Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road has an extensive section on Afghanistan. The Bamiyan Buddhas reminds us what the texts make clear: up until 900 AD the highlands in an around modern Afghanistan were heavily Buddhist. The Turki Shahi kings of Kabul seem to have patronized Buddhism. In contrast, their successors, the Hindu Shahi kings, seem to have tilted toward what we would call Hinduism.
Because I’m posting a Substack on Afghanistan soon the civilizational and cultural identity of Afghanistan is on my mind. After my reading and reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the area and the people can be thought of as a crossroads between Persian, Central Asian, and Indian. Central Asia includes both Iranic and later Turkic cultures, while the Persian influence reflects a deeply west Iranic sensibility. Finally, it has hard to deny that India and much of southern and western Afghanistan are deeply connected geographically, biologically, and culturally.
And yet some Indians keep claiming that “actually Afghanistan use to be Hindu…” This is false. At least by any comprehensible definition of “Hindu.” It is true that Afghanistan was once heavily Buddhist, but Buddhism is not Hinduism. It is true that there have long been Indians in Afghanistan, but there have been Indians in Southeast Asia as well. It is true that the Iranian pagans, like the Nuristanis, worshipped gods and practiced traditions that descend from one’s affinal to the Vedic Aryans, but the pre-Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans was not Hinduism as we’d understand it.
To a great extent, this sort of cultural imperialism is harmless and cringe. But it’s a bit on the insensitive side given what’s going on in Afghanistan, where ironically Indian-origin Deobandi Islam is is reigning supreme…