The Muslim Student Association of Drexel University organized a candlelight vigil Feb. 12 at for the three victims of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shooting Feb. 10. The victims of the shooting were 23-year-old second-year dentistry student Deah Barakat; his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Abu-Salha, who was just accepted into the UNC School of Dentistry; and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha, 19-year old freshman architecture student at North Carolina State University. The suspect, Craig Stephen Hicks, has been charged with murder and surrendered himself to the police.
The shooting has sparked public outcry from the Muslim community across the country, with the hashtags “#ChapelHillShooting” and “#MuslimLivesMatter” spreading rapidly across social media. The shooting is widely seen as a hate crime birthed by Islamophobia. The police, however, stated after a preliminary investigation that the incident may have occurred over a longstanding dispute Hicks had with the victims, his neighbors, over a parking space. They have not excluded the possibility that it was a hate crime. Hicks reportedly posted incendiary social media posts criticizing religion, CNN reported.
The vigil began with Muhammad Sattaur, a Drexel alumnus of psychology who organized the event, speaking about the shooting. Members of the MSA condemned the violence and prejudice of hate and discrimination, handing out candles and flyers reading, “END Hate Speech, END Hate Crimes, #ChapelHillShooting.” The board of MSA then recited a passage from the Quran in Arabic and English called “Suraht Al-Baqarah.” A verse within the passage goes, “Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’”
In attendance were not only members of the MSA and Drexel faculty, but also representatives from other faith-based organizations at Drexel and the surrounding area, such as the Drexel Newman Catholic Community, and Drexel Hillel, a Jewish organization
A representative of Newman, Chad Maguire, spoke along with Father Dave Piltz of the Open Door Christian Community at Drexel, Imaam Niaz Hannan, a volunteer chaplain for Philadelphia and Associate Dean of Students Rebecca Weidensaul.
President John A. Fry was unable to attend the vigil because he was traveling, but he sent his condolences and Weidensaul and Dean of Students David Ruth attended in his stead.
After the speakers, a candle-lighting was attempted. However, the cold wind prevented any of the candles from remaining lit and the vigil proceeded to a moment of silence for three minutes.
Hannan then led the Muslim students in a funeral prayer for the victims, which ended with a du’a, a vocal call to Allah that usually occurs after the silent prayer.
When Sattaur was attending Drexel, he was heavily involved in the Drexel MSA, and eventually elected to the board of the national MSA. It was that experience that led him into activism, organized through a single group on Facebook. This vigil at Drexel coincided with other vigils organized around the country systematically by the activist group. Sattaur was responsible for the vigil in Philadelphia. The activist group has also organized the hashtag, “#OurThreeWinnners,” in order to represent that the victims have gone to heaven for their good deeds in life and thus were truly the winners.
Sattaur commended the amount of people that came to the vigil, noting the range faiths that were represented.
Sattaur actually came to know Faraz Barakat, brother of Deah, through MSA, and the rest of the Barakat family. “The family was always hospitable. … [In 2013] this family actually housed several members of MSA national in their own home during the course [of a conference in North Carolina]. We know them as a bunch of hospitable Muslim students who are very proactive and willing to help. We’ve all benefited form their hospitable nature.”
The controversy over the cause of the shooting has caused negativity against the major news outlets, which took hours after the shooting to show any coverage of the shooting and continue to debate the nature of the crime — whether it was a hate crime or a dispute over parking. “It leaves you in a state of confusion over how previous incidents that are very similar are handled nationally, and then you have this incident and how it’s handled by national media,” Sattaur said.
Citing an interview between CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Barakat’s older sister, Sattaur continued, “You’re left in a state of confusion as to why the title of that interview was ‘Hate Crime?’ In other scenarios, it’s much more upfront. Why does there have to be a question mark? Why is that the question of this situation?”