Al-Nur holds vigil remembering slain Muslim students

by Erin Lee | 2/15/15 7:31pm

A group of over 50 people, composed primarily of students, attended Sunday night’s vigil honoring the three victims of the recent shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The event was organized by Al-Nur, Dartmouth’s Muslim Students’ Association, in collaboration with Hillel Rabbi Edward Boraz, student leaders from Hillel and other religious groups on campus.

On Feb. 10, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, three Muslim students, were killed in their Chapel Hill home. The funeral for the victims drew more than 5,000 people.

At the vigil, which took place in the Top of the Hop, attendees gathered in a circle around three lit candles. Director of religious and spiritual life Rev. Nancy Vogele said that students practicing many faiths — including Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Quakerism — --attended the event. Nonreligious “people of goodwill” were also present, she said.

Al-Nur president Iman Hammad ’17 said that the event was meant to serve as a remembrance for the victims and a way to spread awareness. She said that community events allow people to come together for a common cause and to spread peace.

“Rather than focusing on differences, we focus on similarities,” she said.

Vogele said the importance of vigils comes in the act of remembering victims by name. She said she was happy with the turnout at the event and appreciated that community members attended to show their support for the Muslim community.

“That many people came out on a cold Sunday night was very heartening,” she said.

In her opening remarks, Vogele spoke of honoring the three young adults killed last week and supporting Dartmouth’s Muslim community members. She led a prayer and held a moment of silence for the victims.

Hammad spoke about the lives of the three victims and the repercussions of the crime for the Muslim community at the College as a whole. The events in Chapel Hill serve as a reminder of existing prejudices, she said.

Afterward, Boraz led a recitation of the Kaddish, a prayer of praises to God.

First-year comparative literature graduate student Ibrahim Khan recited a verse from the Quran that discusses the continuation of legacy even after death.

“If someone is killed in the path of God, meaning an unnatural death, as these young people were, what the verses in the Quran say is to not consider these people to be dead, but indeed they are alive,” Khan said after the event. “These ideas, I think, are very powerful, and among the Muslim community whenever someone dies through violence, these verses are brought up and discussed. I think it gives people hope.”

Several students and members of the community also spoke briefly about their reactions to the tragedy and its impact on the Muslim community.

Al-Nur’s graduate student representative Saaid Arshad ’14Th’18 said that the idea for the event came from a former Al-Nur member who worked at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and has since moved to Connecticut. She contacted Al-Nur to suggest that the organization coordinate a vigil in accordance with the many other vigils occurring nationwide. Arshad said that the message came last Thursday, and Al-Nur met with Boraz and Hillel student leaders on Friday to organize the event.

Arshad said he was pleased that many people from different communities came to stand in solidarity.

“That’s all I really wanted — just some acknowledgement of the tragedy that happened,” he said.

Khan said that it is important to establish safe, inclusive spaces where people can leave the violence generated by society.

“In a way, we’re escaping the violence by creating an atmosphere,” he said. “Minority groups, majority groups, everyone’s here so it’s not like there’s one dominant group. Everyone should ideally, hopefully, feel safe.”

Arshad said that this event was particularly important for raising awareness about the Muslim community.

“It’s also important to bring the issue to light, especially these days, with a lot of Islamophobia rampant in the media and the general public,” he said. “To be able to just fight back against this information by showing who we are — we’re just normal people like everyone else and we have our faith.”

Vogele said that awareness about Islam has always been important, but is all the more important in the current environment.