‘We’re all brothers here,’ Malik says proudly, ‘We need to look out for one another.’ I walk past him inside the Imambargah, which is now crowded with worshippers, chanting hymns and dancing rhythmically while a few sing songs venerating the fallen Imam Husayn. The smell of incense fills the room. It’s an emotional and intense experience. ‘For us it is as though Imam Husayn died yesterday,’ one worshiper tells me as he passes around a bowl of sweets.
A Quiet Year
This year, at least, Ashura has passed with relatively few disturbances, a testament to the tight police security and the community’s own precautions. Yet residents of Peshawar tell me they feel that it’s actually much more about providence. ‘All of us thank Allah for a peaceful Ashura,’ a taxi driver named Anwar tells me. ‘He who will kill himself to hurt others can’t be stopped. We’re just lucky there were no major explosions this year.’Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
This last comment is a view shared by Haq, who I meet for the last time as he rests in his barracks. It’s a Spartan room, lined with a few bare mattresses, blankets and personal belongings. As I greet him, the lights suddenly go off, a symptom of the routine power outages that have gripped Pakistan for some years now.
‘Thank Allah we had a peaceful Ashura this time, to him we are grateful,’ he says. I add that it probably also had something to do with the precautions taken by him and his men. He smiles and clasps my hand.
‘Unlike some, I’m not a wealthy man,’ he says. ‘What I do, I do for Pakistan and my family, and because after I’ve passed I will be answerable to Allah.’
It’s a humbling display of patriotism by a brave old police officer. And a reminder that while some claim to kill in God’s name in Pakistan, others see the task of protecting lives as God’s work.
Mustafa Qadri is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.