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1 Year After N.C. Shooting, Muslims Are More Vocal About Their Faith


It was a year ago that three young Muslim Americans in North Carolina were shot to death in a Chapel Hill apartment. Local police say the shooter, Craig Hicks, was enraged over a parking dispute. To family and friends of the victims, it felt like a hate crime. What has emerged most clearly since that shooting is a more visible and vocal Muslim community in Chapel Hill. For NPR's Code Switch team, Reema Khrais of WUNC has this story.

REEMA KHRAIS, BYLINE: Last year, on this very day, Summer Hamad was sitting in her family room. It was late, a kind of humdrum night, when the phone rang. It was her oldest daughter. She said...

SUMMER HAMAD: Mom, he killed Deah. Deah's dead.

KHRAIS: Mrs. Hamid had just seen Deah Barakat, a 23-year-old with an electric smile and a calming presence, at a community fundraiser not too long before.

S. HAMAD: And I remember saying, oh, he's cute. And she said, he's taken, Mom (laughter).

KHRAIS: He had just gotten hitched to Yusor Abu-Salha. She was also murdered that evening. They were having dinner at their apartment with Yusor's younger sister, Razan Abu-Salha. Their neighbor allegedly knocked on their door then shot them multiple times. As Muslims, Mrs. Hamid and her 19-year-old daughter, Marjan Hamad, grieved publicly with the community. But inside the house, they began a different conversation. It was about wearing the hijab. Here is Marjan.

MARJAN HAMAD: I always knew I wanted to, but for me it was like a matter of like when I was going to do it. And then this happened. And then I was like, what am I waiting for?

KHRAIS: Her mom felt the same. So they decided, let's do it together. They sat down one day and circled a start date on their calendars.

S. HAMAD: For me, as a mom, I wanted to show you that it was OK to be Muslim. This happened, but it can't stop us from being who we are, from practicing our faith, because our faith is - it's beautiful. It's peaceful.

KHRAIS: The shootings stunned many local Muslims who are connected to the three victims. That includes Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University.

OMID SAFI: When I heard about the Feb. 10 shooting, at first it broke my heart. And then when I found out that the victims were Muslim and who they were, it broke my heart over and over again.

KHRAIS: Since the shootings, the local Muslim community has been proactive, sharing its faith, engaging others and trying to create a collective embrace.

SAFI: We have opened our homes. We have opened our hearts. We have stood out proud as Americans, proud as human beings, proud as Muslims.

KHRAIS: The tragedy of course was especially tough for those closest to the three. Mohammad Moussa was a friend of Deah Barakat from college.

MOHAMMAD MOUSSA: As an American Muslim, knowing that your friend was killed and believing that they were killed because of their faith, the notion that goes on in your mind is, it could have been me.

KHRAIS: Moussa wrote a spoken-word piece to honor the three victims, who were loved in their community for their spirit of service.

MOUSSA: If you knew anything about Razan, you knew that she was full of life and hope, that she loved laughter and her friends.

KHRAIS: Through them, Moussa wants to project what he knows as the true messages of Islam. It's something that Mrs. Hamid and her daughter are also doing through their day-to-day lives, even though sometimes they're a tad uneasy.

M. HAMAD: When I put on the hijab I wasn't fearful for myself, but maybe a little bit for my daughter.

S. HAMAD: It's not like I'm scared. I'm just very conscious of, like, everything around me. And I...

M. HAMAD: I hate that you have to live like that. But I feel like that's where we are in this world. Even without the hijab sometimes that could happen.

KHRAIS: Mrs. Hamid and Marjan will join hundreds tonight in an event to honor the three victims. They'll will remember Razan, Yusor and Deah, a loss that shook the community and brought it together. For NPR News, I'm Reema Khrais in Chapel Hill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.

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