Chapel Hill, Islamophobia and The Future

A man lighting candles at a vigil

It’s a sad fact that sometimes it takes death for us to spur on change. So for the Muslim students murdered in Chapel Hill—for Deah, Yusor and Razan—your deaths have not been in vain.

They were murdered execution style in their home, and if mainstream media is to be believe, it was over a parking dispute. I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that the killer was abrasively atheistic, but one’s personal beliefs shouldn’t factor into their motives, should it? I mean, if it was one zealous Muslim shooter killing three atheists the story wouldn’t be any different, right?

Right?

Be honest with yourself and flip the tables. Had it been the other way around, you would have likely been called a terrorist attack with international media coverage as well as suspected ties with ISIS, online flame wars on how “Islam is a religion of violence” and so on.

But flip it around, and it’s a parking dispute.

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Vigil

I attended a candlelight vigil for the three students. Over 200 people came out to show their condolences. Even though Edmonton is a long ways from Chapel Hills, it’s a tragedy that still felt close to home. Even though we’re in a completely different country, we’re still part of one large family—and more intimately, we’re bound by the brotherhood and sisterhood of our religion. Compassion, it seems, goes beyond borders.

Over 150 people showed up to express their sorrow at the loss of people they’ve never met, yet felt connected to. They wrote messages for a family they don’t know. They said prayers for souls they never prayed for until now.

Three lives. The loss of three lives brought together people affected by that loss. Muslim, Christian, atheist, you name it. Death has a way of bringing together the living; we must learn to do so with life.

Islamophobia

The tragedy has spurred a discussion on the growing trend of Islamophobia. As Islam becomes more common in the public eye, so too is it perceived as a threat. When you have idiots like ISIS burning people alive (despite Prophet Muhammad (p) saying no one but God can punish with fire), and trying to establish their own one-world-order, it’s immediately reflected on Islam and Muslims.

Then you have suspicion. Then verbal attacks. Then physical attacks. Then next thing you know, community centers are being burnt down. And laws are introduced to allow increased spying and surveillance.

What happens next?

As optimistic as I am, I feel that things are going to get worse. The whole world isn’t going to wake up tomorrow and agree that, you know what, those Muslims aren’t really all that bad.

Ignorant men continue to join the cesspool of ISIS, and continue to believe that the only way to solve a problem is by blowing it up, setting it on fire, or cutting off its head. The long and noble history of the Muslim intellect is lost on them, and instead they wield faith as an instrument of terror. And in the end, Muslims—the very people they claim to represent—pay the price. ISIS and their ilk continue to escalate their brutality with the same ridiculousness as a cartoon villain. With each mindless attack or barbaric execution, the flames of hatred are stoked further. Around the world, hatred against Muslims expands each time an ISIS terrorist thinks he’ll enter Paradise soaked in innocent blood. And the seeds for unchallenged, militarized Islamophobia are sown.

The best among you…

So what’s a Muslim to do? How should we respond to this?

For starters don’t think that we’re the first group of Muslims to be persecuted for their faith. The trials and suffering that accompanied the first generation of Muslims are a testament to that. But we were never instructed to hide in a cave and just wait for everything to blow over. Prophet Muhammad said, “The believer who mixes with the people and endures their harm has a greater reward than one who does not mix the people nor endures their harm.”

In short: work.

When the three Chapel Hill students were killed, we not only lost a brother and two sisters: we lost people who actively wanted to make a difference in society. Deah was working to provide dental care for Syrian refugees; his wife, Yusor, worked in Turkey doing the same; and Razan was active with United Muslim Relief. A single life has so much worth in it, it’s a shame not to utilize it. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said “The best of people are those that bring the most benefit to the rest of mankind.”

Few things irk me more than people who natter on about “corruption in society” and bemoan “the state of the ummah” and do nothing. They’re like a radio, stationary, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. God says in the Quran, “You are indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for [the good of] mankind,” (3:110) and indeed Muslims have fallen short of that.

Muslims can no longer afford to live in a bubble. In the face of a spreading evil, we can’t afford to let ourselves be divided by petty mosque politics, cultural differences or sheer ignorance. Neither can we afford to keep that outdated “us versus them” mentality with the rest of society. Volunteer with an organization, join rallies for social justice, donate to the food bank, develop your skills and at the very least, be a good memory for people you meet.

Quit complaining. Do something.

Be like the person the Prophet referred to, when he said:

“The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.”

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