Looking toward Monday's vigil, Afghan students at ASU reflect on their experiences

The Afghan Student Association at ASU will hold a vigil Monday to honor victims of the recent bombings in Afghanistan

Boom! Crash! A sound like thunder fills the air, and the course of the day erupts in brilliant light and heat and smoke. The once peaceful day turns to fevered chaos and worlds change forever. 

Thousands of miles away, the ASU community will never see its world-shattering terrors, but its consequences are still felt by those who understand its significance.

In the weeks following the recent bombings in Afghanistan where over 150 people were killed, ASU Afghan students reflect on the importance of Afghan representation, their experiences being Afghan at ASU and the importance of hosting a vigil for the lives lost.

The vigil, which will be put on by the Afghan Student Association (ASA) at 6 p.m. Monday at Old Main in Tempe, is to honor the Afghanistan lives lost during the bombings that have occurred in the country in recent weeks.

Masjid Jama, which translates to "Friday at Mosque," is a place of worship in Afghanistan dating back to the 12th century and is known for its intricate blue tiles. It is also the location of one of the bombings and where Roma Danishyar, marketing manager for the ASA at ASU, could have lost her relatives.

“My cousin and my uncle, on the same exact day, at the same time that it happened, passed by it two minutes after [the bombing] happened,” Danishyar said.

She said the news came as a shock to her and her family, who had visited the mosque in Herat a year prior.

“It was shocking to us. We had to call quickly to see if everyone was okay and our cousins were fine. It was just really sad that this beautiful, beautiful place was probably ruined like that.”

Being at ASU, Danishyar said it can be hard to explain the impact these events have on her. She said her family moved here in 2001 from Afghanistan, and listening to their experiences gives her a different perspective on what’s going on around her.

“Explaining it sometimes can be really hard,” she said. “People haven’t really experienced anything of this in life, which is true of even me. My family has seen war in front of their eyes, and it’s just different when they explain it to me. They can’t exactly explain because I haven’t seen it with my own eyes.”

Zorah Zafari, one of the co-founders and vice president of the ASA at ASU, said that she can feel this same way and that ASU’s diversity helped her feel more comfortable after growing up as the only kid wearing a hijab in school.

“I first started wearing my scarf around sixth grade,” Zafari said. “I don’t really know why I started wearing it, I just did …. In seventh and eighth grade it started catching up to me like, ‘Whoa, I’m wearing a scarf.’”

She said that while she never let that bother her, when she arrived at ASU she was excited by its wide diversity.

“In high school, despite being involved and so immersed into my environment, I always felt that I stood out,” Zafari said. “But coming into ASU, there was so much diversity. I wasn’t the only person who wore a scarf on their head anymore.”

However, despite more inclusion and diversity, she said there was still something missing that she and her friends couldn’t help notice.

“Here at ASU there is an organization for absolutely everything and anything you could possibly think about, and there isn’t one for Afghan students,” she said. “So we were like, ‘Okay, I think it’s about time we start one at ASU.’”

The president of the ASA at ASU, Fara Arefi, said what she noticed in her community was a lack of support towards Afghanistan and Afghans.

“I grew up knowing Afghanistan as this country with such a rich history, as a country known for its hospitality and kindness, and I saw it from the women in my family,” Arefi said. “Then when the war happened, I was constantly introduced to this narrative of terrorism, of war …. I felt like the Afghan narrative was lost.”

She said that coming to ASU and seeing the opportunities presented to her here helped her create this need to create the association at ASU.

“The thing is, most of my inspiration didn’t come from Muslims, it didn’t come from other hijabis, and it didn’t come from other Afghans,” she said. “I was encouraged to further embrace my identity by the people that I met that were also embracing their own identities.”

Arefi said the work they are doing in the association and at the vigil is to bring awareness to Afghan people and support a community she feels is often ignored.

“We are always the overlooked minority in the Muslim community, I feel,” Arefi said. “We’re here to create that foundation so that in the future people are more encouraged to support Afghanistan, they are more aware of what’s going on in Afghanistan and that this continuous cycle of Afghanistan being forgotten of comes to an end.”

She hopes that those who come to the vigil can feel more connected to the Afghan lives lost and the events taking place there.

“I’m really hoping that the vigil will really help the people personally connect to Afghanistan, will help people feel a sense of empathy towards the Afghan lives recently lost and that that empathy they feel will help them become more active,” Arefi said. “I feel that’s the only way those lives lost won't die in vain. ... Every cause deserves a voice.”

To attend the vigil and learn more click here.


Reach the reporter at balnero13@gmail.com or follow @BaldnerOwen on Twitter.

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