MU students host candlelight vigil in honor of Chapel Hill victims

Three Muslim students were shot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this week.

Students wrapped around Speakers Circle holding candles Thursday evening, honoring the lives of three Muslim students shot and killed Tuesday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Just after 5 p.m. that day, Chapel Hill police were dispatched to the area of Summerwalk Circle in North Carolina to investigate a report of a possible shooting. Upon investigation, police identified the victims, including 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad and 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

“The deaths of these three young and kind souls — it hurts,” freshman Yasmin Younis said at Thursday's event. “But when I say it hurts, I mean it really hurts. It’s the kind of hurt that makes you feel a lot of things — pain, anger, fear, frustration and a loss of hope. It’s the kind of hurt that makes you question the legitimacy of the constituency in which you reside.”

Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has since been arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Police are investigating whether his acts fall in line with that of hate crimes.

"We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case,” Chapel Hill Police Department Chief Chris Blue said in a news release. “Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly.”

Police believe the crime was driven by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.

MU senior Farah EI-Jayyousi, who helped organize the vigil, said she believes otherwise.

“This was an act of hate and senseless violence,” EI-Jayyousi said.

She said this vigil was not just for the three recent Muslims murdered, but all who been unjustly killed before. She spoke about how in December 2014, Kansas City truck driver Ahmed Aden struck Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein with his car and drove away. Sheikh-Hussein died at the hospital.

“We are here to honor these innocent lives taken out of hatred … and continue their legacy of giving and community building,” EI-Jayyousi said.

After EI-Jayyousi spoke, senior Soumaya Necibi asked those attending to take a moment of silence.

Younis was next to speak. Throughout her speech, she was holding back tears.

Younis said that Muslims are only responsible for 2.5 percent of all terrorist attacks in the U.S. Younis criticized the media for only representing Muslim citizens when they’re found behind a gun.

“For me, this act of terror, which the media so shockingly refuses to label it as, terrifies me,” Younis said. “It terrifies me because it makes me feel insecure, unsafe and unwelcomed in my own community. It makes me question my identity … Should I really go about my day knowing that there’s a possibility that I might not make it back to my dorm room?”

Younis said no matter their religion, everyone has the right to feel safe and secure while practicing their beliefs.

“Rather than allowing anger to eat you alive, use Deah, Yusor and Razan’s strength to help guide you to break the silence,” Younis said.

El-Jayyousi read Suheir Hammad’s poem, “What I Will.”

“I will not dance to your war drum,” El-Jayyousi read. “I will not lend my soul nor my bones to your war drum. I will not dance to your beating. I know that beat. It is lifeless.”

MU freshman Afsah Khan, who helped organize the event, said she hoped it brought to light the reality of Islamophobia to students.

“This really hit home for us because the victims were our age,” Khan said. “They were college students; they were Muslim. It could have easily been us, too.”

The students are hosting a fundraiser to continue the dental hygiene efforts of Mohammad and Barakat. On Feb. 16 and 18, they’ll be selling plates of ethnic food for $3 in Lowry Mall and Speaker’s Circle, freshman Inas Syed said.

“We are scared but we are willing to make a change,” Khan said.

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