As an Afghan Shia father, I fear for my children Opinions

I was 17 when I lost a friend for the first time to anti-Shia violence. In 2004, I was in the Pakistani city of Quetta, studying English, when one of my classmates, Emran, a 13-year-old boy sitting next to me, did not come to class. We later learned that he had been killed in a suicide bombing targeting a religious procession on Ashura, the day when Shia Muslims commemorate the death of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

After that tragic day, whenever I turned to my left to whisper something to Emran, I saw an empty seat and felt a painful lump in my throat.

It was the first time I witnessed violence against the Shia. My country, Afghanistan, had experienced quite a bit of violence, but the stories I heard from my parents were about the Soviet occupation and some incidents in the 1990s under the Taliban. So I had grown up not fully aware of the ethnic and religious hatred that some in our region had for us Shia Muslims.

Emran’s death shook me. I kept asking myself, who would want to kill a boy who always tried to get As in class and was always nice to his classmates? Who wanted the death of a boy who never hurt anyone?

After the bombing, attacks on Hazara and Shia Muslims in Pakistan increased. I returned to Afghanistan in 2006 hoping to leave this horror behind. I prayed that religious violence would not reach us. But it did.

In December 2011, a suicide bomber attacked the Abul Fazl Shrine in Kabul, where Shia Muslims had gathered for Ashura. About 80 people died and many were injured in the explosion.

Over the next decade, Shia children, women and men became victims of sectarian violence in mosques, schools, stadiums, buses, bazaars, etc. This cycle of violence continues unabated to this day, as religious radicals continue their attacks on ethnic and religious groups.

Over the years, many of us have lost family and friends to anti-Shia violence. There are hardly any Shia families who have not been affected by this endless killing of innocent people.

Today I am a father of two children. I remember losing Emran 18 years ago and I fear that my children will also go through this trauma. Worse, I fear that the empty seat in the class might be theirs.

When I heard about the suicide attack on the Kaj Education Center in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi district at the end of September, my heart sank. About 53 students, mostly young women, lost their lives and more than 100 were injured. While to the rest of the world it was yet another bomb that killed another handful of faceless, nameless Afghans, to us it was yet another horror to contend with.

While the rest of the world was quick to move on from the news, we are still reeling from the loss of so many young, optimistic people who were studying to be teachers and hoping to work for the betterment of their community and country. Their lives were taken for daring to pursue education, for daring to dream.

When I heard about the bombing, I thought of my older daughter. She is now in first grade, is studying a lot and dreams big. As a father, I put all my energy and effort into giving her the best, I put her needs before mine. I help her with her homework and make sure she goes to a good school.

She knows about bombings, but I try my best to keep her in the dark about school attacks. She and her classmates have been trained in how to escape in the event of an attack, so she knows it can happen. But I keep telling her that her school won’t be a target and she believes me.

Sometimes she asks, why has God created bad people? A question that is difficult to answer. In response, I simply shrug my shoulders and say, maybe God made them to be good people but they turned out bad. Maybe they didn’t go to school and became bad people.

What I can’t tell her is that the principal at her school told me and other parents that he cannot guarantee the safety of our children.

It burns me inside to know that I can work hard to provide for her and her younger sister, to make sure they get an education, that they can follow their dreams, but I can’t fully protect them from them who hate them for being Shia. Muslims.

There are many Shia fathers and mothers like me. Many fear that they will not see their children grow up to be doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, etc. who they want to be. We have called on the government to protect us, but they have turned a blind eye to the violence. We have called on the international community to do something, but our calls have been ignored.

Many of the community have chosen to leave Afghanistan in search of a safe place to raise their children.

But many of us have also decided to stay and persevere. In the face of increasing violence, we as a community will never give up on practicing our faith and pursuing education. The rest of us have learned to find hope in the small.

The day after the deadly suicide attacks in Dasht-e-Barchi, I sent my little daughter to school. As I walked the streets of Kabul, I saw other groups of students. It was clear that our spirit had not broken.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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