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Monday April 12th

'Everybody's struggle is our struggle': Family and friends remember Our Three Winners

<p>Imad Ahmad (left), Deah's best friend and roommate, and Lina Chaarawi, Yusor and Razan's cousin, pose in front of candles for each of Our Three Winners.</p>
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Imad Ahmad (left), Deah's best friend and roommate, and Lina Chaarawi, Yusor and Razan's cousin, pose in front of candles for each of Our Three Winners.

On Feb. 10, 2015, Yusor Abu-Salha, her husband Deah Barakat and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were killed in Deah and Yusor’s apartment in Chapel Hill.

Family, friends and community members remember the legacy of Our Three Winners, especially in the current political climate.

“We bleed for them and their families,” said Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center. “We all realize that if the most beautiful, most socially conscious of us can be hunted down in the comfort of our own home, then all of us are vulnerable.”

In the two years since their deaths, Safi said he has seen America fall further into the abyss of Islamophobia, racism and bigotry.

“It’s not simply about Islam and Muslims,” Safi said. “It is about the very future of the American experiment as a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-ethnic democracy.”

Lina Chaarawi, Yusor and Razan’s cousin, said President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and recent executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. have been hurtful and saddening, but the response of many Americans is reassuring.

“Seeing the protests across the country, people gathering at the airports, even simple tweets — it’s all very empowering,” Chaarawi said.

Imad Ahmad, a friend of Deah’s, believes that Trump’s actions are not representative of America as a whole.

“With this recent executive order, and what I saw with the protests at the airport, everyone is coming together because they have this common goal,” Ahmad said. “Because of Trump, we have a common foundation and are able to reach out to other people — so in a sense this came out to be a positive.”

Yousef Abu-Salha, Yusor and Razan’s brother, said he hopes that people can become aware of the hateful rhetoric spreading through the country and open their hearts to everyone and move forward.

“I don’t think by any means that the Muslims are the only ones suffering in America — I think there are many groups, but everybody’s struggle is our struggle,” Abu-Salha said.

Khadiga Konsouh, vice president of the UNC Muslim Students Association, said she wished people would approach Muslims and ask questions to erase their negativism and uncertainty.

“As we approach the anniversary of their death, it’s important to kind of really humble yourself and take away that fear or any negativity you have towards a race, gender or religion,” Khadiga said.

Deah, Yusor and Razan are remembered by many for their commitment to service.

“They used to do what they loved, but they would use that to do good,” Yousef said. “Everything they did here was very inspirational.”

Before his death, Deah was planning to participate in Project: Refugee Smiles, a mission to provide medical and dental services to refugees on the Syrian border. The mission’s trip to the Syrian border, which occurs annually, will now be carried out in honor of Our Three Winners.

“I hope that people can look at their lives and just realize how philanthropic, compassionate and optimistic these students were,” Chaarawi said. “They always wanted to give back to the community since day one — and that’s their main message, to send love and awareness.”

An endowment fund has been set up in honor of Our Three Winners to continue their legacy. The proceeds go towards service projects, such as education funding and dental relief.

“Even with all the things that are happening in the political climate today, I would like people to remember people like Deah, Yusor and Razan who gave back to the community, and that we’re all striving to make America a better place,” Ahmad said. “A place where everyone is accepted, a place where everyone is able to practice freely as to what they believe and to freely adhere to what they want to strive for.”

On Sunday, UNC MSA will host a Stop Hunger Now event in the Great Hall of the Student Union from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in honor of Our Three Winners.

“It’s important to remember their service, the effort that they put into the community — the lives they led — whether or not they impacted us personally,” Khadiga said. “They set an example of what a human should be.”

Yousef said he hopes people are inspired to give back and live like Our Three Winners, especially on the anniversary of their death.

“I hope people are encouraged to do something good, whether it’s giving blood or just telling somebody you love them or donating to a charity, do something in either their honor or just in the honor of America,” Yousef said.

Yousef said he hopes people take away from their lives the idea that they were part of a diverse America. He cited Yusor’s comments on the hijab as an example of such diversity.

“She said although she wears the hijab on her head, she saw it as very symbolic. She said, ‘Although I seem different, I am very meshed in this colorful fabric that is the USA.’ I would hope people would take that away,” Yousef said.

Yousef said Yusor, Razan and Deah were kind to everyone, regardless of who they were.

“No matter who you were, no matter where you were from, no matter what your political affiliation was, what the color of your skin was, what your gender was, or how you identified — they opened their hearts to everybody,” he said.

@laurentalley13

city@dailytarheel.com



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