I was 17 years old when I first lost a friend to anti-Shia violence. In 2004, I was in the Pakistani city of Quetta to study English when one day one of my classmates, Emran, a 13-year-old boy sitting next to me, did not come to class. We later learned that he was killed in a suicide bombing targeting a religious procession during Ashura, the day when Shia Muslims commemorate the death of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Every time I turned to the left after that tragic day to whisper something to Emran, I saw an empty chair and felt a painful lump in my throat.

It was the first time I became aware of violence against the Shiites. My country, Afghanistan, had experienced quite a bit 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 had grown up not fully aware of the ethnic and religious hatred that some in our region felt towards us Shia Muslims.

Emran’s death shocked me. I kept asking myself, who wanted to kill a boy who always tried to get As into class and was always nice to his classmates? Who wished the death of a boy who never hurt anyone?

After that bombing, attacks on Hazaras and Shiite Muslims in Pakistan escalated. I came back to Afghanistan in 2006, hoping to put this horror behind me. I prayed that sectarian violence would not reach us. But it did.

In December 2011, a suicide bomber targeted the Abul Fazl Shrine, in Kabul, where Shiite Muslims had gathered for Ashura. Some 80 people were killed and many injured in the explosion.

In the next decade, Shia children, women and men became victims of sectarian violence in mosques, schools, stadiums, buses, bazaars, etc. This cycle of violence continues unabated to this day as religious radicals persist in their attacks on ethnic and religious groups.

Over the years, many of us have lost family and friends to anti-Shia violence. There are hardly any Shiite families that have not been affected by this endless murder of innocent people.

Today I am a father of two children. I remember losing Emran 18 years ago and I fear my children will go through this trauma too. Even worse, I’m afraid that empty chair in class could be theirs.

When I heard of the suicide bombing at the Kaj Education Center in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood at the end of September, my heart sank. About 53 students, mostly young women, were killed and more than 100 injured. While for the rest of the world this was just another bombing that killed a handful of anonymous, nameless Afghans, this was another horror for us to grapple with.

While the rest of the world quickly left the news behind, we are still reeling from the loss of so many young, bright people, who studied to become teachers and hoped to work for the betterment of their communities and their country. Their lives were taken because they dared to study, because they dared to dream.

When I heard about the bombing, I thought of my oldest 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, putting her needs above my own. I help her with her homework and make sure she goes to a good school.

She knows about bombings, but I do my best to keep her ignorant of attacks on schools. She and her classmates have received training to escape in the event of an attack, so she knows it can happen. But I keep telling her that her school won’t be a target and she believes me.

Sometimes she asks: Why did God create bad people? A question that is difficult to answer. In response, I just shrug my shoulders and say, maybe God created them to be good people, but they turned bad. Maybe they didn’t go to school and turned into bad people.

What I can’t tell her is that the principal of her school has told me and other parents that he cannot guarantee the safety of our children.

It burns me inside to know that I can work hard to take care of her and her younger sister, to make sure they get an education, that they can chase their dreams, but I can’t fully protect them from those who hate because they are Shia Muslims.

There are many Shiite fathers and mothers like me. Many fear that they will not see their children grow up to be the doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers, etc. they want to be. We called on the government to protect us, but they turned a blind eye to the violence. We have called on the international community to act, but our calls have been ignored.

Many in 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 give up practicing our religion and getting an education. We who stay have learned to find hope in the little things.

The day after the deadly suicide bombings in Dasht-e-Barchi, I sent my daughter to school. As I walked through the streets of Kabul, I saw other groups of students. It was clear that our spirits were not broken.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.



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