I am an American Muslim of South Asian descent. I was born and raised in Raleigh. I know Deah Barakat’s family and grew up with his siblings. I attended his sister Suzanne’s wedding a few years ago. My youngest sister went to school with Deah’s older brother, Farris. I did not know Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha as well, but they were part of my local Muslim community. Indeed, my mother reminded me that Yusor and Razan’s father, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, was part of our Hajj group in 2007.
On the day of the shooting, I was studying for an exam with two classmates in the Health Sciences Library at UNC, which is right next to the dental school. The Alert Carolina email came through around 7:20 pm and said three people had been shot and killed close to campus in a residential area. I stayed at the library until about 11 p.m. and soon after I got home, my younger sister called me and told me that the people who were killed were Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor, and her sister, Razan. I was in utter shock and disbelief.
I told my sister that several hours earlier, when it happened, I had gotten the alert Carolina email and I was horrified by these killings but I had no idea I knew who these people were. Not only that, but also all three were young Muslim Americans. All three, in reality, were me. I’m the same as all of them.
Like Deah, I was born and raised in Raleigh, and it is home. I’m a practicing Muslim just like they were. I used to wear hijab, the headscarf, just like Yusor and Razan. I was visibly a Muslim for 19 years of my life. I’m young, just like they were. I am a graduate student at UNC just like Deah was, just like Yusor was going to be. I attended N.C. State University just like all of them, and graduated from there just like Deah and Yusor. We were all Muslim, all young, all from the Raleigh area.
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When I went in to take my test the next day at the School of Nursing, some of my Muslim friends said I should tell the instructor that I couldn’t take the test because I was emotionally distraught. But I felt the instructor might not understand because I wasn’t directly related to them. They weren’t my family members by blood after all. So I started the test. I found it difficult to focus, however, as I kept imagining cold, metal bullets going into my head, one by one, as I answered the questions. Just knowing how Deah, Yusor and Razan had died in such an excruciating manner caused this visceral reaction. Horrific, I thought, simply horrific. I thought to myself, I am Deah. I am Yusor. I am Razan.
Coming from a minority community, you honestly feel like the people in your community are your extended family. So it was for me growing up as an American Muslim of South Asian descent. My parents were immigrants from Pakistan, and my siblings and I had one foot in Pakistani culture, one foot in the Muslim culture and both feet firmly planted in American culture. Just as we would go to mosque on Sundays or go to a Pakistani cultural event Saturday evening, similarly we would go to public school five days a week like any other Raleigh kids. I attended Underwood Elementary, Martin Middle and Enloe High. So Raleigh is truly my home and North Carolina my home state.
Thus, for me to learn that Deah, Yusor and Razan may have been killed because they were Muslim was shocking to me. Because that is the only thing that separates me from any other Raleighite, any other North Carolinian, any other American who is not Muslim. That is what I find difficult to accept. That is what scares me. That is what terrorizes me to the core.
Craig Stephen Hicks is a terrorist. He has terrorized our local Muslim community, if not the whole American Muslim community and Muslims who are minorities anywhere in the world. Now we have to be afraid that it doesn’t matter what our actions are. It doesn’t matter that we are helping others. It doesn’t matter that we are good people. We can be killed for the simple fact that we profess a different faith.
I wasn’t scared after September 11. I had faith in the ability of the American people to look beyond the actions of a few people who claimed to be Muslims, and for them not to generalize those actions to 1.2 billion people around the world. However, after this Chapel Hill shooting, Craig Stephen Hicks has made me question my faith in the American people. For the first time in my life I am afraid to be a practicing Muslim in the USA.
Yet, I try to remind myself that Deah, Yusor and Razan were living here in this country without fear. In fact they were spreading love and peace and compassion to others through their volunteer works and their artistic endeavors. So maybe, just maybe, through their example I can find hope.
Saliha Baloch, RN, BSN, MSN-FNP Class of 2016 candidate at UNC-CH