Rizwan Abbas chose to spend the night of Sunday’s deadly attack in Karachi on a hard pavement rather than his comfy bed to protect his Sunni neighbour’s abandoned house.
Although his own house escaped damage, he stayed under the open sky to watch over the damaged house of his friend, Babar, who fled the area with his family.
The 25-year-old received injuries when the massive blast ripped through Abbas Town, but as soon as the doctors bandaged his head, he returned home to provide a helping hand to the victims.
“When my brothers are in pain and in need, how can I stay away and not help them?” Abbas said as he walked around the rubble the next morning, helping remove the heavy concrete blocks.
The attackers are mistaken if they think that Sunday’s blast would inflame the ongoing sectarian violence. Living peacefully for years in the apartments that were heavily damaged in the blast, Sunnis and Shias have become even more united amid pain, grief and devastation.
Regardless of the differences in their religious views, the area’s residents have risen together to console one another and help victims get back on their feet.
“There is no Sunni or Shia here. We are all Muslims,” said Mohammad Nasir, a volunteer.
Sunni volunteers were on guard on the road leading to Mustafa Imambargah, allowing no one to go near it. Others stopped people from getting too close to the blast site, as rescuers attempted to remove the debris.
Inside the residential blocks, two young men, who live behind Abbas Town, were handing out chicken biryani to whomever they could find. “Take this. Take this,” one of them named Mohammad Raza said to a man in a green turban.
“If everyone would have helped only those who belonged to their own sect, there would have been no survivors,” said the young man.
Since Sunday night, he and his friends had pulled out two bodies, donated blood and distributed food amongst the stricken families out of their own pockets. “My own sister’s house has been damaged. But my other relatives are with her. Right now I am more needed here,” said Raza.
Shama, whose uncle, Ghulam, was amongst the 18 Sunnis killed in the attack, said, “It is the government who wants the Shias and Sunnis to fight. We have never fought and will never fight.”
Some women were seen trying to console Kaneez Fatima, who lost her cousin in the blast. “Don’t cry. It will be okay. We are in this together,” her neighbour Jameela said. Two Shia women turned up to tell the affected women that temporary residence was being offered for all at the Pakistan Sports Board hostel.
The residents disclosed that they had never witnessed tension between Shias and Sunnis in the area, even though there have been attacks in the past.
“Our children play cricket together. At nights, we all sit together. This attack is not on Sunnis or Shias, it is on Muslims,” said one, Imran, while handing out water bottles to others.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2013.