Habitat for Humanity of Wake County will build a house in Raleigh this year in memory of three Muslim American students killed in a Chapel Hill shooting in February.
The organization wants to honor Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, who were well-known for their dedication to community service.
“Building a house in honor of them we hope will inspire others to follow their example. They put their faith into action,” said Renee Revaz, a member of Habitat’s board and coordinator of the organization’s annual interfaith build.
Barakat’s older brother, Farris, was instrumental in helping to launch the first interfaith build as an intern with the organization. The Abu-Salha sisters were volunteers on last year’s house.
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Construction on the house in honor of the students will begin in May. Habitat Wake will partner with the Islamic Association of Raleigh and OurThreeWinners.org for the build. The organization also will support the construction of a home in Aqraba, a village in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.
The fundraising goal is $77,000. Construction volunteers also are needed and do not need to have a religious affiliation.
This week, as religious leaders gathered to raise the walls on this year’s interfaith house outside the Beltline in east Raleigh, they recalled the lives of the three students.
Revaz remembered the Abu-Salha sisters and their infectious enthusiasm.
“I hope you can feel their joy while you’re out here,” she said.
Fiaz Fareed, the outreach coordinator for the Islamic Association, said the project to honor the three students is a natural outgrowth of the understanding the interfaith build fosters. He said that just as many hands make light work in construction, he thinks the project shows how working together can help bridge religious, economic, racial and other divides.
“If we can lift this weight, why can’t we lift other weights?” he said.
This year, the interfaith house will bring together 20 communities from eight religious traditions, all seeking to live their belief of treating others as they would like to be treated, Revaz said.
“All of them have this call to service as part of what their faith is all about, and they all have the golden rule in their sacred texts,” she said.
‘Come into the light’
Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters had Raleigh ties. Barakat, 23, attended Broughton High School and then N.C. State University, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in business in 2013.
He was studying at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry, where his wife, Yusor, 21, had planned to enroll in the fall.
Both sisters attended N.C. State and graduated from Athens Drive High School – Yusor in 2011 and Razan in 2013.
Craig Stephen Hicks, a neighbor of Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Police have said a parking dispute may have led to the slayings.
Family members also have urged officials to look at whether the shooting was a hate crime motivated by religious animosity.
Fareed said projects like the Habitat house are a way to honor the memory of the students’ lives, rather than remembering only their tragic deaths.
“Don’t grope in the darkness, but come into the light,” he said.
Want to help?
To find out how to volunteer or donate, go to habitatwake.org or call 919-833-1999.