NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–A crowd of more than 200 people came out to the steps of the Brower Commons for a candlelight vigil held for the three Muslim college students killed in a February 10 shooting in Raleigh, North Carolina.
They came out despite the freezing cold weather, carrying signs and candles, sharing their thoughts and expressing grief over what is now believed to be a fatal dispute over parking in an apartment complex near the campus of the University of North Carolina.
The event, quickly organized by the Rutgers University Muslim Student Association (MSA), was advertised on social media and emailed to members of the MSA as well as the Rutgers chapter of United Muslim Relief and other affiliated groups.
The event was announced with a statement on Facebook:
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we speak on the murders of 23 year old Deah Barakat, his 23 year old wife Yusor Mohammad, and her 19 year old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha at the University of North Carolina on Chapel Hill. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi Raji’oon, Surely to God we belong and to Him we shall return.
They were young Muslims who had their wholes lives ahead of them, but they were snatched away from us because of the hatred of an evil man. Their deaths have sent a wake up call to our communities, reminding us that we have a long way to go until our battle with hatred is won.
In this time, we may be processing emotions that are difficult to understand, but let us respond in the way of our beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him). We will not stoop to the levels of our enemies and strike with bullets, but rather we will fight with peace and education. At difficult times like these, it’s important we come together as a community in solidarity, to show everyone that we’re united in this struggle.
To accomplish this, the Rutgers University Muslim Student Association will be hosting a vigil tonight at 7:30 PM, Brower Commons, to remember our three heroes.
Taufeeq Ahamed, 19, a Rutgers sophomore and president of MSA sat down with New Brunswick Today after the vigil.
He said that the idea for the vigil came after receiving an email from Rutgers Director of Student Involvement Kerri Wilson, offering to support the club in any way.
Rutgers Student Life provided logistical support for the event, including providing the candles and other supplies, according to Ahamed.
When asked about the police presence and event security, he reported that he was not involved in that and assumes that student life was responsible for them being present.
Ahamed said the purpose of the vigil was mainly “a show of solidarity,” adding “we thought it would be the best thing for the community.”
Speaking for the group members, he stated “this attack hit us very close to home.”
The three killed were all college students in their early 20’s. He went on to say that this incident “shows the Muslim community that we have a very long way to go until our battle with hated is won.”
When questioned about initial reports indicating that the shooting does not appear to be a hate crime, Ahamed said that while he was waiting for the results of the police investigation, “to hear 3 Muslim students shot execution-style in the head, it was very alarming to the [Muslim] community.”
“For right now we are taking our time to grieve.”
The lone suspect in the killings, 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, prisoner #B62798, is currently being held at the Durham County Detention Center, charged with three counts of murder.
Ahamed further stated that “we are a community that is afflicted with so much hate and bigotry, it’s important that we have time to process it ourselves.”
“Muslims and non-Muslims need to work together to eliminate bigotry in all walks of life.”
One speaker at the vigil was especially impacted by the killings: Nigma Ali Mohamed, 23, a Rutgers junior from North Carolina, knew all three victims personally.
She knew Yusor Abu-Salha especially well, having grown up with her. The Abu-Salha sisters and Mohamed are Palestinian. The third victim, Deah Barakat, was Syrian.
Prior to transfering to Rutgers, Mohamed, originally from the Raleigh-Durham area, was a student at nearby North Carolina State University.
“The most important thing about them, they were humanitarians," Mohamed said of her friends "They embodied humanism.”
She also said that “they were passionate about issues in their home country,” adding the victims were “very devout” Muslims known for “sharing their faith,” especially “the most beautiful aspects of their religion.”
A dental school student, Barakat was especially passionate about helping the Syrian Dental Relief organization, Mohamed said.
She reported that Barakat “was obsessed with basketball” while the sisters were “very athletic” women.
Describing Barakat and his wife, Mohamed commented that “they were always able to uplift you.”
Mohamed said she was not able to attend the couple’s wedding because of exams occurring at Rutgers.
At N.C. State, she says that she often dealt closely with the couple in the Muslim Student Association and in the local chapter of United Muslim Relief.
She and the couple worked together on fundraising projects and had the “same circle of friends.”
All three victims went to the same North Carolina Mosque as Mohamed.
The last time Mohamed was with Barakat, he was organizing a Muslim banquet and solicited her help finding sponsors. Mohamed assisted, cajoling her father into being a sponsor through his business.
“Hate speech and violence towards Muslims is unacceptable. We are humans too. We as Americans deserve our right to freedom of religion, and the past actions of the very few do not define Muslims or Islam in general.”
During the vigil, Dr. Annmarie Wacha-Montes, Psy.D., quietly came to the area where students had earlier picked up candles and made their signs, leaving brochures for Rutgers Counseling And Psychiatric Services (CAPS).
"We just like to provide support for our students," Wacha-Montes told New Brunswick Today.