Today is the holy day of Ashura where, in Islam, believers mourn the death of Imam Hussein, the prophet Mohammed’s grandson. Imam Hussein was fighting a great oppressor and on this day he and his entire family and followers were massacred and left in the desert of Karbala. This story is most important to Shi’ia Muslims a they believe Imam Hussein to be the rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed. Sunnis also believe this day to be sacred and attribute other reasons to the observance like the day god forgave Adam.
or all, it is a day to mourn, to reflect, to gather with close family and friends and to re-dedicate one’s self to overcoming oppression and moving towards justice. We have the day off and I am home reading and resting. In Afghanistan, people make Sheer-E-Berenj (milky rice) or rice pudding and distribute it to neighbors and friends and family. Today Nassim, one of the guest house cooks and caretakers, made some rice pudding for us.
Nassim was kind enough to include us and it was lovely to join the observances in a little way. Serena, who is staying at the guest home with me, enjoyed the warm pudding too and as we ate it up happily we spoke about taking a walk later in the day. It’s a sunny, mild day and it’s always nice to spend a little time wandering our neighborhood. Happy with the sweet sheer-E-berenj in our tummies, we went off to our own rooms again.
Then Serena got the text. A bomb exploded in a crowded Shi’ia Mosque in Kabul. 20 people were confirmed dead and the toll was expected to rise. I was sick. I texted all the friends and contacts I had in Kabul to make sure people were okay. I was especially worried about my Shi’ia friends and their families. Were some of them observing the day at this mosque? Suddenly I wished I had not eaten the rice pudding, it was turning and churning in my stomach as I waited for responses.
One by one they came in. People were fine, unharmed, some were worried about their co-religionists. Most everyone asked how I was and wanted to make sure I was okay. I was overcome with emotion. Why? Why? Why? What purpose? What use? What rationale? There is much complexity to answer why and what rationale – from the individual who carried out the suicide attack to those who helped, planned, and who justify it. But at the core is the age old divide and conquer strategy. As long as multiple schisms, breaks, and barriers are present between humans – justice for all will never come. Those who benefit from injustice have a vested interest in keeping people at each others’ throats. Religion, nationality, race, gender, age, etc. are all convenient distractions that engage us in fighting each other instead of the larger forces that keep us in chains.
May we reflect today, as those who are observing Ashura, on the chains that bind us. Let us see what we need to let go of, unravel, and heave off. Right now it feels hard, but I am grateful to be here with the theater team from Kunduz. I am honored to work with people dedicated to overcoming oppression through non-violence, through art, and through community building. While it seems small, I know it is the only way forward. I hope we can all see the destruction that injustice and oppression has wrought on our world, mourn the pain, and then go out and offer sweetness and closeness to our neighbors.
My time in Kabul is coming to a close. Our final performances are Thursday and then I return home soon after. I am thankful that I have closeness and community here and for the openness and generosity shown to me. It’s a bittersweet place to be.