Meet Afghanistan’s evangelicals

The New York Times has a very sad story about the lack of religious freedom in Afghanistan. It comes on the heels of news from the State Department that not a single Christian church remains in Afghanistan, following years of crackdowns by Muslim leaders.

The story is headlined “Preacher Held by Afghan Spy Agency Is Near Death” and here is how it begins:

KABUL, Afghanistan — An itinerant preacher who had been detained for 12 days by the Afghan intelligence service arrived at a hospital badly beaten, suffering from kidney failure, and slipping in and out of consciousness, said doctors at the hospital and local health clinic where he was treated Thursday. They said they were not sure he would survive.

A dozen paragraphs follow detailing torture by the Afghan agency and the financing it receives from the United States and other Western countries. We learn that the itinerant preacher’s kidneys may have stopped working, possibly from being brutally kicked and punched. These dozen paragraphs aren’t at all about religion — just how the Afghan intelligence directorate operates and how the Taliban has been able to infiltrate various entities in the region.

And after all that, we learn more about what type of evangelical Maulavi Abdullah is:

Family members of the detainee said that Maulavi Abdullah was a high school teacher in Sorbari district and also served as a mullah at a village mosque. In addition, they said, he is an itinerant teacher of the Koran. Such teachers go from village to village and stay for as long as the community welcomes them, teaching the Koran in the mosque and occasionally meeting with other itinerant evangelicals.

Come again? Oh, so by “evangelical,” the Times means “someone who is not an evangelical.” Good to know! But seriously? How did that make it past editors?

We joke about how difficult it is to define “evangelical” but this has to be the first example of it being used to describe itinerant teachers of the Koran.

I named one of my children after the same root word from which we get “evangelical” and for good reason. So to help out the folks at the Times, or anyone else, here’s a helpful look at the etymology (here for “evangelist“):

late 12c., “Matthew, Mark, Luke or John,” from O.Fr. evangelist and directly from L.L. evangelista, from Gk. euangelistes “preacher of the gospel,” lit. “bringer of good news,” from euangelizesthai “bring good news,” from eu- “good” (see eu-) + angellein “announce,” from angelos “messenger” (see angel). In early Greek Christian texts, the word was used of the four supposed authors of the narrative gospels. Meaning “itinerant preacher” was another early Church usage, revived in M.E. (late 14c.). Classical Gk. euangelion meant “the reward of good tidings;” sense transferred in Christian use to the glad tidings themselves. In Late Latin, Gk. eu- regularly was consonantized to ev- before vowels.

The word can be broadly Christian — in terms of referring to the Good News or the Gospel of Christ — or it can be more narrowly Protestant.

For such a short story with such a lack of religion content, it’s unwise to use when referring to a brutalized and tortured Muslim.

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  • Mike Hickerson

    Could such a clumsy use of language actually put this man’s life in (greater) danger?

  • C. Wingate

    I have to think there is some technical (i.e., Arabic) word for these itinerant teachers which the Times could have used.

  • Mark

    A double error. They meant ‘evangelist,’ not ‘evangelical.’ But, for the reasons you cited, even the right word would have been the wrong word.

  • Passing By

    ”Preacher” caught my attention as well, as it is common terminology among … evangelicals.

    In any case, God help and bless this poor man.

  • George Harper

    Thanks for your comments on this, Mollie. I was struck that the article doesn’t even refer to Islam until the 13th paragraph, the one that also includes that boneheaded reference to “evangelicals.” Yes, it should have been “evangelists,” but as you suggest, even that is questionable. The itinerant preacher wasn’t trying to convert anyone to Islam, he was just exhorting his fellow Muslims. BTW, yesterday I sent the reporter a comment and request for a correction via the NYT web site. She has yet to respond.

  • Chris Atwood

    The technical Arabic word for proclamation of the Islamic message is “da’wah” (literally “a call”). Someone who does da’wah is a da’i.

  • Ryan

    This story leaves me confused… The term ‘preacher’ made me think, oh great another Christian beaten up in a Muslim country… But he’s a Muslim itinerant teacher and he was tortured, what is the story here… Is it something like Shia vs Sunni or what? Talk about a ghost!