Students gathered in the Kimmel Center for University Life for a vigil Wednesday night in honor of the three Muslim college students who were shot and killed near the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following a handful of speakers, more than a hundred students proceeded to Washington Square Park to light candles in solidarity.
Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Abu-Salha, 19, were killed Tuesday evening. There has been ongoing debate over whether their deaths were the result of an argument or if the act was a hate crime. Craig Stephen Hicks, the 46-year-old suspect, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
The vigil featured both student and administration speakers, including Muslim, Jewish and Christian chaplains of the university. Sitting on the staircase, students of all backgrounds listened to a recitation from the Qur’an in Arabic and English followed by emotional speeches.
NYU Langone student Muddasir Ayaz spoke at the vigil echoing the feelings of heart break the families of victims felt. He said the best way to reconcile with their grief is to unite under the common purpose of doing good.
“Many of us feel heartbroken because they were such promising young people and they were such beautiful souls,” Ayaz said. “The human capacity for empathy really determines how we move forward, and the recognition that all life has value.”
Saif Chowdhury, president of the NYU Muslim Students Association, said they mobilized the vigil in a matter of a few hours, and he appreciated how many people cared about this tragedy.
“Coming together tonight for the vigil and seeing all those people on the stairs, it puts my heart and my well-being in a place of good,” Chowdhury said. “Just being able to see so many people from different races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds coming together to remember these three individuals, it hits home.”
Khalid Latif, a Muslim chaplain at NYU, called upon the students gathered at the vigil to become more passionate about social issues and to stand up against injustice. He said the key was uniting community through compassion.
“Things are going in a direction that gives me a lot of hope,” Latif said. “But what gives me the most hope is seeing all of you be willing to come together, and the only prayer that I have today is you learn to come together beyond moments of tragedy, and you come together simply because it’s the right thing to do.”
Chowdhury said it will take a widespread change of mindset to prevent events like this from happening again, but that the vigil is a good start.
“The key thing is for us to stop thinking in terms of others,” Chowdhury said. “I think it’s very important to see everyone across the board as human, and I hope and pray that we can one day get to that point.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 12 print edition. Email Alex Bazeley at [email protected]