One of my favorite TV shows is wildlife documentaries, especially about the wilderness of Africa, the continent I was born in. The brutal nature of the survival of the fittest is fascinating. I always root for the younger vulnerable underdog deer, zebra or wildebeest pursued by a mightier hungry cheetah, lion or leopard. My heartbeats accelerate and palms moisten in anxiety as the chase ensues between the hunter and prey. An escape victory for the hunted elates me to no end and if the predator is to prevail, my heart weeps for the day, sullying my mood. I realize this is an irrational emotion, that Allah has created nature to be thus, sudden and savage. Still, I am a human that He has granted compassion and mercy, His attributes, no less.
So, it is incredulity numbing when news filters in about an attack on a maternity hospital in the slums of Dasht-e-Barchi, a poor Shia suburb of Kabul, Afghanistan. It is an area I am very familiar with, have been there many, many times. CAI has been active in the area with several projects for the poor, from building a massive school to educate the poor children, feeding the destitute, or construction housing for the homeless, especially for widowed mothers who have lost husbands due to Taliban and IS suicide attacks. Now, the hapless Shia Hazaras of Dasht-e-Barchi are no strangers to wanton violence. Their lives are at constant conflict, from the time they take their first breath to the last. I have always asked myself what is it that makes the hapless Hazaras vulnerable to so much intense hate that others, their fellow countrymen, would perpetrate such hideous crimes to spill their blood. Crimes that I have personally witnessed the aftermath of? The answer, sadly, still eludes me. Yes, they have Mongolian facial features, more cultured than the majority Pushtuns perhaps, more liberal in education, especially of their women, more enterprising and successful in trade and commerce. I suspect, however, it is because they are from the Shia sect of Islam, a sizable one-third of the country’s population.
I immediately call the CAI team in Kabul and alert them of the attack and to stand by for help, especially if the victims are children. Many times, we in the US find out about such attacks much faster than the Afghans, so used to violence in their daily lives that they are now apathetic to them. Initial reports say three gunmen dressed as local police storm the maternity ward at a charity hospital and go on a shooting rampage, killing at least 24 women and many children, including newborn infants. No claim of responsibility from any organization or group, may they never find any peace in this and after worlds. Subsequent figures have been revised with no newborns dead. One baby infant girl takes 2 bullets in her leg but survives. The image of her almost entire tiny body wrapped up in bandage breaks me down.
My spirits and mood nosedives and I fall into deep emotional despair. These are the holiest days in one of the holiest months in Islam. It’s a month of utmost mercy, to feed the hungry, be extra charitable, forgiving and repenting. This one incident tosses all these ideals out of the window. I sit back and scan all the news coming out of Kabul. Tears of anger, frustration, helplessness, and the futility of it all overwhelms me. I cannot imagine the pain the survivors must be going through and the future lives these infants face with a parent buried before they can digest the first milk from their mother’s bosoms. I swear I question my imaan then; I dare to doubt Allah’s mercy and benevolence; where is the Imam (a)!
Twenty-one new mothers, two adolescents, and a man perish this morning. So ends another cycle of absurd, brutal, and bestial attack of simple, poor, and innocent humans who have most probably not eaten today, for Allah’s pleasure. The prey did not even have time to escape, the hunter’s triumphs this time. Yes, sadly, I question my imaan today.
The children who have lost their mothers are in for a tough life ahead, of this I am certain, for I know the Afghan / Hazara approach to survival of the fittest mentality; may Allah have mercy on them. They are being looked after by blood relatives for the time being. These children are from the poorest of the Hazara community living in the generally ignored areas of Dasht-e-Barchi, where civic services like running water, sewer systems, paved roads, and trash removal do not top the to-do list of the local municipality.
CAI gets to interview 2 surviving fathers; I speak to one of them via WhatsApp; narrated below:
Mohammed Amir (36) is at the hospital, waiting to see his 6th child, daughter Zahra, born a day earlier. His wife, Sakina (33), is feeding Zahra so he has to wait outside before permission is granted to go meet his wife and child. He hears an explosion followed by gunshots and commotion. Out of instinct born from years of sustained violence, Amir jumps a dividing wall to safety. Sakina is not lucky, takes a bullet on her head, and is instantly killed, with infant Zahra still attached to her bosom.
I can feel Amir’s anguish as he relates this story to me, translated by Dr. Assef, our Medical Director for Afghanistan. When I ask about the condition of Amir’s other children, Fatema (12), Azeeza (10), Mohammed Khan (8), Sulaiman (6), and Mohammed Jaan (3), Amir breaks down and weeps; it is hard for me to stop my tears. Mohammed Jaan is constantly asking for his mother and Amin has no answer for the toddler. It is left to 12-year-old Fatema to feed, clean, and offer solace to her infant brother; she is a mother at age 12.
The other bereaved Hazara is Assef Zakeri whose son Mahdi (7) is shot dead, together with his cousin Razia (7) who were at the hospital for vaccinations with their grandmother Jameela who also takes a bullet but survives.
Both Amir and Assad are daily wage earners and dirt poor. I’m sharing photos of Amir, his daughter Fatema and baby Zahra at their home. I’m also sharing photos of Assef with his remaining family and wounded mother Jameela.
Comfort Aid International (USA) is setting up a fund to assist the orphaned children with milk, proper nourishment, and medical care for the first few years of their lives insha’Allah. Our team will oversee the program and render aid specifically for the 21 infants. Our initial goal is to have US$25k ready at all times until the kids are on a surer footing in their survival struggle.
This is the least we can do. For now. Should you want to participate in this invaluable investment, you can join hands with us by clicking here.