Prayer Profile
The Pathan of Afghanistan

[IMAGE] The Pathan (or Pushtun) are a mountain people living in the eastern regions of Afghanistan. This large people group makes up nearly one half of Afghanistan's total population. The origins of the Pathan people are unclear; but legends say that they are the descendants of Afghana, grandson of King Saul. However, most scholars believe that they probably arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans with subsequent invaders.

The Pathan people consist of about sixty different tribes. Tribal genealogies establish rights of succession and inheritance, rights to use tribal lands, and rights to speak in the tribal council. Disputes over property, women, or personal injury often result in blood feuds between families and clans. These "family feuds" are often passed down from generation to generation, unless settled by clan chiefs or the tribal council.

What are their lives like?
The Pathan tribes range from the highly educated who live in cities, to tent-dwelling nomads. Some of the nomadic tribes live in the warm plains throughout the winter months, then migrate to mountain pastures for the summer months.

Tribal customs and traditions make up the biggest part of the Pathan society. The true essence of Pathan culture can be seen in the "code of ethics" that every Pathan lives by. This unwritten code of life is called "Pushtunwali," (the way of the Pushtun), and is closest to the heart of every Pathan. Pushtunwali is followed religiously, and it incorporates the following major practices: "melmastia" (hospitality and protection to every guest); "nanawati" (the right of a fugitive to seek a place of refuge, and acceptance of his bona fide offer of peace); "badal" (the right of blood feuds or revenge); "tureh" (bravery); "sabat" (steadfastness); "imamdari" (righteousness); "'isteqamat" (persistence); "ghayrat" (defense of property and honor); and "mamus" (defense of one's women).

Pathan men usually wear sleeveless, embroidered vests over long sleeve, cotton shirts that are buttoned at one shoulder and hanging over baggy trousers. They also wear unique turbans, which have the cloths tied in such a way that indicates tribal identity. In certain zones of Afghanistan, rifles, pistols, knives, and other weapons are considered essential items of dress. Pathan women wear basically the same type clothing as the men, but they generally use more colorful material.

What are their beliefs?
Since the time of Alexander the Great, Afghanistan has been the site of both Eastern and Western invasions. As a result, the Pathan tribes have been influenced by Indian Buddhists as well as African Muslims. However, Islam has been the chief religion of Afghanistan since the 10th century. Presently the Pathan people are 99% Muslim.

What are their needs?
The Pathans are a people who have known frequent war. In 1979 the Soviets, fearing loss of communistic control over the Afghan people, led a massive invasion into Afghanistan. Since that time, approximately 3 million Afghans have fled across the border into Pakistan; many of them were Pathans. The nation is in extreme turmoil as a result of Soviet occupation and the on-going civil war.

Due to unsanitary living conditions (mainly poor water) and the harshness of the lifestyle, the average life expectancy in Afghanistan is only 46 years. Statistically this is one of the world's lowest figures. Only 25% of the adults are literate. The need for qualified medical teams and school teachers is great.

The Islamic religion is very difficult to penetrate. Converts to Christianity will more than likely be "banished" from their families. Consequently, there has been very little growth of Christianity among the Pathan. Most of the work by various missions agencies has ended due to unrest in the country. More recently, some of the "freedom fighters" have attacked Western relief agencies, causing them to flee from Afghanistan. Presently there are no Bibles in the Pakhtu language, and Christian radio and television broadcasts are strictly forbidden by the government.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that oppression from war and Soviet occupation will be lifted off the Pathan people.
  • Ask God to call those who are willing to go to Afghanistan and share Christ with the Pathan people.
  • Pray that God will encourage and protect the small number of Pathan believers.
  • Ask God to soften the hearts of the Pathan towards Christians so that they will be open to the Gospel.
  • Pray for the Afghani children who grow up in fear and hatred of outsiders.
  • Ask God to once again open the doors for Christian agencies desiring to work among the Pathan.

See also:
The Pathan of South Central Asia.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Pathan
  • Country: Afghanistan
  • Their language: pakhtu
  • Population: (1990) 7,296,600
    (1995) 9,768,100
    (2000) 12,936,700
  • Largest religion: Muslims (Hanafites) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 977
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 7
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 3,419,800 (35%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 294,000 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 3,125,800 (32%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 6,348,300 (65%)
  • Country: Afghanistan
  • Population: (1990) 15,044,500
    (1995) 20,140,500
    (2000) 26,673,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Pathan 48.5%
    Afghani Tajik (17.9%
    Hazara 8.1%
    Southern Uzbek (8%)
    Persian (3.3%)
  • Major religions: Muslims 99.4%
    Hindus 0.4%
    Christians 0.1%
  • Number of denominations: 9

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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