July 22, 2016. 10 p.m. Pakistan time. I was having pain in my back, so my mother ordered me to rest and to not do any work. I obeyed because I knew this was her way of showing me love and care. She did not want me suffering in pain.
I was lying down, dreaming of a world where there is no hate; where everyone is smiling; where people dance in the roads with joy. A world where there is respect and equality for all.
Then, suddenly, my younger sister Rahat’s phone began to ring. She picked up, and on the other side was my youngest sister Ayesha in Islamabad.
“Did you see on TV that there has been a shooting in a shopping mall in Germany?” she said.
Rahat cried out to me. “Wake up. There has been a shooting in Germany. Check if your friends are fine.”
I stood up at once, my whole body trembling with fear, my eyes full of tears. I pulled out my mobile phone. It felt like it was taking forever to reach Facebook. I was trembling and could hardly type.
Finally, I was able to leave a note for my friend Lucia, a volunteer teacher for the girls’ school that I run in Pakistan. She let me know that she was not in Munich where the incident had happened.
I was relieved that my friend was alright, but then I began thinking of the little children, the women running here and there with fear, the young men shouting, “Please help, please help, why are you killing us?” Just moments before, these people had been thinking of colors, of life, of plans for the future.
The next day, I am sitting in my office. There is complete silence. Everyone is busy working hard, but I am busy remembering. The events in Munich have reminded me of something that happened 19 years before.
I was a little girl. All the girls in my school were looking so beautiful. We were wearing very nice clothes, and we were smiling and playing. It was one of the happiest days for us because we did not have to study. Instead, we were taking part in a cooking competition.
I made a sweet dish for the first time in my life. It was pink. I placed it in a beautiful bowl from home and decorated it with dried fruits. I was very sure that my teachers would like it very much. I was proud of myself, and I thought I was going to receive very high marks for my efforts.
Around noon, all the food was ready and displayed in the big hall. Each girl looked tense. We all wanted good marks. The teachers went into the hall and ate the food. After about an hour, we were called back into the hall. I was smiling, my heart beating fast in anticipation.
But when I entered, I saw my bowl in the corner. It hadn’t been touched! I did not understand, so I asked a friend why no one had even tasted my sweet dish.
She replied, “Because you are Christian, they will not taste it. They will give you your mark without eating it; this is what happens to the Christian girls because Christians are not holy people.”
My heart and spirit were broken. I remember wondering why, if I looked like everyone else, if my body had the same parts as everyone else, if I lived like them, spoke like them, then why why why did they believe that I am not equal to them? Tears came out of my eyes like there was a river behind them that was flooding.
Suddenly, I started shouting, asking my teacher, “Why did you do this to me?” The teacher stood up and held me by my arm. She told me to get out and then threw me out the door. I cried on the road all alone. After some time, I stood up and went home with a heavy heart.
It seemed that almost every day at school there were small things that continued to beat me down. One day, I had had enough and left that school to start my own in the courtyard of my home. I was 13 years old.
I made a big note and hung it on one of walls of my courtyard school. “No one is allowed to talk about religion as it can hurt someone. and we are here to multiply the love,” it read.
Even at that age, I knew that people hated me because of my religion, but I also knew that my religion teaches me love. It does not teach discrimination. I started to teach Muslim students. Even today, 99% of my students are Muslim. Every year we teach skills to more than 200 women, and I love them equally.
I tell my students I have my own faith and you have your own faith. I respect your religion, as we are all sisters and we have to work together for the progress and prosperity of our country. Religion is our personal matter.
Those who treated me unfairly because I am Christian did what they were taught by society; it was not their fault. It was only a few teachers who hated me for my religion, and now thousands of Muslim students love me and respect me because I did not hate those who hated me.
I know there are people in this world who face discrimination on the basis of religion, cast, and status. Killing is not the answer. We must love them more; we must help them understand by our character that they were wrong. We have to let love and care and understanding win—otherwise, we human beings will ruin our world with our own hands.
When I was a child my father would say, “Do not hate anyone if they hate you, because hate versus hate equals more hate. Hate versus love equals more love. So love even if they hate you.”
I have followed my father’s formula all my life. I have multiplied the love, so I am loved.
Rifat Arif is a contributor from Pakistan. This piece was originally published on World Pulse. Sign up to get international stories of women leading social change delivered to your inbox every month here.