“As-salamu alaykum; peace be upon you.” That statement was the focus of the candle-lighting vigil held on Feb. 17, 2015, in honor of the three Muslim students who were recently slain in Chapel Hill, N.C.
More than 400 Stony Brook University students, professors and community members gathered in the Student Activity Center’s Auditorium to mourn and pay tribute to the students — Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha — and support the Muslim cause, generally.
Following the events at Charlie Hebdo in Paris back in early January, a newfound hate for Muslims caught fire around the world. Unable to separate individual acts of brutality from a religion practiced by more than 1.5 billion followers worldwide, many have rooted their hate in all Muslim people. The vigil at Stony Brook University was held to dispel that bigotry, memorialize the lives of three Muslim students who were killed solely because of their faith, and shed light on the true peaceful practices of Islam.
Hosted by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Interfaith Center at Stony Brook, Sister Sanaa Nadim began the service with a message to all. “Tonight is a special night. It is a night to mourn but also a night to celebrate,” she said. “Tonight we stand together against the most crippling human emotion: hate.”
The murder of the three students, which occurred on Feb. 10, 2015, originally appeared to have been motivated by an “ongoing neighbor dispute over parking,” local police said. But in time, it became clear that the crime, which was committed by Craig Stephen Hicks, was motivated solely by hate, bigotry and prejudice.
Sister Sanaa, who is the MSA faculty advisor and Chaplain of the Islamic Society, introduced each speaker, student group, professor, alumnus, and poet for the evening after her introduction. One of them was the president of the MSA, Mudassir Syed, who recited a verse from the Qur’an and said that the community must come together in unity and love.
Following all of the presenters, a few students and professors took the stage to share their own thoughts and feelings with the crowd.One started a #MuslimLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter chant that echoed throughout the auditorium and down the hallways.
Hana Baig, a 20-year-old student at Stony Brook University, stood alone on the stage in her red hijab and long, gray skirt, reciting the powerful words of a poem she had written for the vigil.
“Tuesday night, gun shots tore through the veil of cozy silence in Chapel Hill, and for those few moments, the world stood still,” she said. “When a single member aches, the entire body radiates with pain, and believe me when I say that the news of these murders makes us feel as if our own siblings have been slain.”
Vivian Abbas, a senior psychology major, who also recited a poem she had written one month prior to the Chapel Hill Shooting in response to previous hate-inspired attacks on Muslims, said that she was very happy with how many people came out for the vigil.
“I think it’s extremely important to raise awareness about what happened, and just spread peace, because that’s what these three people were all about,” she said.
Other less vocal students and community members came out simply to learn or to show support. Maria Siddiqui, a Stony Brook alumna, says that she attended because she wanted to hear the stories of the deceased. “I got a heads up that people were going to be talking about who they were and what they represented, so I wanted to come.”
Honaida Ahyad, a 33-year-old PhD student from Saudi Arabia, came out to show her support, but also expressed that the brutal killing of the students was about more than religion. “It’s a little bit overwhelming because it’s the death of innocent people,” she said. “Crazy things happen everyday. It doesn’t have to do with religion; it has to do with people being mean and brutal to each other.”
Just before all those in attendance held up their faux-candles in memory of the three victims, Sister Sanaa left the audience with this: “Bigotry, supremacy, pain and injustice. We stand against evil. We are the face of humanity and we still stand guard as long as each one of us continues to believe that tomorrow, there will be good.”