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Aya Hachem Was Shia, So What?

aya-hachem-was-shia,-so-what?

This article was published on Muslim on 5/20/2020, and has been republished with permission of Muslim.

“Are we certain that she died a Muslim?”

Aya Hachem, 19, was tragically shot in the chest and killed by a gunman on Sunday, May 17. Aya was Shia. Aya was Muslim. Aya was a human being. 

And the response to her life lost? Outrage. Outrage not just for the unnecessary and tragic death of a young girl who had her entire life ahead of her, but rather outrage against an undying flame of ignorance. 

Outrage has broken out on social media as some Muslims chose to withdraw their donations for a well to be built in honor of Hachem and divert their fundraising to support her grieving family, after learning her family were of a Shia Muslim background. The loss of a life and efforts to support the Hachem family were met with Twitter user @humbleakh1 tweeting, “I didn’t know she was a Shia… no way do I want to be in a situation where all this cause could go against me on the Day of Judgement.”

And while this may surprise some and raise eyebrows for others, this is an incident, a sentiment, a backlash that is not foreign to the Shia community. Shia Muslims, on a global scale, face a continued pattern of alienation and genocide.

Microaggressions, erasure, deadly attacks, dismissiveness, and glaringly anti–Shia utterances are a burden we have carried on our backs for as long as we can remember. 

And the reality is that with every death, with every attack, and with every act of hatred against the Hazara Shias, against the Zakaria Al-Jabers, and against the Aya Hachems of the world, we as Shia Muslims are reminded of one thing: beneath a layer of an ostensibly collective endurance of Islamophobia, our Shia identity lends us to a duality of internal empowerment and outward isolation –  we live in a world where it often feels like we have no one but ourselves to lean on.

Even in times of tragedy, Shiaphobia and Shia-alienation rear their ugly heads – this is a reality which we must recognize and reconcile. Anti-Shiism is constant and systematic. It bears a long history woven into the fabric of a global society that claims to embrace differences, that claims to uplift the marginalized, a society that claims to fight against oppression and of tenacity against tyranny. 

But, where has this society gone now? Where has it gone when justice calls its name? Where now are the chants of holding firmly to the rope of Allah (Quran 3:103) and being a brother in faith or equal in humanity? Why must these only be used to demand silence and unity from Shia Muslims when incidents of division happen? 

It was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Imam Hussain ibn Ali (as), who once stated, “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.” 

Recognize this collective and deafening silence as oppression. Recognize this collective and unwavering ignorance as a seed of planted hatred and discrimination. And if you cannot bring yourself to share an ounce of pain felt by the Shia community, recognize one thing: we are dealing with the loss of an innocent human life. We are dealing with a continued injustice that took the life of an individual, whose life was sacred, for the Holy Quran teaches us that every life is sacred (5:32). 

And yet, we are numb. We have become numb and we have become desensitized because we live in a world colored by anti-Shiism in which a life lost is not always remembered like a life lived. 

And at times like these, I remember an excerpt from the words of renowned Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, as he writes in his nazm, “Lahu ka Suragh”: 

“Nowhere, nowhere at all, is any trace of blood 
This blood was not shed in the services of kings that it could receive recompense
Nor was it sacrificed at the altar of religion that it could be rewarded
Neither did it spill on the battlefield that it could be honored
Or memorialized on a battle standard
It cried out, this helpless, orphaned Blood
But none had the ability to listen, nor the time, nor the patience
No plaintiff stepped forward, no one bore witness and so the account was closed
While the blood of the dirt-dwellers seeped silently into the dirt.”

Aya was Shia. Aya was Muslim. Aya was a human being. These characteristics, these components of her identity – our identity – are not mutually exclusive. Yet, at the hands of xenophobia and ignorance, the schism of difference has widened. 

And I, as a Shia, as a Muslim, as a human being, as all of these things as a single entity – I am outraged. I am heartbroken. And I am tired. Have we become so numb that we stand silent, afraid of facing differences and diversity, that we are left indifferent to  human suffering? 

When will we, as a society, admit our complicity in the face of oppression?

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