I was 17 when I lost a friend to anti-Shia violence for the first time. In 2004, I was in the city of Quetta in Pakistan, studying English, when one day my classmate, Emran, 13 years old who sat next to me, did not come to class. We later learned that he was killed by a suicide bomber, who targeted a religious group on Ashura, the day Shia Muslims commemorate the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
After that sad day, every time I turned left to whisper to Emran, I saw an empty seat and felt a painful lump in my throat.
This was the first time I knew about the violence against the Shia. My country of Afghanistan has seen a lot of violence, but the stories I heard from my parents were about the Soviet occupation and other events of the 1990s under the Taliban regime. So when I grew up I didn’t even know about the ethnic and religious hatred that some people in our community had towards us Shia Muslims.
Emran’s death shook me. I still wondered, who wanted to kill a boy who always tried to be classy and was always nice to his classmates? Who wished for the death of a young man who did not hurt anyone?
After those bombings, attacks on Hazaras and Shia Muslims in Pakistan escalated. I returned to Afghanistan in 2006, hoping to leave this horror behind. I prayed that gang violence would not reach us. But it did.
In December 2011, a suicide bomber opened fire at the Abul Fazl Shrine, in Kabul where Shia Muslims had gathered for Ashura. About 80 people died and many were injured in the explosion.
In the following decade, Shia children, women and men were persecuted by sectarian groups in mosques, schools, stadiums, buses, markets, etc. This violence continues to this day, as anti-religious people continue to attack ethnic groups and religions. groups.
Over the years, many of us have lost family and friends to anti-Shia violence. There are no Shia families that are not affected by the endless killing of innocent people.
Today, I am a father of two children. I remember the death of Emran 18 years ago and I am afraid that my children will face this horror again. Worse, I fear that the empty seat might be theirs.
When I heard about the suicide attack on the Kaj Educational Center in the Dasht-e-Barchi area of Kabul at the end of September, my heart sank. 53 students, mostly girls, were killed and more than 100 were injured. While to the rest of the world this was just another bombing killing a few nameless Afghans, for us, this was just another threat to deal with.
Although the whole world was quick to move on from the news, we are still saddened by the death of many young people, bright, who were studying to be teachers and hoping to work to improve their community and their country. Their lives were taken for daring to pursue education, daring to dream.
When I heard about the bombing, I thought about my eldest daughter. Currently in first grade, he studies hard and dreams big. As a father, I use all my strength and energy to take care of her the best, I put her needs before my own. I help him with his homework and make sure he goes to a good school.
They know about the bombings, but I try not to let them know about the school attacks. He and his classmates have been taught how to survive if they are attacked, so they know it can happen. But I still tell him that his school is not just going there and he believes me.
Sometimes they ask, Why did God create bad people? A difficult question to answer. In response, I keep saying that maybe God created them to be good people but they turned out to be bad. Maybe they didn’t go to school and become bad people.
What I can’t tell him is that the principal of his school told me and other parents that he cannot guarantee the safety of our children.
It makes me angry to know that I can work hard to provide for him and his younger brother, to make sure they are educated, they can achieve their dreams, but I can’t completely protect them from the Shia haters. Muslims.
There are many Shia fathers and mothers like me. Many fear that they will not see their children grow up to be the doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, etc. that they want. We have asked the government to protect us but they have ignored this abuse. We have asked countries to take action, but our calls have been ignored.
Many members of the community have decided to leave Afghanistan in search of a better place to raise their children.
But many of us have also chosen to stay and persevere. In the face of increasing violence, we, as a community, will not stop practicing our religion and seeking education. Those of us who are left have learned to find hope in the little things.
One day after the terrible suicide attacks in Dasht-e-Barchi, I sent my daughter to school. Walking through the streets of Kabul, I saw some groups of students. It was clear that our spirit was not broken.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect Al Jazeera’s influence.