Pashtun, Northern in United Arab Emirates

Map Source:  People Group location: Joshua Project. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.
People Name: Pashtun, Northern
Country: United Arab Emirates
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 402,000
World Population: 34,457,000
Primary Language: Pashto, Northern
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 0.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Complete Bible
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: South Asia Muslim - Pashtun
Affinity Bloc: South Asian Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Pashtun have been called the largest Muslim tribal society in the world. There are at least 30 major tribes, and countless sub-tribes and clans. Spread over a vast geographical area and driven by socio-economic, political, tribal and linguistic (dialectical) differences, Pashtuns nevertheless share a unique sense of common identity. Pashtun identity is based on four elements: Heritage (descent from a common ancestor); Islam (99.9% Muslim); the Pashtunwali Code of Honor ("The Way of the Pashtun"); and to some extent, Language (Pakhtu or Pashto). They live primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan, though there is a significant Pashtun diaspora in the Arab Gulf, especially the UAE, and many Western nations.

There have been efforts to reach the Pashtun since 1818, when William Carey translated parts of the Old Testament into Pakhto, based on interaction with Pashtun traders who caravanned (and settled) across north India and beyond. (In South Asia, the name "Pashtun/Pakhtun" was anglicized to "Pathan"—a name immortalized in Rudyard Kipling's novels and British colonial history; today, the Pashtun in India, Bangladesh, and throughout South Asia are known as "Pathan".) The first intentional mission to the Pashtun was launched by the Church Missionary Society in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1853. This was followed by over 150 years of faithful witness, through mission hospitals, schools, colleges, literature, friendship evangelism, and other forms of witness by national Pakistani (Punjabi) Christians and expatriate missionaries. Despite this record and the slow but growing number of scattered Pashtun believers, a vibrant, indigenous, disciple-making movement has yet to take root and spread.

More significant than dialectical differences, a Pashtun's primary loyalty is to his particular social group (tribe or sub-tribe). The Pashtun were the traditional rulers of Afghanistan for over 250 years. Since the overthrow of the Afghan king, communist coup and Soviet invasion in the 1970s, Afghanistan has been in a state of constant conflict. In the 1970's and 1980 's, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands were the launchpad for mujahideen ("freedom fighters") who, with Western, Saudi, and global support, resisted and overthrew the communist regime. The cost was high; over 3.5 million refugees settled into hundreds of refugee camps in border provinces of Iran and Pakistan and one-third of the Pashtun population was displaced.

During the 1990 's, Pashtun tribal areas and thousands of Arab-funded madrassas (religious schools) throughout Pakistan, became the seedbed for the rise of the Taliban movement. Driven by a combination of religious zeal and Pashtun nationalism, and fueled by Arab money, the "Taliban" (a term for "religious students") imposed a harsh, hyper-conservative (Wahabi) version of Islam on the country. Unfortunately, attempts toward a peace accord and durable central government have, to date, been unsuccessful. Armed opposition continues. As a result, there is a steady stream of Pashtuns leaving their homeland for safer countries such as the UAE.

Where Are they Located?

The majority of Pashtun live in Pakistan, but there are Pashtuns in many other countries as well. You can find them in Central Asian countries like Iran, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, Europe, North America, and the UAE, where they have a sizable population.

What Are Their Lives Like?

There is a large Afghan population in the UAE made up mostly of construction workers and other low-level blue-collar workers. About one-fifth of them, however, are businessmen. There were some Pashtun businessmen in the UAE in the 1970s, but a high number of them became refugees there in the 80s during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The UAE is a popular destination for Pashtun refugees. Pashtuns and others from Afghanistan appreciate the opportunities they find in the UAE.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Whether they are new in Western countries or they have never been to the original Pashtun homeland, Pashtuns almost always identify themselves as Muslims. They will be married in a mosque, and to be associated with another religious system would be unacceptable in their community. Those who want to take Christ to the Pashtuns will need to do just that; take Christ to them, not a religious system.

The Pashtunwali Code of Honor erodes among Pashtuns who live in urban settings. Some of them have only a weak identity as Muslims or as Pashtuns. They need to find their identity in the Savior who loves them and wants them to be transformed into His likeness.

No one knows how many Pashtuns are following Jesus. Seeds of the Gospel have been sown widely. The greatest barriers to faith are social and cultural, leaving us with the challenge of allowing Pashtuns to embrace Christ while keeping their culture and traditions. Those who are in Western nations have a tremendous opportunity to embrace the Savior, but, like other immigrants, they are most open only soon after they arrive. If the job is postponed for more than a year or two, the opportunity is lost.

Prayer Points

Pray for a movement to Christ among the Pashtuns Diaspora that will spread far and wide.
Pray for the production and distribution of all forms of media in the Pashto language for the Pashtun Diaspora.
Pray for more workers to live among the Pashtuns and work beside them, giving them the opportunity to tell them about Jesus Christ, the Savior of all nations.
Pray for God's Spirit to strengthen and protect new believers and to empower them to take Christ to other Pashtun communities.

Text Source:   Keith Carey