As the last of the sun ducked behind the glowing Pike Place Market sign on Feb. 14, the Muslim call to prayer rang through Seattle’s Westlake Park during an evening vigil in memory of Chapel Hill shooting victims Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.
Hundreds of Muslims gathered together, laid their mats on the cement and listened to recited verses from the Quran, which included verse 3:125:
“Yes, if you remain patient and conscious of God and the enemy come upon you [attacking] in rage, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand angels having marks [of distinction].”
Coincidentally, about 5,000 people of all faiths attended the funeral just a few days prior in North Carolina for the three victims. The three students of University of North Carolina were fatally shot by a neighbor on Feb. 10 at their apartment complex near the school campus in Chapel Hill.
Several hundred participants — Muslim Americans and allies — at the Saturday vigil in downtown Seattle lit candles, held red and white roses and listened to memories shared by people who personally knew the victims.
“Today I feel blessed and honored to have known them, such great people and their families,” said Zeinab Abrahim, a graduate student at the University of Washington and a close family friend of the victims.
“I feel hopeful for Muslim and non-Muslim youth who have the legacy of Deah, Yusor and Razan to look up to and continue. I feel happy for the dialogue this passing has created,” said Abrahim.
Much of that dialogue, especially on social media, has focused on the skewed mainstream coverage, which has portrayed the killer, 46-year-old Craig Hicks, as motivated to kill over a parking dispute with his neighbors. While the families of the victims have repeatedly said that Hicks had a history of picking on the victims based on their visible Muslim garb and demonstrated extreme anti-theist beliefs on his Facebook page, no motive has been established by police thus far.
Additionally, there is frustration with the rhetoric employed by mainstream media, which didn’t use the term “terrorist” in relation to Hicks or blame all atheists for the actions of one, which would have likely been the case had the perpetrator been a Muslim. The continued dehumanization of Muslims in the media is blamed for growing Islamophobic sentiments.
“The fact that so many of us can relate to what happened in North Carolina has shaken quite a few of us,” said Ahsen Nadeem, a second-year dental student at the University of Washington. Many people at the vigil held signs reading “I’m a 21 yr old Muslim Student Too,” “Muslim Lives Matter” and “Am I Next?”
Nadeem, who spoke at the event, discussed the “spike in anti-Muslim bigotry in the past couple years” and a rise in hate crimes targeting Muslim Americans.
On Feb. 13, a fire destroyed part of an Islamic community center in Houston. On the same day in Dearborn, Mich., an Arab-American Muslim family was reportedly attacked by two white men in a grocery store.
“It hasn’t shaken our faith in humanity or our faith as Americans, but has made us think we need to do something to change this,” said Nadeem.
Friends of the victims’ families who now live in the Seattle area emphasized they wanted the vigil to celebrate the lives of the three victims as high-achieving students who exemplified a life of service, influenced both by their strong belief as Muslims and their American values. Deah Barakat was a second year-dental student who was committed to community service and had a goal of raising $20,000 for Syrian refugees in Turkey to provide dental services. His charity page has accumulated more than $400,000 in donations in the days following his death.
Barakat had married Yusor six weeks prior to their passing. She had planned to join him in dental school in the fall. Razan was a sophomore in the University of North Carolina’s College of Design majoring in architecture and had recently made the school’s Dean’s List.
Also speaking at the event was Adnan Mustafa, an internal medicine and pediatrics physician at Sea Mar Community Health Centers who was born and raised in North Carolina.
“Deah, Yusor and Razan’s lives were not lost in vain. Because of such a heinous act, we are able to gain insight, inspiration and hope to continue their cause,” said Mustafa.
He also spoke of a story last year from WUNC North Carolina Public Radio where Yusor describes her experience growing up in America as “such a blessing.”
“Although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, there’s still so many ways I feel so embedded in the fabric that is our culture,” she said.
“That’s the beautiful thing here. It doesn’t matter where you come from. There are so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions, but here we’re all one. One culture. And it’s beautiful to see people of different areas interacting and being family and being one community.”
Federal investigators recently announced a “parallel preliminary inquiry” to investigate whether religious or ethnic hatred was a motive in the triple homicide.