February 10 2015 was an unfortunate day in the history of the US. On this day, at around 5:11 pm at Chapel Hill North Carolina three Muslim students Deah Barakat 23, his wife Yusor Abu Salha 21 and her sister Razan Abu Salha 19 were all shot dead execution-style by their neighbor Craig Hicks 46, an atheist—motivated by hate crime. I say ‘hate crime’ in the light of the interviews and comments provided by the immediate family and friends to the media, as opposed to a crime motivated by a ‘parking dispute’, an impression given by Hicks’ family (and some media outlets).
According to firsthand accounts of family and friends of the three students, Yusor had been worried about their neighbor for some time, who had appeared at their door several times carrying a gun in his belt and showing annoyance at them. Yusor had also raised her concerns regarding Hicks to her father for Hicks’ attitude towards them for being ‘different’ (implying their faith) from the rest, since both the sisters wore scarves to cover their heads.
But I don’t want to talk about what motivated Hicks to murder the three young, bright and amazing individuals. They were Muslims—which was the major problem—but more than that, they were human beings killed in cold blood depriving the community of the goodness, optimism and exuberance that reflected in their young personalities. I want to talk about Deah who was a basketball fan and student of dentistry at UNC, filled with a passion of helping the Syrian refugees, who was going to embark on a trip to Turkey this summer with donations to help Syrian refugee kids with oral hygiene. Deah, who was 6’3 tall and youngest in his family; Deah, who had recently married Yusor in December 2014 and it had hardly been over a month that both were murdered. Deah, a genuine human being who liked to tweet, post on facebook and instagram and create vines just like most of the kids that age. Deah had a secure and bright future ahead of him. He did not have to die. But he did.
I don’t want to talk about Hicks who thought wearing a scarf was an excuse convincing enough to pull the trigger on the head of a beautiful girl who was too naïve to call the police the first time Hicks appeared at her door with a gun. Her friend Amira Ata had warned her against him but Yusor had debated against the idea. I want to talk about Yusor, who is described by her friends as the sweetest and one of the most helpful people in the community. Yusor, who had also been involved in providing food to the homeless in the community; Yusor who was also helping Deah collect the donations for the Project Refugee Smiles. Yusor did not have to die. She had just been accepted at UNC dental school and was going to begin her new journey this fall. It doesn’t make sense.
I don’t want to talk about self-motivated holier than thou individuals who want to cleanse this world of people belonging to Muslim faith just because they exist. I don’t even want to give any thoughts to those bigots who applaud this condemnable act just because the three students represented a faith. I’d rather talk about the youngest victim Razan, 19, Yusor’s sister who was lively and creative, studying architecture at the University of North Carolina. Razan, who was an exemplary student at her university and was in the dean’s list for the fall semester 2014. Razan, who was working with Global Deaf Muslim to provide free access to Islam for the deaf. Razan had yet to graduate. She had only come to visit her sister when they were all shot dead.
These young people were just like the rest of the Americans, happy, chasing their dreams. And yet they were different—making difference in other peoples’ lives. And they have made a difference, for, the campaign Deah was working for has received donations over $120,000 after his death which was at a brief $16000 till some days ago (as reported by his sister Suzzane Barakat). While some people might have chosen to look at them differently because the sisters covered their heads symbolizing Islam, they were different because honestly, how many young Americans are involved in community social work and charity?
They have made a difference, letting the world know that not all Muslims show tendencies of ISIS or are terrorists. The anger and uproar caused on the social media which led to trends such as #ChapelHillShootings and #MuslimsLivesMatter even days after the tragic incident throughout the world, shows that even though Western Media tended to ignore the issue, the people around the world recognized that the young Muslims lives were not lost in vain and shall keep on lighting the beacon of hope and peace for their families and Muslim communities around the world.