Vigil held to remember victims of Chapel Hill shooting

2/13/15 – Medford/Somerville, MA – Members of the Tufts community join together in a candlelit moment of silent reflection during the Tufts Vigil for Love and Remembrance in the Interfaith Center on February 13th, 2015. This event follows the triple homocide of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, her husband Deah Barakat, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

Members of Tufts’ Muslim community joined with fellow students and local residents to mourn the deaths and celebrate the lives of Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat, three Muslim-Americans who were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Tuesday, at the Interfaith Center Friday night.

In sometimes-shaking voices, speakers praised the three victims’ lives of service, grappled with why the attack felt so personal and recited poems and prayers. Over 50 people crowded the room, with some standing in the back and children wandering throughout the vigil.

Muslim Chaplain Celene Ibrahim-Lizzio opened the ceremony with words of prayer and comfort, offering counsel to those who may need it in the coming weeks.

“Life can sometimes be very, very short,” she said. “We stand with one another in love, in dignity, in respect.”

Muslim Students Association (MSA) President Abdurrahman Abdurrob, dressed all in black, emphasized that Yusor, her sister Razan and her new husband Deah represented “the epitome of Islam” and called their deaths a “global loss.”

Citing their efforts to help the homeless in North Carolina and Syrian refugees around the world, those who spoke praised the contributions the three had already made and mourned their lost futures and work cut short.

“Their loss is irreplaceable,” Liza Samy, a sophomore, said.

Mariam Shaikh, whose husband is a Tufts student, explained that Islam emphasizes doing good in the world and serving the community.

“These individuals really represent that,” Shaikh said.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike shared how deeply the murders affected them, even from hundreds of miles away. Abdurrob recounted his experience seeing a photo of Barakat in a tuxedo before his wedding, posing like Stephen Curry, who Abdurrob said is his favorite basketball player. He felt an immediate connection with Barakat, who was just one year older than him and shared a passion for many of the same organizations.

“There’s so many things I have in common with him,” Abdurrob said.

Samy, while not Muslim herself, spent her childhood in Egypt surrounded by Muslim family and friends and said the attack also hit close to home for her.

“It rocked me deeply,” she said. “I grew up in the culture. It’s part of what makes home, home.”

Xandra Minter, a senior, explained that her work often leads her to speak about Islamophobia. She expressed frustration and grief that its impact so often goes unnoticed until tragedy strikes.

“It hurts to be proven right that bigotry is so present in the world,” she said. “It’s something that’s very real here in the U.S.”

Minter said she hopes that the Muslim-American community can move forward and work to prevent future harm.

“We can spread knowledge and fight for justice from a place of love,” she said. “Please don’t let their deaths go in vain.”

Religious leaders, including Jewish Chaplain Jeffrey Summit and Maria Benjamin, a Life Together Fellow at Grace Episcopal Church in Medford, came forward to express support and sympathy.

“My heart is so much with the Muslim community at Tufts right now,” Summit said. “I don’t feel at peace right now. I feel grief.”

Benjamin offered the prayers of her congregation, and promised support from the local community throughout the healing process.

Medford is here. Reach out to us,” she said. “We stand with the Muslim community.”

When all those who wished to had spoken, Abdurrob played a video of Barakat’s older sister being interviewed shortly after his death. As the clip ended, the room fell silent. Only a minute later did Abdurrob retake the podium.

In the video, Barakat’s sister spoke of the contributions the three young people had already made and now will never make to society – at University of North Carolina, Barakat was in his second year of dental school and Yusor Abu-Salha had recently been accepted to the same school. Razan Abu-Salha was in an architecture program at N.C. State University.

Abdurrob reemphasized that the three victims’ deaths should not overshadow what they were working toward.

“Her focus wasn’t on how it happened but what their legacy is,” he said.

Sophomore Nazifa Sarawat, MSA’s vice president of social affairs, encouraged those in attendance to contribute to the Islamic Society of Boston’s efforts to put together dental kits for the homeless in their name. She also noted that MSA is starting a weekly charity program in Medford and Somerville to honor the three victims.

Ibrahim-Lizzio ended the ceremony with a recitation from the opening of the Quran, as everyone held candles in the darkened room. She expressed gratitude toward those who came together at Tufts to support one another in mourning and remembrance.

“In difficult times, in good times, community is the foundation,” Ibrahim-Lizzio said. “We have a beautiful community here.”