Chapman University Hosts Candlelight Vigil to Remember Slain University of North Carolina Students
February 24, 2015
On Monday, February 16, 2015, Chapman University’s Fish Interfaith Center, and the university’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Muslim Law Students Association (MuLSA), hosted a candlelight vigil in memory of the three American Muslim individuals who were killed near the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill. Deah Barakat (23), a dental student at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha (21), a graduate of NC State University and a recent admit to the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha (19), a second year student at NC State University, were each shot by a neighbor on Tuesday, February 11, 2015 in the couple’s apartment.
Dean Gail Stearns, from Chapman University’s Wallace All Faiths Chapel, opened the candlelight vigil at the Attallah Piazza by welcoming over 75 attendees, which included a combination of students, faculty, community members, and school administrators. Despite the windy night, attendees were inspired to join hands, pray, or light candles honoring the lives of the three students.
“It was good to see people of different faiths coming together because there is no real division in front of this horror,” said Chapman University Chancellor Daniele Struppa after the event.
Jamaal Diwan, a local imam and Islamic scholar, then shared a moment of silence and spoke about arrogance as a root cause of hatred and violence and encouraged people to instead get to know one another. Muslema Purmul, also a local Islamic scholar, spoke about her family members’ personal interactions with Barakat, who was described as being a true friend, dedicated to providing food for the homeless in his own neighborhood as well as providing dental services to refugees abroad. Shabaz Malik, an undergraduate student from the MSA read the names of the victims as candles were lit in their memory.
“I don’t remember anything else that has personally shocked Muslims in the way that this did,” Hamza Siddiqui, a third-year Fowler Law student and board member of MuLSA, said after the event. “I’m glad that we’re all able to come together because I think that this is a way to get the conversation started about how racism in the U.S. is a problem – whether it’s the black community, the Muslim community, the Hispanic community, whatever it is.”
“I was shocked by the media reaction, or lack thereof,” said Nida Hasan, a third-year Fowler Law student. “I’m grateful that after the community came together to bring attention to the issue, the media did react and has been covering it.”
Ameera Jafrey, a third-year undergraduate student and a member of the MSA, spoke during the vigil about the importance of honoring the legacy of the young people who were killed. Hadeer Soliman, a third-year Fowler Law student and President of MuLSA, and Anum Arshad, a third-year Fowler Law student and Vice-President of MuLSA, thanked the administration and faculty at Chapman for making Muslim students feel safe and protected and reminded the group of the importance of responding with resilience during difficult times.
Professor Bobby Dexter, a law professor of tax and business law at Fowler School of Law, said later that the event gave attendees “an opportunity to begin to lead themselves out of their ignorance.” Fowler Law Associate Dean Jayne Kacer added, “I was shocked and saddened by deaths of the UNC students. I am grateful that the Chapman family came together to mourn their loss and support the Muslim members of our community.”
Mohammad Faqih, Religious Director at the Islamic Institute of Orange County and a personal friend of the families of the victims, recounted his experiences with the individuals and the services they provided their communities. He expressed the community’s sadness at this time and remembered the Coptic Christians killed at the hands of ISIS recently and another Muslim killed in a hate-related incident in his prayers a week earlier.
“I’m happy that we’re taking proactive steps and I’m also happy that Chapman University, and the law school, has been very welcoming to our community to talk about this issue,” said Hugo Salazar, a Fowler Law student.
Hadeer Soliman, president of the Chapman University Fowler School of Law’s Muslim Law Students Association, contributed to this story.