Mourning Muslims: Vigil for murdered Carolina trio stands
POCATELLO — Christians, Muslims, Mormons and other community members gathered beneath the clear night sky Friday to pay tribute to three murdered Muslim students from Chapel Hill, N.C.
Students Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were killed in a shooting Tuesday just outside the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the killings.
The crime hits home for many Muslims at Idaho State University, not because they knew the students, but because they understand the fear of racism.
“Our community identifies with this community because it’s a university community with many Muslim students,” said Daniel Hummel, general secretary for the Islamic Society of Southeastern Idaho and a local member of the Muslim faith. “We worry about this type of violence in Pocatello as anti-Muslim bigotry continues to rise.”
But bigotry was entirely absent in this corner of Pocatello on Friday evening as a dozen people gathered in the parking lot of the Pocatello Mosque on South Fifth Avenue.
“My hope is that by our actions, our thoughts, our deeds and our words, it will make it less likely to happen here,” said Don Allen as he and others in attendance shared their thoughts on the tragedy.
“My hope is that we here can be a beacon of hope and an example to those around us so that fear and hatred will be replaced with love and support,” Hummel said.
The FBI announced hours after the Chapel Hill student’s funerals that it would be launching its own investigation into the shooting. Family members and friends of the students are pressing law enforcement to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
Preliminary reports indicate that Hicks shot the students after an argument over a parking space.
Hundreds of fellow UNC Chapel Hill students flooded a North Carolina vigil for the three Muslims on Wednesday night, their sorrow reverberating around the Muslim community and the world.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, the Islamic Society of North America and the Muslim Legal Defense Fund each issued statements on the shooting.
“Although the police have initially commented that a parking dispute may have been a factor to the shooting, we fear that this may be also a hate-motivated act based on the suspect’s anti-religion posts on social media and the viciousness of the crime itself,” said ISNA President Azhar Azeez in a statement posted on the Pocatello Mosque’s website. “We are concerned that the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in our society may have encouraged some to commit violence against American Muslims. We urge law enforcement to investigate this case as a possible hate crime. Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims.”
Hummell encouraged both those at the vigil and others at Muslim worship services to add their voices to the cry for forgiveness.
“We are taught as Muslims to be forgiving people,” Hummel told those at the vigil, echoing his earlier sermon to the Muslim community at large. “If bad things are done to us, we do good things in return.”
Pocatello is home to about 2,000 Muslims — a mere 3 percent of the local population. Of these, more than 400 regularly attend weekly prayer meetings. About 90 percent of Pocatello Muslims (both orthodox and non-practicing) are students at Idaho State University, according Hummel.
“We receive hate messages on our website, and across the country, online threats have increased with many in the Muslim community expecting that the next step is this type of violence against our community,” Hummel said, adding that he fears that his own children will be stigmatized based on their religion. “Today it was UNC Chapel Hill. Tomorrow will it be ISU Pocatello? We really hope not. … I want Pocatello to be a community that shines through the darkness.”
This article was originally posted on Idaho State Journal and can be read here.