyway. They are also not allowed to hold public assemblies or conferences. The constitution states that the president and the prime minister must be Muslim and all other government officials swear an oath to uphold the Islamic ideology of the state.. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

According to the International Religious Freedom Report for 2019: “The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam. The constitution states, “Subject to law, public order, and morality, every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.” It also states, “A person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis), is a non-Muslim.” The courts continued to enforce blasphemy laws, punishment for which ranges from life in prison to execution for a range of charges, including “defiling the Prophet Muhammad.” According to civil society reports, there were at least 84 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 29 of whom had received death sentences, as compared with 77 and 28, respectively, in 2018. The government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy. According to data provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), police registered new blasphemy cases against at least 10 individuals. Christian advocacy organizations and media outlets stated that four Christians were tortured or mistreated by police in August and September, resulting in the death of one of them. [Source: International Religious Freedom Report for 2019, United States Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom]

“Minority religious leaders stated members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in public schools and tertiary education, which resulted in very few religious minority applicants competing and qualifying for private and civil service employment. Armed sectarian groups connected to organizations banned by the government as extremist, as well as groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, continued to stage attacks targeting Shia Muslims, including the predominantly Shia Hazara community. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), however, the number of sectarian attacks and killings by armed groups decreased compared with previous years, corresponding with a continued overall decline in terrorist attacks.”

Lack of Religious Diversity in Pakistan

Khurram Siddiqui wrote in the Express Tribune: “Pakistan ranks among the least religiously diverse countries in a religiously diverse Asian region according to the Religious Diversity Index published by the Pew Research Center. The 10-point index, which ranks each country by its level of religious diversity, is divided into four ranges, “very high”, “high”, “moderate”, and “low”. Pakistan ranked among the 136 “low diversity” countries, the largest range on the index indicating that most countries in the world are not religion diverse. [Source: Khurram Siddiqui, Express Tribune, Published: April 4, 2014]

The 12-nation top range of “very high” diversity countries comprised of six from Asia-Pacific – Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China, and Hong Kong – and five from sub-Saharan Africa – Mozambique, Benin, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo. Of the 232 countries in the study, Singapore with a population of more than 5 million had the highest score on the Religious Diversity Index. About a third of Singapore’s population is Buddhist (34 percent), while 18 percent are Christian, 16 percent are religiously unaffiliated, 14 percent are Muslim, 5 percent are Hindu and less than 1 percent are Jewish.

According to the data, Pakistan had the 23rd largest proportional Muslim population at 96.4 percent, smaller than immediate neighbours Afghanistan and Iran, but larger than Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. Pakistan had a Religious Diversity Index score of 0.8 ranking 185 out of 232 countries included in the study. It featured an overwhelming Muslim population of 96.4 percent. Hindus constituted largest religious minority with 1.9 percent of the population with Christians a close second comprising 1.6 percent of the population. Buddhists, Jews, and those belonging to ‘folk religions’ all comprised 0.1 percent of the population each.

Among Muslim majority nations, Pakistan ranked 26th in terms of religious diversity, with Malaysia topping the list and Morocco being the least diverse. Interestingly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are more diverse than Pakistan, and so are all Arabian Gulf countries, except Yemen. Turkey and immediate neighbours Afghanistan and Iran ranked lower than Pakistan in religious diversity.

The Pew Research Center, a research group that does empirical social science research, developed the Religious Diversity Index which looks at the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to eight major religious groups – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on the index.

Religious Intolerance in Pakistan

According to the Pakistan government: “Pakistan is important for many religions of the world. The Indus Valley gave rise to one of the first great civilizations. Mahayana Buddhism also developed here as did the Sikh religion under Guru Nanak. Pakistan was created in the Indus Valley specifically to provide the Muslims of South Asia with a state of their own, and there are very few countries where religion plays such an important role in the lives of people. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. ]

Pakistan is regarded by some as the most religiously conservative of all South Asian countries. While Muslim Two thirds of Muslim Pakistanis and Bangladeshis say religion in very important. Pakistanis have their religion listed on their passports. An effort to change the ruling in a drive towards secularism was defeated by Islamic party members. Perhaps the greatest victims of religious intolerance are the Ahmadis (also known as Ahmadiyya, Qadiani), a small but influential sect that maintains some Islamic beliefs but is considered heretical by orthodox Muslims and is not recognized as Muslim by Pakistani law. Its members have have been attacked and killed as have Christians and Shias.

Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws have been used against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006] Although Pakistan is an ethnically and religiously diverse country, legislation gives absolute preeminence to Sunni Islam. Zia ul-Haq's Blasphemy Laws, enacted in 1979, stipulate death or life imprisonment for anyone who "by imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly" defiles the Quran or the name of the Prophet Muhammad or who commits any other act of blasphemy. Any statement or action by religious minorities that seems offensive to a Sunni male can be deemed blasphemous. The testimony of a single Sunni male is grounds for arrest and prosecution. Bail is denied for those held on blasphemy charges. Religious minorities and women are prohibited by law from instigating blasphemy cases. The vagueness of the charge leaves the law open to abuse and facilitates numerous false accusations. Pressure by religious extremists upon the judiciary practically ensures that plaintiffs will not receive a fair hearing. Often defendants are killed prior to court hearings. Reflecting the extreme atmosphere of religious intolerance and sectarian violence in Pakistan, those acquitted by the courts have been murdered by extremists or have been forced to flee the country. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Sikhs in Pakistan

There are few tens of thousands of Sikhs in Pakistan. There used to be a lot more. The Punjab — which is divided between India and Pakistan — is the traditional home of the Sikhs. Some Sikhs moved to what is now India from present-day Pakistan during the British period. Many were forced to move from Pakistan to India — and many were killed — during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. In 2017, Sikh faith was left off the census forms. Sikhs had to list themselves as members of “other” religions. According to the Los Angeles Times: “There has never been an accurate count of the Sikh population of Pakistan, which is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. There are about 20 million Sikhs in neighboring India.” In regard to the census issue, “it would mean “total disrespect to the community if their religion is not mentioned and they remain unrecognized in a land which means the most to them,” Sardar Ramesh Singh, leader of the Pakistan Sikh Council, told the daily Dawn newspaper. [Source: Aoun Sahi, Zulfiqar Ali, Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2017]

The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak (1469–1539), was born near Lahore. He took elements from Hinduism and Islam and combined them with new ideas. The Sikhs controlled an empire centered in Punjab, with Lahore as their temporal capital and nearby Amritsar (in India) as their religious capital. At partition, nearly all the Sikhs left in Pakistan migrated to India where they launched an insurgency in the 1980s — supported by Pakistan — demanding a separate Sikh state in the Indian part of Punjab. Sikh shrines in Pakistan are maintained by the government and are visited at festival times by Sikh pilgrims from India. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. ]

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: “Guru Nanak, a native of what is now Pakistani Punjab, founded Sikhism after receiving divine revelations. Some scholars consider Sikhism to be a syncretic religion, merging elements of Hinduism and Sufi Islam, although some practitioners consider it to belong to the Hindu religious tradition. Still others see it as a distinct religious tradition based on direct revelation from God. In Pakistan Sikhs live mainly in the Punjab province, but some Sikh communities are also found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province), whose members have ties with Sikhs across the border in Afghanistan. The Sikh community regularly holds ceremonial gatherings at sacred sites in the Punjab. The Panja Sahib Shrine in the town of Hasan Abdal near Rawalpindi is associated with a scared rock bearing the hand imprint of Guru Nanak. Sikh pilgrims from around the world come here during a mid-April holiday called Baisakhi. Unlike the Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadiyya, the Sikhs, who have been well organized and have had strong social support networks, have not been targets of religious hate crimes. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Buddhism in Pakistan

Pakistan has played an important role in the historical development of Buddhism, where the religion was kept alive between the period in which it was born and died out in India and the time it began to gain a following in China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Asia. Buddhism was brought to Pakistan in the third century B.C. by the Indian ruler Ashoka (See India). Buddhism endured for several centuries. Between the 3rd century B.C. and the A.D. early centuries the Gandhara in what is now Pakistan was a major center of Buddhist art.

From Gandhara Buddhism was carried along the Silk Road into China, Tibet and Central Asia. Buddhist engravings dating back to these period can be seen on rock faces along the Karakoram Highway. Buddhism took hold in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan where it remained strong until the A.D. 10th century.

The number Buddhists in modern Pakistan is not known. A few Pakistanis have described themselves as Buddhist. A report mentions that they are only found in the Azad Kashmir region.The Nurbakhshi sect is said to retain some elements of Buddhism. According to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) in 2012 there 1,492 Buddhists in Pakistan held national identity cards (CNICs). The 2017 census recorded 1,884 such holders . They are mostly concentrated in Sindh and Punjab. According to a report most of the Baori Buddhists don't have CNIC cards. In Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Quetta there are small communities of Buddhists The actual Buddhist population of Pakistan is believed by some exceed 16,000. account for less than 1 percent.. [Source: Wikipedia]

In Punjab, Buddhists live primarily in the outskirts of Mandi Yazman and Rahimyar Khan of Rohi region. Today they have around 15 colonies in various villages of Mandi Yazman.

History of Buddhism in Pakistan

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, the "Enlightened One" (ca. 563-483 B.C.), was born in the Ganges Valley. His teachings were spread in all directions by monks, missionaries, and merchants. The Buddha's teachings proved enormously popular when considered against the more obscure and highly complicated rituals and philosophy of Vedic Hinduism. The original doctrines of the Buddha also constituted a protest against the inequities of the caste system, attracting large numbers of followers.

Buddhism is a dharmic, non-theistic religion and philosophy. Eventually, South Asian Buddhism became virtually extinct, except in parts of Nepal. Buddhism is usually classified into the three traditions: 1) Theravada Buddhism, or Southeast Asian Buddhism, or Pali Buddhism, practiced mainly in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia; 2) Mahayana Buddhism, or Chinese Buddhism, practiced predominantly in China, Korea and Japan; and 3) Tibetan Buddhism, or Lamaism, practiced mainly in Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and parts of Nepal, India, China and Russia. [Source: Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. ]

Greco-Buddhism is a cultural syncretism between Hellenistic culture and Buddhism, which developed over a period of around 800 years in the area corresponding to modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, between the 4th century B.C. and the A.D. 5th century. Greco-Buddhism influenced the artistic and the conceptual development of Buddhism, and in particular Mahayana Buddhism, before it was adopted by Central and Northeastern Asia from the A.D. 1st century and ultimately spreading to China, Korea and Japan.

The interaction between Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism started when Alexander the Great conquered South in 326 BC, crossing the Indus and Jhelum rivers, and going as far as the Beas, thus establishing direct contact with India, the birthplace of Buddhism. Alexander founded several cities in his new territories in the areas of the Oxus and Bactria, and Greek settlements further extended to the Khyber Pass, Gandhara and the Punjab. These regions correspond to a unique geographical passageway between the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountains, through which most of the interaction between the South and Central Asia took place, generating significant cultural exchange and trade. The interaction of Greek and Buddhist cultures operated over several centuries until it ended in the 5th century CE with the invasions of the White Huns, and later the expansion of Islam.

Many of the world’s major museums have exhibited Gandhara Art. Ancient Gandhara was centered in the Peshawar Valley and is regarded as a cradle of Buddhist Civilizations and the source of famous Gandhara Art. Gandhara was mentioned in the Rigveda, and was part of the Persian Empire in the 6th century B.C.. Pushkalavati (Balahisar – Charsadda), was its capital from the 6th century B.C. to the A.D. 1st century AD. It was conquered in 327 B.C. by Alexander the Great and over the centuries ruled by Mauryans, Indo-Greeks, Scythians, Parthians and Kushans who established their capital at Pushpapura or Peshawar in A.D. 1st century. In A.D. 7th century, the Shahi Dynasty established the capital at Hund, which remained their capital until the invasions of Ghaznavids in 998 AD, thus ending the rule of Gandhara.

The sites and antiquities of Takht-e-Bahi, Sahri Bahlol, Jamal Garhi, Rani Gat, Aziz Dheri, Butkara, Saidu Stupa, Andan Dheri, Chat Pat, Dam Kot, Khanpur and the monasteries in the Taxila Valley provided the richest collection of Gandhara Art to the Peshawar, Taxila, Swat, Dir and Peshawar University museums through the excavations by British, Italian and Pakistani scholars.

Hindus in Pakistan

Hindus are the largest non-Muslim majority in Pakistan country but still make up a small percentage of the total population, According to the 2017 provisional census results Hindus make up about 1.6 percent of the population of Pakistan. If that figure is correct that would means there about 3.5 million of them (Pakistan has a population of about 220 million). Hindus are found mostly in the Sindh. Some are nomads There are around 2,000 Hindu temples and shrines, mostly in Sindh and Balochistan. Most Hindus live in Sindh Province.

Pakistan has played an important role in the historical development of Hinduism, which is named after the Indus river, which is mostly in Pakistan. Even though there are few Hindus left in Pakistan anymore the caste system endures. About 4 million Hindus left Pakistan during the partition in 1947.

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: “Most Pakistani Hindus live in Sindh, the southeastern province that borders India. Since the inception of Pakistan, the political and economical status of the Hindu population has been marginalized. Hindus celebrate the religious festivals of Diwali and Holi at the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. Having been subject to retaliation and outright attacks by Islamists, especially during periods of heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, Pakistani Hindus have attempted to maintain a low profile.” [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Hindus accounted for 15 percent of Pakistan's population at partition in 1947. Their numbers have dwindled as a result of emigration and forced and voluntary conversions.Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In the lead-up to partition, many Hindus in what became Pakistan relocated to Hindu-majority India and many Muslims in India moved to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. But significant numbers on both sides stayed put. In a bid to reassure Hindus, Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, said their rights would be respected, a promise that many feel has since been betrayed.” [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2011]

Pakistan Hindus have had problems scattering the cremation ashes of their loved ones in the Ganges. “Ideally, Hindus cremate their relatives' bodies and scatter them in the Ganges. Although many Pakistani Hindus chose to scatter their relatives' remains locally after partition, some families left their loved one's ashes at the cremation grounds hoping by some miracle they'd one day reach India, and join their parents' and grandparents' ashes in the sacred waters.”

Discrimination and Hatred Towards Hindus in Pakistan

Hindus in Pakistan endure a lot of hostility especially when tensions between India and Pakistan flare up. "I don't remember a time when Hindus and Muslims lived in peace," Nooruddin Bharucha, a shop owner in Karachi's Mithadar neighborhood, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's OK to do business with them. But they're blasphemers, and that's unacceptable to us." In 2020 Amnesty International called on Pakistani authorities to "protect the right to freedom of religion and belief for the country’s beleaguered Hindu community, including the construction of temples to exercise that right". [Source: Jibran Ahmed, Reuters, December 31, 2020]

Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In a country where Hindu-dominated India is widely reviled as Enemy No. 1, Pakistan's Hindu community endures extortion, disenfranchisement and other forms of discrimination. Pakistani authorities have periodically assigned police officers to Hindu temples as a precaution since the 1992 demolition of a mosque in Ayodhya, India, triggered unrest between Indian Hindus and Muslims.[Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2012]

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “As intolerance has spread, Hindus living in rural areas have become particularly vulnerable to land appropriation, extortion and having their daughters kidnapped and then being told that they ran away with a Muslim and willingly converted, said Ramesh Kumar, director of the Karachi-based Pakistan Hindu Council. Complaints to the police or courts are routinely ignored, community leaders said. "Because we're Hindus and a minority, they think we'll just take it," a Hindu in Karachi said. "And no one comes to our aid. We're increasingly vulnerable." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2011]

“Somewhat ironically, Pakistani Hindus who move to India find they're also discriminated against given their association with Pakistan. Maharaj Lukhmi Chand, 83, a Hindu priest, was recently kidnapped near Khuzdar in the western province of Balochistan and held by unknown captors for more than two weeks before his negotiated release. He's frustrated that even though he's been a victim of apparent religious extremism in Pakistan, he's viewed with suspicion by Indian Hindus. "We're treated as traitors in India," Chand said. "And our community here in Pakistan is over a million people. Not everyone has the resources to move."

“More to the point, many Hindus consider Pakistan their home despite all the problems and the increased attacks every time relations with India deteriorate. "My father and grandfather lived here," said Rajish Kumar, 25, resting in the shade of a tree at Karachi's Shri Swami Narayan Temple. "This temple, where we live surrounded by Muslims, is our enclave."

Mob Attacks and Burns Down Hindu Temple in Northwestern Pakistan

In December 2020, a mob attacked and burned down a century-old Hindu temple in Peshawar, northwestern Pakistan. Reuters reported: “Videos made by locals at the scene and shared with Reuters showed a crowd breaking apart blocks of the temple structure’s walls using stones and sledgehammers, as dark smoke from a large fire billowed into the sky. [Source: Jibran Ahmed, Reuters, December 31, 2020]

“Local Muslim clerics had organised what they told police would be a peaceful protest against the alleged expansion of the temple, located in a town in Karak district, in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Rahmatullah Wazir, a police officer in the town, told Reuters. He added that clerics leading the protest started "provocative speeches", following which the crowd attacked the temple.“It was a mob and then nobody was there to stop them from damaging the temple,” Wazir said, adding that most of the structure had been damaged.

“District police chief Irfanullah Khan told Reuters nine people had been arrested on suspicion of taking part in the attack. The temple was first built in the early 1900s as a shrine, but the local Hindu community left in 1947 and by 1997 the site had been taken over by local Muslims. In 2015, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered it be handed back to the Hindu community and the shrine rebuilt, on condition that it would not be expanded in the future. “This is a barbaric way to deal with minorities. We are shocked and hurt ... and (the incident has) sent a wave of insecurity in Hindu community,” Haroon Sarbdyal, a local leader of the Hindu community, said in an interview. Sarbdyal said while local Hindus had relocated from the village, devotees still travelled there every Thursday to visit the shrine.

Are Pakistani Muslim Men Kidnapping Hindu Girls to Convert and Be Wives?

Pakistani human rights activists have said that Hindu girls have been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and become wives of Muslims. Reporting from Jacobabad in the Sindh in southeastern Pakistan,Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Rachna Kumari, 16, was shopping for dresses in this city's dust-choked bazaar when it happened. The man who her family says abducted her was not a street thug. He was a police officer. Nor was he a stranger. Rachna's family knew and trusted him. He guarded the Hindu temple run by her father, an important duty in a society where Hindus are often terrorized by Muslim extremists, and he had helped Rachna cram for her ninth-grade final exams. After she disappeared from the market, he did not demand a ransom. According to her family, he had an entirely different purpose: to force her to convert to Islam and marry him. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2012]

In the 2010s, Hindus became “fixated on a surge of kidnappings of teenage girls by young Muslim men who force them to convert and wed. Pakistani human rights activists report as many as 25 cases a month. Most occur in the northern districts of Sindh province, on the border with India and home to most of Pakistan's 2.5 million Hindus. The Hindu community is shrinking as families flee the area, which is run largely by Muslim feudal chiefs who own vast tracts of farmland and wield wide influence over politics, law enforcement and the courts.

“Hindus say the forcible conversions follow the same script: The victim, abducted by a young man related to or working for a feudal boss, is taken to a mosque where clerics, along with the prospective groom's family, threaten to harm her and her relatives if she resists. Almost always, the girl complies, and not long afterward, she is brought to a local court, where a judge, usually a Muslim, rubber-stamps the conversion and marriage, according to Hindu community members who have attended such hearings. Often the young Muslim man is accompanied by backers armed with rifles. Few members of the girl's family are allowed to appear, and the victim, seeing no way out, signs papers affirming her conversion and marriage. "In court, usually it's just four or five members of the girl's family against hundreds of armed people for the boy," says B.H. Khurana, a doctor in Jacobabad and a Hindu community leader. "In such a situation when we are unarmed and outnumbered, how can we fight our case in court?"

“Hindu community leaders acknowledge that in some cases, Hindu girls convert and marry Muslim men willingly. Determining which cases involve coercion has been difficult for authorities. Asha Kumari, a 16-year-old Hindu girl... disappeared March 3 from a beauty parlor in Jacobabad where she was taking a beautician's course, according to her brother, Vinod Kumar, 22. Neither her family nor police could find her until April 13, when she appeared before the Supreme Court, accompanied by her new husband, Bashir Lashari. She told the court she had willingly married and embraced Islam. The conversion took place at a Sufi Muslim shrine run by the brother of Mian Abdul Haq, a Muslim lawmaker with the ruling Pakistan People's Party and a wealthy landowner in northern Sindh. "This is the way it always happens," said Vinod Kumar. "These girls are kidnapped, and then later they show up in court and say they have converted."

Combating the Conversions of Hindu Girls to Marry Muslim Men s in Pakistan

Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Prominent Pakistani Muslims have joined Hindu leaders in calling attention to the problem. President Asif Ali Zardari's sister, lawmaker Azra Fazal Pechuho, told parliament last month that a growing number of Hindu girls are being abducted and held at madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, where they are forcibly converted. She and other lawmakers have called for legislation to prohibit the practice. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2012]

“The issue was thrust into the spotlight by the case of Rinkle Kumari, a 17-year-old Hindu girl from the town of Mirpur Mathelo in the southern province of Sindh. The case was one of three that recently went before Pakistan's Supreme Court. Kumari's parents, who are not related to Rachna's family, allege that five men broke into their house in late February, subdued Rinkle with a chloroform-soaked cloth and took her away. The parents say the girl was forced to convert to Islam and marry Naveed Shah, a neighbor.

“Shah contends Rinkle acted willingly. "She was not forced at all," said Shah's lawyer, Malik Qamar Afzal. "She embraced Islam freely, and afterward agreed to marry." The day after the alleged abduction and conversion, Rinkle was allowed to meet with her mother at a district court. "She told me, 'I have been kidnapped and I want to go with you,'" recalled her mother, Sulchani Kumari. "She was sobbing as she told me, 'For God's sake, take me away from that hell.'" Hindu community leaders took the cases of Rinkle and Asha and that of a third Hindu woman all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the three could choose whether to stay with their new husbands or return to their parents. All three decided to stay.

“At the heart of the problem, Hindu community leaders say, is a lack of will on the part of police and courts. "When someone gets kidnapped, Hindus lodge kidnapping charges, but authorities don't respond," said Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a leader of the Pakistan Hindu Council. "After 20 days, the kidnapper and his people pressure the girl and say, 'If you don't accept Islam and give wrong answers in court, you know what will happen.' That's coercion."

In the case of Rachna Kumari, police themselves stand accused. Barkat Talani, an officer at the Jacobabad temple run by Rachna's father, began helping her with her studies as a favor to the family. After she was abducted in August, Talani was arrested and suspended from his job.

At a court hearing a month later, Rachna appeared in a black burka, surrounded by about 100 of Talani's supporters, many of them armed, said the girl's uncle, Rakesh Kumar. The judge accepted a statement written by Rachna that indicated she had willingly converted and married. Her family contends the document was drafted by Talani's lawyer. A few weeks later, while out shopping with her new husband's female relatives, Rachna appeared at her grandmother's door and asked for a drink of water. "I asked her, 'Why did you leave us?'" the grandmother, Maharajni Andhrabai, recalled. "She said, 'I was forced to.' She was weeping."

Later, Talani reported that Rachna had disappeared. Talani and her family both say they do not know where she is. Talani is back at work, according to Jacobabad's police chief, Jam Zafrullah Dharejo, who said the allegations against the officer were unfounded. Now the Kumari family has a singular focus: safeguarding Rachna's 13-year-old sister, Bharti. They've withdrawn her from school and forbidden her to set foot in the bazaar. "We're so sad about what happened to Rachna," the grandmother said, "but we're also worried about what else could happen."

Pashtun Religion

The Pashtuns (Pathans) are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. Islam is important to Pashtun identity and unity. It also provided a link for them to a community outside their own. Many Pashtuns have embraced radical Islam. Men pour in and out of mosques all day today. But that wasn’t always the case. It said that up to the 1980s, Pashtun had little interest in Islam or religion. [Source: Akbar S. Ahmed with Paul Titus “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1996]

Pashtuns are mostly Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. . There are some Shiites. The largest numbers of these are in the Kurram and Orakzai agencies. There has been sectarian violence between the sects. Some of the problems have blamed on Afghan refugees supporting the Sunnis and the unwillingness of Shiites to sell some of their land.

Some supernatural beliefs persist. Some Pashtuns believe in jinns (spirits) produced by fires that can possess a person’s soul as wells as ghosts, witches, cursed souls and fairies. Some also believed that deceased saints can return and play a positive role on the living world.

Religious matters are generally handled by mullahs, men who have some religious training, who take care of local mosques and call the faithful to prayer, They also preside over rite of passage ceremonies such as birth, circumcision, marriage and death. Some religious leaders acquire a substantial following. However, there is a basic ambivalence on the whole toward mullahs. Sayyed (descendants of Muhammad) have their own special place in society and are given special respect. They are not bound by the code honor, are regarded as living saints and are often called into settle disputes

Islam was introduced to the Pashtun in the 8th century, but has traditionally been secondary to the Pashtun Pashtunwali code of conduct. Pashtun believe they are Pashtun firs and Muslims.second The Shias belong mainly to a few tribes or parts of tribes — namely the Turi tribe and the Muammad Khel branch of Orakzai — on the eastern border near Waziristan. Sufism, particularly of the Naqshbandi order, maintains an influence among some Pashtun groups. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Baloch Religion

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.

Most Baloch are Sunni Muslims. Some belong to the Zikri sect. According to their epics and ballads the Baloch were once Shia (Shiites) who followed the Caliph Ali. It seems that when the Persians were largely Sunnis, the Baloch were Shia. When the Persians converted to Shia Islam, the Baloch became Sunnis. Before they converted to Islam the Baloch practiced Zoroastrianism. Some of their old pre-Islamic beliefs have been kept alive. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992]

Unlike other parts of Pakistan, especially Pashtun area, where Islamists have considerable power, Baloch have traditionally looked upon religion as a private affair and there has never made an effort to push for a “Muslim state.” Religious leaders have traditionally been separate from secular ones.

The majority of Baloch are Hanafi Sunnis, but there is a community of an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Zikri Baloch, who live in the coastal Makran area and in Karachi. The Zikris believe in the Messiah Nur Pak, whose teaching supersede those of the Prophet Muhammad. Their beliefs, considered heretical, have led to intermittent Sunni repression of their community since its founding in the fifteenth century. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Religious observances are overseen by mullahs. Baloch Sunnis and Zikris are enthusiastic followers of Sufi saints or pirs. Sometimes these mystics claim they can cure illnesses, foretell the future, and perform miracles which are see as evidence of the direct hand of God in the affairs of Baloch. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Burusho Religion

The Bursusho, also known as Hunzakuts, are dominant ethnic group of the Hunza valley in far northern Pakistan. The people in the Hunza Valley, converted to Islam in 1800s, which relatively late. Most of them belong to the Ismaili sect whose spiritual leader is the Aga Khan. In the Hunza valley the Aga Khans have opened clinics which have greatly reduced the number of dysentery and TB cases and sponsored organizations which teach everything from animal husbandry to accounting.

Burushos are Muslims but they sometimes tie prayer flags like Buddhist. They also drink yak tea laced with butter and salt like Tibetans. In addition to this, they also believe in fairies, mountain spirts and ghosts who are blamed for avalanches and other misfortunes. They observe a major spring festival called Naurvoz, the same name used by Central Asians for their New Year celebration. The Burusho don’t have a developed concept of the afterlife other than that the living and dead will be united at some point.

Shaman known as Bitans are called upon to placate trouble-making spirits. Most shaman are male. They usually serve as intermediaries with spirits and are called upon to act in some healing rituals and predict the future in annual festivals and before long journeys Contact with the spirts is made in trance initiated by inhaling the smoke of burning juniper bushes and other plants and the music of flutes and drums. The shaman dances to the music, faster and faster and then stops and in a singing voice translates messages he receives from the spirits. In some ceremonies a goat is sacrificed and the head is offered to the shaman while he dancing. He drinks blood from it which is said to be the blood of fairies.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “No professional priesthood exists among the Burusho. The Mir appoints several literate men as khalifas to officiate at burials, weddings, and naming ceremonies. These individuals do not perform these duties on a full-time basis. Religious ceremony plays little part in the daily life of the Burusho. Ritual prayer and fasting are practiced by some. While little is known of pre-Islamic religious practices, it is believed that at one time sacrifice was offered to the boyo (divinities thought to occupy a place above the fort at Hini). [Source: Hugh R. Page, Jr. “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Kalash Religion

The Kalash (Kalasha) is a tiny group of animists living in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border in the Birir, Bumburet and Rambur valleys off of the Chitral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province. The Kalash have their own religion which some describe as animist or shamanist but is related to Hinduism and appears to have roots in early Vedic religion. The Kalash believe every aspect of their lives is ruled by their gods, which feature one Creator God and several lesser gods. . The will of the gods is transmitted through a prophet-priest who goes into trances. Complex sets of codes, taboos and ancient customs, underlined by a concept of pure and impure, are antagonistic but complimentary. Some of the Kalash gods include Dezeao, the all-powerful creator god; Jestak, goddess of home and family; and Mahandeo, god of the honeybees. [Source: Debra Denker, National Geographic, October 1981]

Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: “The Kalash believe in one god with several messengers. To communicate with them, the tribe erects altars where worshipers offer sacrifices, usually goats. Some scholars say the Kalash religion originated during Alexander the Great’s conquest of South Asia around 300 B.C. The Kalash religion at one time flourished in the Hindu Kush region. [Source: Tim Craig, Washington Post, August 16, 2016]

In a vision similar to the one experienced by Moses the Kalash prophet, Naga Dehar, was told by a great god to lead his people to Bashgal. After the prophet lead his people to the promised land three gods appeared to rule over the valleys inhabited by the Kalash. Two of them wanted to rule the first valley and Naga Dehar told them the one that cold dig a canal from the mountaintop to the valley the quickest wins. This contest ended in a dispute and another contest was lost by the god Balumain who was tricked by the winner. In a fit of anger he declared he would only visit the valley once a year The winner, Mahendeo, showed that he was willing to care for the third valley by turning a branch into a tree and a pebble into a bolder. ♂

Animal sacrifices are key events in many Kalash ceremonies. Goats are sacrificed to gods and ancestors as a form of protection again the pollution of females and demonic possession. Every man is expected to make at least one sacrifice a year. Women are strictly separated from the sacrificial activities. They can not attend sacrifices, eat the meat from the animals, especially male goats, approach the sanctuaries of God, milk cows or even be in a barn where cows are kept and approach a pasture where the animals graze. Women can not eat honey because it believed that honey is only made by male bees. ♂

"Bow shakers" are Kalash fortune tellers. The bow is made of a twig strung with goat hair yarn. The bow shaker pulls on the yarn and when the bow starts to swing the fortune is revealed. An important rite of passage ritual is becoming a "blood brother" or "blood sister." To achieve this a ceremony is held in which two goat kidneys are roasted and then cut in half and shared by the two people who wish to become related. ♂

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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