What are the greatest struggles in Western South asia?
What is Islam like in Western South asia?
What is god doing in Western South asia?
Western South Asia – Afghanistan, Pakistan and north and western India – boasts a population of about 750 million, with roughly 325 million Muslims.
Nearly all of Afghanistan and much of the north of Pakistan and India contain very rugged and spectacularly beautiful mountainous terrain. The landscape and climate across the region vary enormously, with cold dry mountainous areas, inland deserts, extensive forests, fertile farmland, and tropical forests.
A wide variety of tribal peoples live in the region, with the largest Muslim peoples being Punjabi, Pashtun, Sindhi, Hazara, Tajik, Kashmiri, and Gujarati. Urdu is widely spoken by Muslims in Pakistan and in western parts of India. After Urdu, the major languages spoken by Muslims in the region are their ethnic languages.
Most of Pakistan and northwest India is very densely populated, and this region contains several of South Asia’s largest cities – with rapid modernization, industrialization, and extensive poverty.
Poverty, both rural and urban, is the biggest challenge facing people in this region. 42% of Afghans live below the international poverty line ($1.25 a day), and the number continues to grow. Another 20% live just above the poverty line and are very vulnerable. Poverty is far more extensive in rural areas than in the cities.
The situation in Pakistan is somewhat better, with only about 21% living below the poverty line. A 2015 report estimated that about 24% of Indians live below the poverty line. Yet the situation in both Pakistan and in India has improved significantly recently, with their economies growing and lifting many out of poverty.
Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan have experienced decades of civil strife and war. Conflicts and tribal disputes continue to cause widespread turmoil and loss of life, although conditions are improving somewhat in Pakistan, as the army recovers control of several regions.
Islam in this region dates back to successive conquering Muslim empires, beginning in 1190 AD. These Muslim empires ruled much of South Asia for nearly seven centuries. This accounts for the large number of Muslims in the region today.
In India, Sufi mystic brotherhoods are very influential, making up about 30% of Indian Muslims.
The Deobandi movement, which is militant and opposed to Sufism, arose in opposition to British colonialism. The Deobandi see themselves as scholars of classical Islam and seek to impose Sharia law on society. They believe that their legal tradition is the most faithful to the Quran and Hadith. Even though Deobandis are only about 20% of the Muslim population in India and Pakistan, they exercise significant levels of political influence.
The largest group of Indian Muslims belong to the Barelvi movement that arose in the nineteenth century in opposition to the Deobandi movement. While the Barelvis strongly identify themselves with traditional Sunni Islam, they tend to be Sufi in practice.
About 90% of Afghans are traditional Sunnis who are much influenced by Sufi mystic traditions. Most of the rest are Shia. Islam dominates every aspect of life in Afghanistan and is seen as a unifier across ethnic and tribal divides.
Response to the Gospel among Muslims in Western South Asia is quite modest, and there are very few movements to Christ. Yet in almost every ethnic group in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is a “trickle” of people coming to Christ.
Perhaps the most positive trend is that the Scriptures and other evangelistic ministries are increasingly available via satellite TV and the internet.
The Scriptures are being downloaded on mobile devices.
Because of the years of violence in the region, there are substantial refugee groups living in diaspora communities. Many of these expatriate communities have gatherings of believers, who are sometimes remarkably courageous in their witness to their own ethnic communities.
The most persistent forms of opposition, which can be very violent at times, come from family, community, and tribal leaders, who see dishonor coming to them when members of their community “become apostates” and follow Christ.