By Sadiq S. Habib, Karim Quintino, and Miriam Sabjaly — members of the
Portuguese Ismaili jamaat and anti-racist activists
This is a text we never imagined we would have to write. However, having witnessed how the tragedy of last March 28th at the Ismaili Centre in Lisbon, which took the lives of Farana Sadrudin and Mariana Jadaugy, was instrumentalized to generate media and political gain, we feel obliged to come forward with this intervention.
If we speak only on our own behalf, we are certain, however, that we are not alone in saying that honouring the memory of the victims means not condoning narratives that are, at best, misguided by ignorance, and at worst, driven by the malice of xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia — feelings that are increasingly permeating Portuguese society, to an extent we find worrying.
The expressions of solidarity that have reached us demonstrate how organizations and institutions of Portuguese civil society share with us a profound sadness for the loss of two women whose humanity, altruism, and dedication to others expressed the best of us. While this is comforting, the truth is that, for the Ismaili community, the pain and the trauma are collective and transversal: we shall never forget the despair we experienced in that early afternoon, as we desperately sought to find out the identity of the victims, or the motivations behind something we did not want to believe had happened.
Our incredulity and suffering were, however, exacerbated by the public discourse surrounding the event, which quickly took on a populist and fallacious character. The extreme right, through the voice of André Ventura, grotesquely used the attack to denounce a supposed “chaotic open-door policy”, with his statements being incessantly reproduced by the media, often uncritically and without contradiction.
The extreme right would be, however, incapable of profiting politically from a tragedy like this if it did not benefit from platforms to do so. We saw this on the very night of the attack, with Ventura being invited to participate in a debate on “migrations”, which became nothing more than a soapbox for him to disseminate falsehoods about a supposed policy of uncontrolled immigration. At a time when our community seeks to overcome the pain and make sense of a vile and, apparently, isolated act, the opportunism of the far-right offends us. We feel insulted, not only for their enormous insensitivity towards all those who have suffered, directly and indirectly, from this tragedy; but also for the way they dishonour the memory of Farana and Mariana and the work they tirelessly performed in life.
We were likewise offended by Mário Machado when, in front of the Ismaili Center Lisbon, he stated that “these temples are places where various crimes are practised, where illegal migration (…) [and] drug trafficking are encouraged”. While we expected nothing but slander and falsehoods coming from a neo-Nazi leader, we know that those have fertile ground in a context where the realities of minority and racialized communities like ours are ignored and made invisible.
The Ismaili Centre incorporates within it a prayer space we call jamatkhana, a fusion of the Arabic word jama’a (group or community) and the Persian word khana (house); but it is also an open space for intellectual and spiritual reflection aimed at promoting inter-religious and cultural dialogue. As such, it is a place that occupies a central space in the affective and social maps of countless people in our society.
During the live coverage of the event, a journalist said that this attack had transformed the Ismaili Center Lisbon, turned into “a place of peace unable to ever be peaceful again”. We would like to tell her that peace is not only a feeling but a collective practice and endeavour, and that, as far as we are concerned, that practice will continue. Yes, it will take some time until our wounds are healed — or at least alleviated — but, as in so many other moments of our history, we will persist in the pursuit of a fairer and more tolerant world, so that tragedies like this do not happen again.
(Originally published in Portuguese by Público on the 5th April, 2023: Carta de três ismailis à sociedade portuguesa.)
My condolences and love and support in your journey of grief and healing. I have been to Portugal and Mozambique to work with displaced people.
As a Justice Friendly Pacifist working for Gender Justice and Global Peace with Grandparents Grandchildren Friendship I fully support the three people who wrote this letter in the IsmailI blog. I have shared this letter in my Facebook and with my friends. I am an Educator Gerontologist and I write poetry to promote Justice Friendly Pluralism. Check my Facebook and Instagram @swramji to read my writings and list of films with stories of Elders and Grandparents Grandchildren Friendship.
Peace is not a destination, but an arduous journey which requires understanding, tolerance and sharing in one’s grief and loss
Mental health issues are everywhere, especially where people feel isolated and left out, hence a sense of Community with a capital C is most important.
The media are in the business of selling news; very sadly bad news sells faster.
I have been to Portugal and was impressed by its people and country
My deepest condolences to our Portugal Jamath, and to the families of the innocent victims.May their souls rest in eternal peace Amen
Farouk Verjee – Canada