Muslim trust restores Jewish sites in Afghanistan

herat-synagogue-1Amid the glum news from Afghanistan, Golnar Motevalli of our Kabul bureau has sent this from Herat:

“Behind a parade of old mud brick shops, through narrow winding alleys, a tiny door opens onto a sundrenched courtyard, where school children giggle and play alongside the ghosts of Afghanistan’s Jewish past.

The Yu Aw is one of four synagogues in the old quarter of Herat city in west Afghanistan, which after decades of abandonment and neglect, has been restored to provide desperately-needed space for an infant school.” (Photo: Afghan children study in Yu Aw synagogue in Herat, 8 June 2009/Mohammad Shoiab)

The restoration work has been done by the Agha Khan Trust for Culture. The city’s three other former synagogues are also being restored. Read the feature here.


Afghanistan’s Jewish community, once said to have numbered 40,000 or more, now consists of just one person, Zebolan Simanto. He receives a care package from New York every spring with matzos, grape juice and oil to conduct the Seder, the meal on the first evening of Passover.

U.S. troop conversion allegations diplomatic minefield

U.S. President Barack Obama may face a new minefield on the battlefields of Afghanistan — one that combines a potent mix of religion and culture.

Explosive allegations have emerged that U.S. soldiers have been attempting to convert Afghanis to Christianity, a scenario sure to stir passions and even anger in the overwhelming Islamic country. You can see our story on the issue here by my colleague Peter Graff in Kabul.


The U.S. military denied Monday it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, after a television network showed pictures of soldiers with bibles translated into local languages.

Afghan journalist appeals blasphemy conviction

Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh/Family handoutThe blasphemy case against Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 23, is back in the news. Kambakhsh appeared at an appeal hearing in Kabul on Sunday, pleaded innocent and was given a week to present his defence statement against the primary provincial court’s ruling and to find a defence lawyer. Our report from Kabul says he flatly denied charges he had insulted Islam and the Koran and had distributed an article which said Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women.

It’s not clear if there is a connection but Reporters without Borders (RsF) issued a statement on Friday calling on Kabul to give Kambakhsh’s lawyer the case file so he could prepare his defence. “The case has not progressed since it was transferred to the Kabul court of justice,” RsF said in a statement. “We urge the authorities to speed up the procedure so that Kambakhsh’s appeal can receive a fair hearing, far from the influence of religious fundamentalists. This was not the case when he was tried and sentenced to death for blasphemy in Mazar-i-Sharif. We call on foreign governments to continue to intercede on Kambakhsh’s behalf.”

Kambakhsh was transferred from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul in late March and has been held in the city’s Pul-i-Charkhi prison since then.

Update: Afghan journalist moved to Kabul for blasphemy appeal

Men cross street in Kabul after a rain shower, 26 March 2008//Ahmad MasoodJust a quick update on a case we’ve talked about here before: Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the 23-year-old Afghan journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy and other crimes against Islam, has been moved to Kabul for his appeal against that verdict. Reporters without Borders (RsF) says he was moved on March 27.

“His request for transfer to Kabul has finally succeeded, allowing Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh to be separated from other detainees in the vast Pul-i-Charki jail, in the east of the capital,” RsF said in a statement . “His transfer to Kabul has given rise to hopes that his appeal will not be influenced by religious fundamentalists, as was the case when he was sentenced to death for “blasphemy” by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif, on 22 January 2008.”

The appeals trial is due soon but it’s not yet clear when.