by Nile Green, author of Afghanistan’s Islam: From Conversion to the Taliban

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In the years after 9/11, perhaps no country in the world became more inextricably associated with Islam than Afghanistan. Book after book was published—about mujahidin and Taliban, Bin Laden and Tora Bora—in which Islam was ever present but never explained. After all, how did Afghanistan become a hotbed for such extreme expressions of Islam; and were things always religiously that way?

Having written a good deal about the history of Islam in the surrounding regions, I decided to fill what was evidently a big gap in our understanding. Not that there were no previous studies: many recondite articles lie scattered in learned journals from Palo Alto to Peshawar. But they leave many holes in the coverage. And what’s always been lacking is a chronological account of the development of Islam in Afghanistan, from the region’s initial conversion from Hinduism and Buddhism through the Muslim renaissance of the medieval Timurids on to the contested history of Afghan secularism and Islamism, and the scope throughout for women’s Islam. Moreover, I wanted to give due coverage to the longstanding Sufi presence in Afghanistan, as well as the fundamentalist versions of the faith that have done so much to extinguish the old ways.

Rather than attempt to write a survey single-handed, I brought together an international team of researchers with origins as diverse as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, and the United States. This was important for all kinds of reasons, perspective and balance not least. But the most important reason was to draw on a pool of varied expertise. It’s easy to write generalizations about Islam in Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s quite another matter to recognize the divergent and sometimes competing forms of Islam manifested not only in different periods but in languages as dissimilar as Arabic, Persian, Pashto, Uzbek, and Urdu.

I chose open access partly because I believe that, after fifteen years of US involvement in Afghanistan, so important a topic should face as few distribution barriers as possible. But my decision was also motivated by a desire to give access to local researchers in Afghanistan (and neighboring countries like Pakistan) who are increasingly able to read English, but who cannot afford expensive books from abroad.


Nile Green is Professor of South Asian and Islamic History at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Sufism: A Global History and Terrains of Exchange: Religious Economies of Global Islam.

Afghanistan’s Islam is published in University of California Press’s Luminos open access book program. Click here to download a free digital copy of the book.

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