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Religion on the frontline of Afghanistan

Religion on the frontline of Afghanistan

Riazat Butt, writing for The Guardian, spends 2 weeks traveling in Afghanistan with army chaplains and reports on religion and military service in harm’s way.


Her latest post is Gurkhas’ Hindu temple in Lashkar Gah is only of its kind.

The temple is in Lashkar Gah and has only been open a few months. “It was one of the first things we did when we got here in April, as soon as our freight arrived,” says Prithvi, from 2nd Battallion the Royal Ghurka Rifles, who is originally from Nepal.

Every morning the 20 Gurkhas say prayers, light candles and apply the tika to the statue.

It is Prithvi’s second tour of Afghanistan. “In my first tour we were ground-holding, we were fighting and it was a different experience. We lost some our friends. Because of the situation, I’m glad there is somewhere to pray.”

Before that Butt reported on Life as a humanist with the armed forces in Afghanistan:

“Humanism doesn’t have a lot to say about war and conflict; what it would say is that the subjugation of women and the lack of human flourishing might give a reason for this war,” says Petty Officer Christopher Holden from 3 Commando Brigade, which is deployed in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province.

The 38-year-old from Peterborough describes himself as a humanist because “it seems the most moral philosophy”.

His experiences of church, like so many deployed troops, are restricted to births, marriages and deaths. In a similar vein, his only regular exposure to religion is the vigil, something explored earlier in this series. It is here that Christopher’s feelings diverge from the established narrative. He feels ambivalence towards the ceremony and a “certain amount of anger”.

It’s overtly religious at vigils and that surprised me at first. I can see the need for a ritualised, communal expression of grief. I don’t feel I’m forced to go against my will but there’s an element of disbelief there, because I don’t believe a word of it. I don’t believe in the concept of an afterlife and it frightens me that people do believe in it. From that flows all manner of justification for certain things. Even though the vigils frustrate me they do offer a dependable mechanism for grieving

Baptism at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan and Religion in Camp Bastion: ‘What people are asked to do here can lead to big questions’ are her two previous reports.

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