I was 17 years old when I lost a friend to anti-Shia violence for the first time. In 2004, I was in the Pakistani city of Quetta, studying English, when one day one of my classmates, Emran, a 13-year-old boy who was sitting next to me, did not come to class. We later learned that he had been killed in a suicide bombing of a religious procession during Ashura, the day Shia Muslims commemorate the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
After that tragic day, every time I turned left to whisper to Emran, I would see an empty seat and feel a painful lump in my throat.
It was the first time I became aware of the violence against Shias. My country, Afghanistan, had seen a lot 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 grew up not fully aware of the ethnic and religious hatred that some in our region felt towards us Shia Muslims.
Emran’s death shook me. I kept wondering, who wanted to kill a guy who always tried to get A’s in class and was always nice to his classmates? Who wished for the death of a child who never hurt anyone?
After that bombing, attacks on Hazaras and Shiite Muslims in Pakistan intensified. I returned to Afghanistan in 2006, hoping to put this horror behind me. I prayed that sectarian violence would not reach us. But he did.
In December 2011, a suicide bomber attacked the Abul Fazl Shrine in Kabul, where Shia Muslims had gathered for Ashura. Some 80 people died and many were injured in the explosion.
In the following decade, Shiite children, women and men were victims of sectarian violence in mosques, schools, stadiums, buses, bazaars, etc. groups
Over the years, many of us have lost family and friends to violence against Shiites. There are hardly any Shia families that have not been affected by this endless slaughter of innocent people.
Today I am the father of two children. I remember losing Emran 18 years ago and I fear that my children will also go through this trauma. Worse still, I’m afraid that empty seat in class is yours.
When I heard about the suicide attack on the Kaj Education Center in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood of Kabul at the end of September, my heart sank. Some 53 students, mostly young women, were killed and more than 100 injured. While for the rest of the world this was another bombing raid that killed yet another handful of nameless, faceless Afghans, for us it was yet another horror to deal with.
While the rest of the world has been quick to put the news behind us, we are still reeling from the loss of so many bright young people who were studying to become teachers and hoping to work to better their community and country. They took their lives for daring to study, for daring to dream.
When I heard about the bombing, I thought of my eldest daughter. She is now in first grade, studying hard and dreaming big. As a father I put all my energy and effort into providing the best for her, I put her needs before mine. I help her with her homework and make sure she goes to a good school.
She knows about the bombings, but I do my best to keep her in the dark about the attacks on the schools. She and her classmates have received training on how to escape in case of an attack, so she is aware that it can happen. But I keep telling her that her school won’t be attacked and she believes me.
Sometimes he asks, why has God created bad people? A question that is difficult to answer. In response, I simply shrug and say, maybe God created them to be good people, but they turned bad. Maybe they didn’t go to school and became bad people.
What I cannot tell you is that the principal of your school told me and other parents that he cannot guarantee the safety of our children.
It burns me up inside knowing that I can work hard to support her and her younger sister, to make sure they are educated, that they can pursue their dreams, but I can’t fully protect them from those who hate them for being Shiites. Muslims.
There are many Shiite fathers and mothers like me. Many fear that they will not see their children grow up to be doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, etc. what they want to be We have asked the government to protect us, but they have turned a blind eye to the violence. We have asked the international community to do something, but our calls have been ignored.
Many members of the community have chosen to leave Afghanistan to find a safe place to raise their children.
But many of us have also decided to stay and persevere. In the face of escalating violence, we as a community will never stop practicing our religion and seeking education. Those of us who remain have learned to find hope in the little things.
The day after the deadly suicide attacks in Dasht-e-Barchi, I sent my young daughter to school. As I was walking through the streets of Kabul, I saw other groups of students. It was clear that our spirit had not been broken.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.