The overwhelming majority of Pashtuns follow Sunni Islam, belonging to the Hanafi school of thought. Tiny Shi'a communities of Pashtuns exist in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and in neighbouring northeastern section of Paktia province of Afghanistan. The Shias belong to the Turi tribe while the Bangash tribe is approximately 50% Shia and the rest Sunni, who live mainly in Kohat and the Orakzai Agency of FATA, Pakistan. In addition, there may be small number of Ahmadis in Pakistan.
Studies conducted among the Ghilzai reveal strong links between tribal affiliation and membership in the larger ummah (Islamic community). Afghan historians believe that most Pashtuns are descendants of Qais Abdur Rashid, who is purported to have been an early convert to Islam and thus bequeathed the faith to the early Pashtun population. The legend says that after Qais heard of the new religion of Islam, he travelled to meet Muhammad in Medina and returned to Afghanistan as a Muslim. He purportedly had four children: Sarban, Batan, Ghourghusht and Karlan. Before the Islamization of their territory, the Pashtuns likely followed various religions. Some may have been Buddhists while others Zoroastians, worshippers of the sun and other deities, with some probably being animists, shamanists, Hindus and Jews. However, there is no conclusive evidence to these theories other than the fact that these were the religions practiced by the people in this region before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century.
A legacy of Sufi activity may be found in some Pashtun regions, especially in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area, as evident in songs and dances. Many Pashtuns are prominent Ulema, Islamic scholars, such as Muhammad Muhsin Khan who has helped translate the Noble Quran, Sahih Al-Bukhari and many other books to the English language. Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani was a 19th century Islamic ideologist and one of the founders of Islamic modernism. Although his ethnicity is disputed by some, he is widely accepted in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region as well as in the Arab world, as a Pashtun from the Kunar Province of Afghanistan. Like other non Arabic-speaking Muslims, many Pashtuns are able to read the Quran but not understand the Arabic language implicit in the holy text itself. Translations, especially in English, are scarcely far and in between understood or distributed. This paradox has contributed to the spread of different versions of religious practices and Wahabism, as well as political Islamism (including movements such as the Taliban) having a key presence in Pashtun society. In order to counter radicalisation and fundamentalism, the United States began English classes in Afghanistan so that Pashtuns will be able to read the English translation of Quran instead of trusting in their local mullahs. Many Pashtuns want to reclaim their identity from being lumped in with the Taliban and international terrorism, which is not directly linked with Pashtun culture and history.
Lastly, little information is available on non-Muslim Pashtuns as there is limited data regarding irreligious groups and minorities, especially since many of the Hindu and Sikh Pashtuns migrated from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the partition of India and later, after the rise of the Taliban. There is an affirmed community of Sikh Pashtuns residing in Peshawar, Parachinar, and Orakzai Agency of FATA, Pakistan. The origins of the Sikh Pashtuns are unclear.
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