Four years ago, Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot, in cold blood, inside their Chapel Hill apartment. Their neighbor, who had a history of Islamophobic social media posts, shot Deah in the head and chest in the doorway. He continued into the apartment, and then shot Yusor and Razan execution-style in the kitchen.
This wasn’t a dispute over a parking spot. Four years ago, Deah, Yusor and Razan were shot for being Muslim.
I remember that day so clearly — I think every Muslim in the U.S. did. I held a candle from a vigil in a Florida mosque, well before I even thought about applying to UNC, the monstrosity of the crime just beginning to settle in. We all the felt the shell-shocked horror. The utter lack of humanity. I still cannot fully grasp the experiences of the Muslim community in the Triangle area during this time.
As the news broke, the world learned more about them — that Yusor had just been accepted to UNC’s dental school, Razan was a gifted artist, Deah was a basketball fanatic. We learned about Deah and Yusor’s courtship and eventual marriage. We learned about their strong faith in Islam and involvement in community, their plans to travel to Turkey to provide dental care for Syrian refugees. The ummah, the global Muslim community, had lost their best.
“Our Three Winners” have deeply resonated with every Muslim-American, none more so than the Muslim community in the Triangle area. They are the ones who deserve to be celebrated, remembered and revered — they represent the best of our community, Muslim or not, and what we should aspire to be as citizens.
Feb. 10 is Our Three Winners Day in Chapel Hill. To honor their legacy, the Town's proclamation encouraged a day of community service, as Deah, Yusor and Razan did so tirelessly while they were alive. Whether it’s a deed as small as buying a homeless person on Franklin Street lunch or as large as building a house in Orange County, take the time and perform that deed on your next day off. It’s the least we can do to honor them.
What Deah, Yusor and Razan stood for extends far beyond community service, and Chapel Hill needs to follow their path, now more than ever. In the four years since their death, our campus has become increasingly divided, yet it is hate and division that led to their murder.
A generation of students have passed through Carolina since the shootings.The campus moved on to matters that at times, seem trivial when compared to the horrors of the shooting. We don't speak of them enough, and that's an embarrassment.
As enlightened and progressive as we make Chapel Hill out to be, we can never forget that just four years ago, three students were murdered in this town because of their religion.
Many aspects of UNC's tainted past, from blackface to racist building and stadium dedications, have come to light, decades after it should've been addressed and solved. The murder of three Muslims is not something we can write off as something of an ignorant past — it is very much our present, here and now, and a harsh reminder of the prejudice and discrimination that plagues our community and beyond.
The work done by their families at the Light House Project and Our Three Winners represents growth and perseverance even after the darkest of days. Their families, too, are role models, and deserve much more media attention than they receive. I will always admire their strength. I will always admire Deah, Yusor and Razan.
Because it shouldn’t just be the Muslim students and families of Our Three Winners keeping their memory alive today, and always — it should be all of us.
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