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Pakistan: Why I observed Muharram this year
93 of us perished yesterday. I don’t mean Pakistanis, I mean Shias. And as much as it pains me to identify myself as something before a Pakistani, this state seems to have left little choice for us.
Since the age of 15, when my parents decided to let me be and decide for myself how far I wanted my religious identity to go, I have been attending fewer and fewer majaalis every year. In some part it has to do with the fact that I got busy building a career for myself, but in some part it was also because I started wondering if the philosophy of marking Muharram as a way of protest really was relevant today. I was always aware that Shias were held as kafirs in many households in my own city and perhaps neighborhood. I also knew that they were being target killed in this country we call home, and I have lost family to it, but I still thought that we may have moved past it.
That was the time when Musharraf was in power. In the haze of his enlightened moderation, my teenage self felt safe. So I stopped going to the juloos as regularly. I also stopped taking Muharram so seriously.
Then, in 2009, the juloos was attacked. Instead of commiserating with us, many of our friends started blaming us for the violence against us. The juloos should be moved out of the city, they suggested. While I gingerly considered the idea, my parents and many other Shias I knew were vehemently opposed to it. I thought they were clinging to tradition.
Three years later, after spending a terror-filled Muharram each year and losing thousands of more Shias to brutal targeted attacks, I realized that what I had earlier dismissed as “tradition” was as relevant as ever. So then, I questioned, why shouldn’t the protest continue? And that is why I, a latent member of the Shia community, decided to observe Muharram this year. This was my way of saying no to the terrorists, of supporting religious diversity in this country. I have no intention of ever trying to convince anyone that my belief is more pure than theirs, but I have every intention to tell everyone that my belief never has and never will let the Yazeedi armies take over.
The protest is still alive, and we are still living what we have been mourning for hundreds of years. Imam Hussain’s followers, in principle or even just in ritual, are out on the streets even today to fight against fellow Muslims the way Imam Hussain did. And they are dying for it just as Imam Hussain did.
I never really needed a reason to become sure of my belief, but now I have found one. I only wish it didn’t have to be so violent.
Save us. Save religious diversity in this country. Save your right to dissent from the majority. Save your country from soaking in the blood of genocide of its own people.
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