Muslims across the Triangle and nationwide called for peace and unity after the triple slayings in Chapel Hill – shootings many of them believe to be motivated by the victims’ Islamic faith, according to numerous posts on social media and other public comments.
They pleaded for police to look at the possibility the victims were targeted because of religion and appearance, and they asked for greater tolerance to combat what they describe as a growing anti-Muslim furor. The Twitter hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter erupted online.
“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C. “Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the local community.”
Chapel Hill police and the suspect’s wife said a parking dispute may have motivated Craig Stephen Hicks to shoot his neighbors in the rented condominiums in a wooded area off N.C. 54.
But the father of victims Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha said Hicks had picked on Yusor and her husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, while carrying a gun in his belt.
Against all religions
Craig Hicks’ Facebook page contains a diatribe against religion in general, seized on by Muslims nationwide as evidence of deep bias. Social media commentary labeled the Chapel Hill shooter as a “terrorist,” noting that the label is more widely applied when Muslims are on the other end of a gun.
“At a time of rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA implores all Americans regardless of faith to remain united against intolerance and bigotry,” read a statement from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, a group with 70 chapters nationwide, including in North Carolina.
Some were cautious not to guess at the motivation for the crime before it has been investigated. Volkan Ozdemir, president of the Divan Center for the state’s Turkish-American community, said Wednesday that it is too early to draw conclusions.
“We are hoping that this is not a hate crime,” he said. “We are against any kind of violence, and we believe we can solve our problems through communication and dialogue. We are heartbroken. We are so sad. We are praying for the victims.”
Imam Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim affairs for Duke University, urged trust in the system and patience that the truth will come out.
“This may or may not be a hate crime,” he said. “There (is) evidence in either direction at this point. But saying either this way or that way will only be unhelpful and increase the tension that already exists.”
Speaking later at a news conference in Chapel Hill, Antepli said some Muslim families in the greater Chapel Hill community did not send their children to school Wednesday out of fear.
“The sense of alienation, the sense of vulnerability, I cannot describe,” he said.
The Muslim Student Union at N.C. State University, where all three victims were past or present students, offered bus rides to Wednesday night’s vigil in Chapel Hill and issued this statement:
“The sadness, the heartache and the suffering is something that we as students and people of this community are all going through right now, but we have to lend a helping hand and gain the strength to get through this. ... Ya Allah please forgive these souls for any sins that they have committed and accept all of their good deeds. Ya Allah please make it easier on their families. Ya Allah give us the strength to get through this and rekindle any lost connection with you.”
‘Good deeds that they did’
Shortly after the killings, Barakat’s brother Farris posted a string of emotional statements on social media, calling his loved ones “winners” for their unselfish lives.
Social media posts reached from Hollywood actors to rural North Carolina Muslims, including this one from Shaher Sayed, a native of the West Bank who now lives in Guilford County:
“We ask Allah to shower them with His mercy and reward your families and ours for the grief and big loss we have. The good deeds that they did will continue to make the lives of us and many others better and more blessed.”
The shootings prompted outrage and sorrow from non-Muslim faiths. Prominent atheists worldwide denounced violent attacks on religious communities, and a collection of Chapel Hill Christian clergy released a joint statement saying, “Any attack on any of God’s children, our sisters and brothers, is an attack on us all.”
Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed to this report.