Afghanistan is no stranger to struggle, going back to the beginning of their history. The Soviet invasion in 1978, and pullout a decade later, brought no peace. Islamic factions engaged in jihad (or holy war) and the Taliban, which follows an extreme form of militant Islam, gained control in 1996. The Taliban's takeover of the country imposed a deviant expression of strict Wahhabist Islam, particularly devastating for Afghanistan's women.
When the Taliban fell in 2001, the country's economy improved largely because of the infusion of international assistance. Despite some progress, Afghanistan is extremely poor and highly dependent on foreign aid. Political stability remains a challenge, as the government has been unable to negotiate peace with members of the Taliban who remain in control within various areas of the country.
In 2004, Afghanistan held its first democratic elections and instated a new constitution which declares, "The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam." Followers of other religions may exercise their faith and perform religious rites "within the limits of the provisions of law." However, the constitution also says, "No law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."
Muslims make up the vast majority of Afghanistan's population at 99.85 percent. Christians account for 0.05 percent. While there is limited freedom to practise other religions, there is no freedom to propagate another faith or to convert from Islam. Citizens who do convert from Islam face harsh penalties, including death. Those who follow any religion other than Islam face opposition from family and friends, and even discussing any other religion can be seen as blasphemy against Islam. Because of this opposition, the church in Afghanistan remains almost entirely underground.