The Hazaras of Afghanistan are a tough lot, a fact I discovered very quickly. Setbacks or tragedies are accepted with little or no lamentation; a disease that cannot be treated due to lack of funds is simply accepted as the will of Allah, a hungry child accepts that crying will not fill the stomach so adapts to hunger pains quickly, and death is dealt with very practically.
Ever since King Abdul Rehman (circa 1890s) of Afghanistan, a Pushtun, coerced a few Sunni clerics to issue an edict declaring the Hazara Shias infidels, their killing acceptable, and their women lawful slaves, the plight of these hapless people has been one colossal disaster after another. Set apart from the Pushtuns and Tajiks by their characteristic flatter noses and slanting eyes, the Hazaras have been relegated to the goristan (graveyard) in every facet of Afghan society, from education to government employment opportunities. During the regime of the Taliban, anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 Hazara Shias were butchered for no other reason their belief in the Wilayat of Imam Ali (peace be upon him). Hundreds of women were held captive and their breasts amputated to brand them as Shias. This is not hearsay; these facts are documented, and I have had the heart-wrenching (mis)fortune of meeting some of these victims personally. Comfort Aid International tries to assist about 3,000 Sadaat widows, many with several children to feed and no wage earner, with food and other basic needs.
My involvement with the Shias of Afghanistan began in December 2005, when I was requested to visit a desperate situation involving about 104 orphans in Herat, Afghanistan. I was naturally reluctant to go to a place where the value of human life, especially Shia, is as important as an irritating fly. My fear was somehow overcome by the spiritual guidance of Agha Mohammed Musawi of the World Ahlul Bayt Islamic League, who encouraged and guided me. I thank Allah every moment of my life that He made it happen, that I did go, even though the going was tough, the initial hardships were hard, and fear and uncertainties were like flapping butterflies in my stomach at all times. The orphans I met lived miserably; some were ill, none of them had milk since breastfeeding days, ate almost no protein, and slept on mats in a freezing hall with no heat and temperature at minus 10F outside.
I was devastated, but fortunately moved very quickly to stabilize the situation. Through a network of donors, Comfort Aid International (CAI), a charity that I head in the USA, was able to stabilize the situation. We got the orphans one glass of milk every day, protein and fruits at least three times a week, and immediate medical attention, including sending one boy for surgery to Tehran, Iran. A brand new orphanage that will be centrally-heated is nearing completion. Atop this orphanage will be a modern school for the orphans, Insha’Allah.
The Hazaras of Afghanistan are a tough lot, a fact I discovered very quickly. Setbacks or tragedies are accepted with little or no lamentation; a disease that cannot be treated due to lack of funds is simply accepted as the will of Allah, a hungry child accepts that crying will not fill the stomach so adapts to hunger pains quickly, and death is dealt with very practically. The more I scratch the surface of the misery of our brethren in Afghanistan, the more despondent I become. We have over a million Hazara refugees in and around Kabul who have no water. Scores of children, especially young girls, trek down steep mountainsides to Kabul proper and struggle with a pail of water up again. I got to meet some of them in the dead of winter, and their plight broke my heart; no human beings deserve this. The girls were all orphaned by the Taliban, did not go to school, and thought it very funny I asked why. These very beautiful children desperately wanted piped water up in the mountains so they would not have to come down and climb up four, five times a day. I swore to them that as long as Allah gave me the energy and kept me alive, I would get them water.
Thankfully, after a long struggle, work is under way to get them water, and CAI is pushing to get the project completed before winter sets in for 2008. Afghan Hazaras have a lot of issues and hardships to overcome but none more pressing than of education; this is CAI’s priority. A school in predominantly Shia neighborhood of Daste Barchi caters for 18,000 students! Many classes are under torn tents and some under the sun. CAI will, Insha’Allah, build several schools, depending on available funding, of course.
Unfortunately, CAI has not been to Bamiyan or Ghazni (the least developed and backward Hazara communities) due to logistics and safety issues. Now that CAI is a recognized as a non-governmental organization (NGO) by the government of Afghanistan, logistics and permissions will perhaps become easier.
I do not mean to deliberately paint a dismal picture of our brethren in Afghanistan, but the facts must be told and the world educated on the plight of these people. It is one thing to be poor – it is another to be poor, discriminated, and persecuted. True, we cannot make everything right that was wronged to this people, which would be impossible and impractical. But to sit on our hands and wish the problems away would be unconscionable, and I for one will not be able to face my Lord or Sayyida Fatima and her children (peace be upon them) on the day of reckoning.