Stories about Muharram

Ashura’s message: Looking away, being indifferent is not an option

There are days when one just wants to give up and look the other way. Become indifferent. The inner argument is, “What difference can I make, realistically?” I recall feeling that way so many times. Like when I see “small” things like bribes being taken and given in front of me. That gnawing feeling, when people in your area steal water through suction pumps and you are the idiot who doesn’t do it because you think it’s wrong. Worse still, is the feeling you get if you stay quiet when you see a close relative scolding a small child, working ...

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This Ashura, I have a confession

My beloved Hussain, I write to you today on the anniversary of the day you died. Take it as what you will, I think of it more as a confession. Ever since I was very little, they told me to love you. To know you and understand you. To be like you. Probably one of the first things anyone ever told me was that your death on the 10th day of Muharram – Ashura as they said – was a tragedy that should only elicit heartache and sympathy. But before that, I knew nothing. As I child, I didn’t know who I ...

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I remember a Muharram in Quetta when we lived peacefully…

Gone are the days when Muharram was observed by nearly all Muslims belonging to different sects of Islam. Now it is observed strictly under security from law enforcement agencies. In Quetta, my neighbourhood used to be an example of religious harmony; non-Shiite Baloch, Brahvi and Pashtoon, all honoured the religious sentiments attached to the month of Muharram. Playing football, flying kites and sharing our lunches with our friends, regardless of what sect they came from, was a part of my everyday life as a child. There was no objection from my elders regarding my routine as they used to socialise with our ...

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Pakistani with every fiber of my being

I hail from green and white – from a crescent and a star. I live under lights that do not dim, even with electricity loadshedding every day. I walk in slums and narrow streets. I travel across shahrahs and highways that lead up to the mountains. I cower from the sun, glaring down, staring down; I cower from heat waves — from warmth that can make you faint. I am in awe of the sea, the beautiful vast sea that drowned a boy I knew, with long, white, foamy waves that I watch merge with one another. I recognise five rivers that have ...

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The bomb blast that shattered my life

“Bhai jaan, there’s been a blast here!” These were the words uttered by my injured little brother as he managed to call me for a brief moment, before the line dropped. What followed were perhaps some of the darkest moments in my life, characterised by feelings of intense hurt, hatred, helplessness and a river of tears, so overwhelming that it took me more than three years to muster the strength and courage to put those memories down on paper. For the past 40 years my family (a mixture of Shias and Sunnis – if you must use those titles) has been gathering on the ...

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Blood trails in Balochistan

Civil servants hailing from Balochistan are braving difficult times in Islamabad. They face embarrassment when someone poses a question about the recent bloodletting in Quetta and elsewhere. While elaborating over the disastrous blasts, they tell me how the Hazara community is met with deep-seated sectarian acrimony by non-Shia outfits. While in conversation with some civil servants, I was shocked to learn that the recent past had witnessed a tremendous surge in the exodus of Hazara youth to Australia. Over 600 youth are now seeking asylum through legal and illegal channels in western countries, particularly Australia. Several others are leaving their ...

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The more they target us, the louder I will say ‘I am Shia’

Over 90 of us perished on January 10, 2013.  I don’t mean Pakistanis, I mean Shias. As much as it pains me to identify myself as something before a Pakistani, this state seems to have left us little choice. 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 ...

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From Tahrir Square to MA Jinnah Road

Friday Dec 14, 2012; on a night unusually cold for Karachi’s standards, more than 50 thousand people decided to join a sit-in protest against the ongoing Shia genocide in Pakistan. I was one of them. After being stuck in several traffic jams I eventually reached MA Jinnah road (named after the country’s founding father whose own personal religious affiliation is ironically debated time after time). The crowd grew from a few hundred to thousands in a matter of hours. Later that night, the cosmopolitan experienced an unannounced strike but that didn’t stop the protesters from growing in numbers. What ...

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Why do the grown-ups cry during Muharram?

As children, we found ways to amuse ourselves in Muharram. On the majlis farsh we planted ourselves besides the most interesting of the dowagers and matriarchs listening somberly to the majlis. Most dressed in black shalwar kameezes, some wore black chiffon saris whose blouses had grown smaller in such subtle gradations (half an inch every Muharram) over the years that, though their flesh now spilled out of them, they could not perceive the difference in the fitting. From those blouses, their flesh cascaded in soft, maternal folds and it was its shaking and quivering when they wept during the ...

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Can’t Shias and Sunnis co-exist?

An eerie feeling of terror began to linger as we observed the changes all around. Containers placed as road blocks, more black and brown uniforms visible and sudden emergence of hatred filled graffiti by banned militant outfits. All of this heralded that the month of Muharram was here. The moon was sighted, and the congregations began. Check-posts, metal detectors and guns filled the city. An explosion occurred in one of the congregations, and things became even darker. There is fear and anxiety; someone is out there to get us, someone from the ‘others’. The news coverage talks about more ammunition and suicide attackers being caught ...

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