Keeping Faith after Chapel Hill Shooting


New Yorker prays in Central Park. (Mariam Moustafa/ The Observer)


On Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, everything felt different. As I walked to the train station, I didn’t know if I was angry, tired from pulling an all-nighter or just feeling nothing at all. The night before, Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were murdered execution style in their apartment by their neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks. Yusor, had just been accepted into the University of North Carolina’s School of Denistry, joining her husband Deah, next fall. Deah and Yusor had been married for six weeks prior to the murder. Razan happened to be visiting her sister and brother-in-law when half an hour later, they were each shot in the forehead. Police have cited the reasoning to be “an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking” and are looking at the possibility of the shooting to be a hate crime. Craig Hicks was indicted on three charges of first degree murder and prosecutors are intending to seek the death penalty for Hicks.

One can not begin to imagine how the families of  Deah, Yusor and Razan are feeling. We’ve seen their patience. We’ve witnessed Deah’s sister calmly speak for both families and for her brother. We’ve watched Yusor and Razan’s father lead their funeral prayer three days after he lost his daughters and his beloved son-in-law. As their families brought positive change amidst this tragedy, they showed bravery, patience and most of all, love in the name of their children and Islam.

After I sat down on the N train, I googled the word “Muslim”; their faces appeared with sources like Holly West, The Daily Tar Heel and local North Carolina stations, but major media and news outlets remained silent. Just seeing their smiling faces, I began to silently cry and I didn’t know why. They each had their whole lives ahead of them, and they were just like me. Deah and Yusor invested their time in organizing food drives for the homeless and helping to provide dental care to Syrian refugees, and Razan was a dedicated photographer and artist. Many people, including friends of the victims and the outside world, did the reporting and told the story through pictures, updates and shared posts. The tweets began to pour in and the hashtag #ChapelHillShooting became viral. For major news outlets like CNN, ABC and Fox News, Muslim lives didn’t matter. Once the hashtags #MuslimLivesMatter and #ChapelHillShooting began to trend internationally, the media began to pick up on covering the story. By then, many people understood the message: stories are only newsworthy when “Muslims” are the suspects.

Yet the media was not the only blameworthy party: President Barack Obama addressed the murder too late. On Thursday, Feb. 12, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Obama for not speaking out, saying, “If you stay silent when faced with an incident like this, and don’t make a statement, the world will stay silent towards you.” A day later, Obama released a statement against religious discrimination. It is embarrassing and almost insulting for the American Muslim population that the President needs to be reminded to speak in the aftermath of the incident.

What you don’t know was what it was like to be a Muslim after the events of Chapel Hill. For the first time as I got on the train, it seemed as though every second glance was inspecting my indigo hijab. I may not have not known Deah, Yusor and Razan, but when they were murdered, I felt like I had lost my brother and sisters. As an immigrant and specifically a Muslim, I often feel as though I am in this race to assimilate and be “American,” while upholding my cultural and religious ideals. Sometimes I watch myself try too hard to cover my difference whether it is the way I pronounce certain words or even the issues I care about.

To be honest, I am worn out from constantly having to condemn terrorist attacks in the name of Islam or explain why ISIS’s principles and ideas do not in any way relate to my faith. Yet, when my faith and my community are attacked, the world moves on, ignoring our presence. After the Chapel Hill shooting, I began to obsess over the idea that perhaps my story will never be told because it does not count. I have been trying to get past that, to make better use of my anger, however, at the back of my mind there is the lingering thought that it could have been me.

As an incoming freshman, I expected a lot from Fordham and the Muslim Student Association (MSA). To be bluntly honest, students in certain classes have made ignorant comments about Islam and the Middle East which are offensive. However, I can’t blame certain people for their thoughts, but I can blame the University which silently stands by and does not try to educate or inform. And here I ask, is it our job as Muslim students to do the educating? If so, why is it difficult to get approvals or funding for events or meetings? As a Jesuit institution that cares about its students for who they are and what they believe in, Fordham needs to integrate and create a supported community for its Muslim students due to the fact that many of us are struggling to get past microaggressions and are just trying to prove that we are not any different.

Constantly now, Muslim parents are giving their children “the talk:” be careful when you’re walking, be polite to police officers, don’t protest, don’t stay out too late, don’t post angry statuses or tweets and just be “normal.” And we’re trying to be American, to be modern, to be everything we are expected to be and we want to be normal because we are in every definition American. All we want is to feel equal, to be accepted, and to be heard. But when the media ignores several Muslims who have been murdered in the same month and calls the incidents “random” then how can we feel like we actually belong?