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Pakistan's ancient Kalash religious group disappearing as members convert to Islam

Pakistan's ancient Kalash religious group disappearing as members convert to Islam

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?"

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About D. Beeksma

One of the growing crowd of American "nones" herself, Deborah is a prolific writer who finds religion, spirituality and the impact of belief (and non-belief) on culture inspiring, fascinating and at times, disturbing. She hosts the God Discussion show and handles the site's technical work. Her education and background is in business, ecommerce and law.
  • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

    It seems Western religions have destroyed so many cultures. It's sad to see yet another be destroyed, even if I don't agree with their views.

    • Kawaii Gardiner

      Come on Mriana, what planet are you on? "It seems Western religions have destroyed so many cultures" – such as? look at Islam which is little more than Arab imperialism by stealth – heck, just look at the racist hadiths that say arabs are superior to non-Arabs as a prime example of the racism at the very core of Islam.

      • Komal S

        I do not want to drag this as a christianity vs Islam, but the fact is both these religions have been funded to convert people across globe. We see that everyday in India. All of our tribals in North east India have been systematically converted to christianity. The fundamental belief that people have to be converted is so primitive!

        • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

          Yes, and that is a modern day example of Xianity destroying a people's culture.

      • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

        Islam IS a Western religion. It's not an Eastern religion. Xianity destroyed the Native American culture, as well as the culture of the slaves they brought over here from Africa. It has also degraded and dehumanized women for many centuries, not to mention the Jews. Hitler was Catholic, which is Xianity. Which leads me to mention that Xianity nearly wiped out both the Native Americans and the Jews, as well as killed many Africans. Islam is not a Western religion alone in destroying cultures. Historically, Western religions have done a terrible number on other people and their culture.

  • Muhammed

    f**ing Afghanis already caused a lot of trouble for Pakistan and helped dirty our country, now they are threatening our heritage by invading the Kalash Valley and terrorizing the locals.

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