My heart aches for the parents and families of Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, three exemplary Muslim Americans taken from this world much too soon on February 10, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I sobbed as I kissed my toddler son goodbye the next morning, imagining the pain and suffering of Deah, Yusor and Razan’s parents kissing their children for the last time.
Tears streamed uncontrollably as I read of their horrific murders, picturing their last, unfathomable moments as Craig Hicks executed them. The sorrow grew deeper as I viewed pictures of Deah and Yusor at their recent wedding, Deah dapper in his tuxedo and Yusor angelic in her white hijab and flowing gown. I learned their stories, tales of three young people who shined lights on those around them and struck the perfect balance of being Muslim and American. I cried because the universe craved people like Deah, Yusor and Razan to help remedy the ills that plague it. Instead, they were gone.
In those moments, I felt afraid to be a Muslim in America, a trepidation I only experienced once before: on 9/11. I trembled in horror as I imagined my hijab clad wife, sisters or mom in the line of fire like Yusor or Razan. Praying in public, as I often do, was now a source of anxiety. A hint of terror overtook me as I pictured sitting at Friday prayers at my mosque, me and my fellow congregants easy prey for a misguided soul with a gun. If Deah, Yusor and Razan, law abiding, remarkable American citizens, could be murdered in their own home, in this country, likely because of their faith, how safe were the rest of us? My sense of security shook.
As the hours and days have passed since their deaths, after many tears, deep breaths, hugs, prayers and reflection, my sorrow, grief and fear has transformed into bliss, optimism and resolve.
In these dark moments, Deah, Yusor and Razan, through the lives they led, illuminate our world with much needed brightness. Deah, a University of North Carolina dental student, was an avid basketball player and fan who sought to provide dental hygiene to the less fortunate. Yusor, also a future dentist, and Razan were proud Muslim women, donning their pristine hijabs while excelling academically at North Carolina State. They each lived lives of excellence, faith, character and community service. Through their lives and deaths, they inspire us all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, young and old, to smile, to serve and to excel.
Moreover, with their passing, the world has come to recognize their humanity, and in turn, recognize the humanity of Muslims everywhere. American Muslims aren’t all threats, terrorists or ruthless. We, like these three winners, are peaceful, kind, and family centric. We, like them, are law abiding, respectful and just plain normal. We, like them, support our college teams, post our lives on instagram and travel the world. We are Deah, Yusor and Razan.
For so long, visions of Osama Bin Laden, 9/11 plane attacks and brutal beheadings symbolized Islam for many. Our community yearned for leaders to counter ISIS, Al Qaeda and the ugly images associated with our faith. In tragedy, we have found our luminaries. In their deaths, Deah, Yusor and Razan are now the worthy faces of Islam and Muslims in America: beautiful, moderate, compassionate, joyful and loving.
Finally, the American Muslim community will not be paralyzed by fear after this horrific tragedy. Deah, Yusor and Razan’s light won’t allow it. We will honor them by proudly practicing our faith, keeping our beards and donning our hijabs. We will fill our mosques and continue to pray to God for his blessings, mercy and guidance. We will amplify the light and legacies of Deah, Yusor and Razan by serving humanity.
Editor’s Note: Sajid A. Khan is a Public Defender in San Jose, CA. He has a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC Hastings. When not advocating for justice, Sajid enjoys playing basketball, football and baseball, and is a huge fan of Cal football and A’s baseball. He lives in San Jose, Ca with his wife and son. The views expressed here are his own.