Muslim Lives Matter: A Tribute and Memorial


Davor Palos

Dr. Mateo Farzaneh speaks against ignorance and intolerance at Muslim Lives Matter.

Steven Villa, News Editor

On Feb. 10, three American Muslims, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 23; and Deah Shaddy Barakat, 19, were gunned down in their Chapel Hill residence in North Carolina by their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks.

The shooting sent shockwaves through NEIU’s diverse, multicultural community.

Described as a tribute and memorial, “Muslim Lives Matter” was organized almost overnight by Yasmin Ranney, Director of the Asian and Global Resource Center at NEIU’s Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs.

“Right after [the shooting] happened, students were calling me and texting me and coming here and saying how horrible this was,” said Ranney. “The sense I got from many of the students at the event [was] that ‘this might be me…’ At first I thought we’d do a roundtable dialogue, but the more I thought about it – this event was larger than that…On Friday I sent out some emails and the response was unbelievable.”

In Alumni Hall on Feb. 17, “Muslim Lives Matter” was organized in response to the shooting, a gathering against ignorance and violence.

Alumni Hall was mostly filled by 3:05 p.m., when the speeches officially began. The atmosphere was appropriately solemn — talk in the crowd was muted, downcast and soft.  A slideshow of the victims was projected on three large screens hanging against the walls of the room. It was composed of wedding and graduation photos and pictures with family and friends.

Ranney opened the event, thanking the students in attendance and introducing the first speaker, Dr. Frank E. Ross, Vice President of Student Affairs.

“Today we stand in solidarity,” he said, “and mourn the senseless killings of three Muslim-Americans in Chapel Hill, NC. It is imperative that we confront Islamophobia and anti-Arab bigotry in whatever form it takes. As members of the university community, I challenge us all to put an end to the bias, hatred, discrimination, [aggression] and violence against all people.”

The following speakers were: Meriem Benrahmani, club officer of the Muslim Student Association; Amani Abu Tareb, student; Alfonso Trevino, President of the Alliance for Student Social Workers; Abla Alqaissi, President of the Middle East Culture Club; Brenda Bedolla, President of the Student Government Association; Ebaa Wahdan, Vice President of the Middle East Culture Club; and Dr. Mateo Farzaneh, professor of history.

President Sharon Hahs was present for the event, but was not among the speakers.

“Their lives were taken due to their differences,” Benrahmani said. “But these Muslims saw themselves no differently than any other citizen of their nation.” She spoke of several attacks on Muslims living in North America, mentioning the Feb 9. killing of Mustafa Mattan in Alberta, Canada.

Deah Shaddy Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha were recent graduates of North Carolina State University and had been married less than two months before their murder. Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha, sister of Yusor, had been a student at the same university. Barakat, who had graduated with a degree in business administration in 2013, was continuing his education as a second-year student of dentistry. Razan was a sophomore studying architecture and environmental design, and Yusor, who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, was also pursuing a degree in dentistry.

When asked on the subject of the American public’s perception of Islam, Ranney said, “I think it’s changing for the worse. I think our Republicans in politics…you hear some of the hateful stuff our governors and elected officials are saying about Muslims.”

This was in part a reference to one John Bennett, Oklahoma state Rep. who said on the topic of Islam, “Their goal is the destruction of Western Civilization from within. This is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.”

Ranney said, “I think people view Muslims and Islam with a phobia.”

Dr. Mateo Farzaneh closed with the speech, “Muslim Lives Matter.”

“Let us not forget that since the murder of Deah, Yusor and Razan in their apartment in Chapel Hill, [the] 21 Egyptians were slaughtered like sheep in Libya, two humans were killed for gathering at a debate in Denmark and Özgecan Aslan, a 21-year-old psychology student, was burned after being raped in Turkey; all due to ignorance and hate…

“Let us be reminded that if individual ignorance and hatred for others is not treated, it can lead to collective ignorance and hate and the consequences of that would be a million times more disastrous, since it will take precious life out of millions of fragile bodies of humans and it will change the course of history.

“But we have to be hopeful, despite the realities we’re facing today. Why?  Because there is no better option. Hope comes when we are all educated more about the people we don’t know.  I must learn about the peoples I might fear and treat my ignorance.  I invite you, I challenge you, to do the same.  This is the time and place for it.  Learn and let ignorance be a part of the past for a brighter future. “