Rollins held a vigil on February 16 to honor the lives of three Muslim students murdered in Chapel Hill. These three students were Deah Shaddy Baraka, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. The gunman, Craig Hicks, was a caucasian atheist who shot the students execution style in an act of terror, hate, and violence. The Rollins College Center of Inclusion and Campus Involvement along with Reverend Shawn Garvey had planned an event, prior to the executions, to educate the campus about Islam and the misconceptions surrounding it. In light of this tragic event, they decided to add a vigil at the end of the educational event.
Imam Sykes, a convert to Islam, was invited to share his knowledge. He has been a practicant of Islam for over 25 years. We are used to seeing the media portray Jihad as some sort of “holy war,” but Imam Sykes clarified that there is no word referencing or inciting such actions in the Islamic holy book, the Quran. Islamic terrorists take verses from the Quran out of context and manipulate them to their advantage to justify their atrocious, violent actions. Sykes also said, “Islam does not allow us to bruise flesh.” This statement directly contradicts the media’s portrayal of the religion. We are constantly bombarded with rhetoric that erroneously paints Islam as violent religion at its core, but whoever has read the Quran can attest that that is untrue.
Holding back tears, Imam Sykes stated, “If I were to leave here tonight and have a psychological break and go kill someone, the first thing the media would mention is my religion. The headlines would say ‘Radical Muslim Imam kills.’” The undeniable truth behind this statement is truly disheartening.
Media will continue to portray Muslims as terrorists, or black suspects as violent thugs. However, they will excuse the actions of white suspects by coining them as disturbed loners with futures ahead. Their skin color or religion will most likely not be mentioned. In essence, the media says non-white or non-Christian subjects are representative of their communities while white or Christian suspects are not. Staggering statistics show that 87% of domestic terrorists in the United States are white, yet our media, our schools, and our society fails to address that. Americans equate Muslims to terrorism and vice versa.
Hicks’ daughter said her father was an atheist with hateful views of religions, yet the media continues to paint this incident as a possible parking dispute rather than an act of terrorism.What Hicks did, by definition, is an act of terrorism for his actions have instilled fear in the community and inspired more violence. Since these three murders, a Mosque in Houston was burned down in an act of arson, and a young Somali Muslim man was murdered in Kansas City, Missouri. These acts are connected. They are connected by the deep Islamophobia within our country and within our world.
As I listened to the discussion of Islam and participated in the vigil, I was overcome with sadness. I was sad because an Imam of Islam had to defend the humanity of his religion before we could mourn the loss of three individuals collectively. I was sad because out of a campus of a couple thousand, there were four students among the people at the vigil. Empathy and sympathy are paramount as to what it means to be human, and I do not often see empathy and sympathy from our greater campus community. It is of the utmost importance not only to care for those who seem familiar but even more important to care for those who are not familiar. To quote Yusor Abu-Salha, “It doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places, of different backgrounds and religions—but here, we’re all one.” The thing that saddens me the most though is the loss of Deah Shaddy Baraka, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha. May they Rest In Power.