Pakistan's ancient Kalash religious group disappearing as members convert to Islam
On July 22, 2012 At 6:03 pm
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Nestled among the valleys of Pakistan's mountainous northwest is a tiny religious community known as the Kalash. The hard-to-reach valley where the Kalash live has attracted tourists for years, mainly for the scenery and for the people who are indigenous to the area.
The Kalash say that they are the descendants of Alexander the Great's Macedonian soldiers who passed through the area in 4 BCE. They practice polytheism — a belief in multiple deities — and have their own rituals. The Kalash traditions offer freedoms to women that are not common in Pakistan.
For generations, the tribe and the country's Muslim majority have co-existed peacefully, but there are now concerns about the future of this ancient culture.
"A lot of people are converting to Islam," Meetha Gul told Al Jazeera. She had left the village to pursue a higher education and then returned. "Religious scholars come here and tell people their lives will be better if they become Muslim. People need to tell their children that even if they go out and get an education or find a job, they need to preserve Kalash culture. If everyone converts, we will disappear."
There are around 4,000 Kalash. While tourism has brought badly needed income to the impoverished area, Muslims from nearby Afghanistan have also been arriving at the valley in recent years, pushing their conservative interpretation of Islam.
"We invite the Kalash to become Muslims," remarked Imam Maulama Jamroze, whose father had converted to Islam when Jamroze was a baby. "Islam is better for them. What use is their culture if they will burn in hell?"