A crowd of around 100 students gathered at the Bell Tower at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday to commemorate the lives of Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 – three Muslim students killed near the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus on Feb. 10.
The alleged shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, is facing three accounts of first-degree murder. Hicks was a neighbor of the victims. Police say there was allegedly an ongoing parking dispute, but members of the Muslim community have expressed concern that the shootings were inspired by Islamophobic sentiment.
The vigil was organized by Yafa Dias, a student at the Community College of Philadelphia and Rose Daraz, a journalism and political science major at Temple.
“A bunch of students made the event on Facebook because we felt we had to pay our respects,” Dias said.
Candles and roses were provided for attendees. Students also brought posters that expressed solidarity with the victims.
“We are all one here,” Dias said when she addressed the crowd. “I stand here today because I could have been one of them. It’s not fair. They didn’t get to live yet.”
The vigil opened with a passage from the Quran, read by biology major and senior Abdulrahman Nazif.
An Imam from the MAS Islamic Center of Philadelphia spoke to the crowd, while Nazif translated.
“There has never in Islamic history been something where someone has been hit because of his race, religion or color,” he said. “That’s not what Islam is … we want the same respect for us.”
The Imam led a prayer, followed by a moment of silence. A last prayer was delivered before the crowd dispersed.
Dias expressed to the group her hope for the future.
“We stand here today because we care, we believe in a better future, and we can only do that if we stand together, respect each other, and see each other as one,” she said.
Odai Abushanab, a second-year dental student, said he recognized many parallels between himself and Barakat. However, he said he is not afraid to continue his own life as he did before.
“I have to keep my faith in humanity … we’ll continue to live our lives the way we want to and practice our faith the way we want to,” he said. “There’s always light. … Thanks to anyone with social media, anyone can tell their story.”
Nazif said the media coverage of the shooting reinforced the American ideal of freedom of religion for him.
“The publicity of the incident at UNC Chapel Hill is important to me as an American Muslim because it tells me that America supports the rights and freedoms of people to practice religion,” Nazif said. “What saddens me most is that the victims were already having a huge impact on the society around them and they had so much potential for more.”
A similar protest took place at City Hall on Monday to bring attention to Islamophobia.
Lian Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Lian_Parsons