“They took away our peace,” my mom said as we walked back from the mosque. “Shanti niyegese.” We have been going for the tarawih prayer that takes place during Ramadan almost every night, but especially since tonight was presumed by many to be the holiest of nights, Laylat al-Qadr. “I used to feel such peace coming to pray at the mosque, and now…” she trailed off.
Just as the last set of prayers (10 sets of 2 rakaahs) was about to start, the imam announced that there was an “incident” at the Carrollton mosque where brothers and sisters were forced to stay inside…potentially a hate crime. That last bit caused a stir and rippling gasps with what, I imagine, were flashes of images and stories most of us had seen of buildings vandalized with xenophobic smears, angry protesters turning violent at the assumed breeding grounds of terrorists. Carrollton is only about 20 miles away, well within the metroplex. It was an attack on our brothers and sisters, potentially loved ones, and it could have easily been us.
This on top of the armed hostage situation that shook up Dhaka just this morning, and is in fact ongoing. The one that, apart from scores of isolated, brutal assassinations (read: hackings) of controversial bloggers and religious minorities, was unprecedented. Around midnight, a group of attackers stormed into a popular bakery in the diplomatic zone of the city, taking a number of patrons–including many foreigners–hostage, and throwing grenades at the police.*
As one security expert on CNN would explain and certain friends confirmed, however, it was not a surprise. Trouble has been brewing just under the surface for years, and recently the bubbles have been beginning to break. Despite the government’s denial of any big league terrorist presence in the country, Bangladesh has been known as a regular pit stop for the likes of Al-Qaeda and its millennial startup, ISIS, with its own local chapters of each; not to mention incredible tension between the opposing political parties tinged with religious extremism.
I know that bakery. Holey is a sleek yet cozy gem in a city that is still trying to get a solid footing in Western/European dining and coffee culture, beloved by expats and locals alike. I was just there. Or at least it feels like it, now a whole year ago since I worked at BRAC for my practicum–during Ramadan no less. Friends and I would treat ourselves by cabbing all the way there for one of their delectable (cringe, but most appropriate adjective) pastries at expat prices. Gulshan, the residing neighborhood, is known to be the most well-off and safest in the city. My parents were relieved that I was stationed there of all places in Dhaka. So many late nights buzzing around in rickshaws from houses, parties, salsa class, live music, restaurants. Just like this night.
Facebook feeds bludgeoned with shock, disbelief, desperate prayers, reeling…pain at recognizing that living in the city “won’t be the same” after this.
I’m not exactly the most orthodox Muslim, but I do experience a sense of calm and peace praying in the soft-open room, moving in unison and shoulder-to-shoulder, letting the ground absorb all tension with every bowing touch of my forehead.
Extra holy nights mean extra (long) prayers, but we decided to go home for the last part. It didn’t seem likely that our mosque would be victim to an attack any time soon, and several friends stuck around (I wanted to try out the extra set for once), but hearing about Carrollton just ruined the mood and made my mom restless in a way she said would spoil her undivided attention to God.
The “they” that tainted our peace tonight are the ones that claim to be batting for our team, ridding the world of corruption for heaven on earth. These are not good people, let alone good Muslims. How can they justify being so when they deter observers from the mosque and drive some to tone down their practice so as not to attract attention; oh, and the whole “killing one equates to killing humanity” part of the faith they consistently neglect…during the holiest time of the holiest month (twisted extra credit?!).
I would like to say that love and humanity will overcome, that this evil can’t last; I pray for lack of any other viable option to change things. But right now, at the risk of letting the terrorists win, I am struck by the consistency with which fear, violence, and ignorance trample any flowers that threaten to bloom.
*Since this was initially written, the outcome of the attack was the death of 21 hostages including native Bangladeshis, police officers, Italians, and Japanese patrons. Cause of death: not being able to recite part of the Qur’an, a fact that shatters my heart. More wrenching is the fact that one victim who was initially allowed to go, Faraaz, refused to abandon his friends whose dress was considered ‘too Western’. That is true heroism that terrorists cannot comprehend.