Candlelight vigil honors lives lost in Chapel Hill shooting


Candlelight vigil held to honor victims of shooting.

Jasmine Demers, News Editor


CSUSM students are standing in solidarity to mourn losses and to support one another in a powerful movement to end religious and racial violence.

About 40 students, including members of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Afghan Student Association (ASA), gathered for a candlelight vigil on Thursday evening, Feb. 12, at the Cesar Chavez Courtyard, in memory of the Chapel Hill shooting victims.

The incident occurred on Tuesday, Feb. 10 in Chapel Hill, N.C. Three university students, Muslims of Arab descent, were shot and killed in their home after what the police described as an ongoing dispute between neighbors over parking. Newlyweds Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and his sister, 19-year-old Razan Abu-Salha are said to have been respected members of their community and engaged in several volunteer based activities such as feeding the homeless and providing dental care to Syrian refugees.

The alleged shooter, neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, disappeared from the scene but later turned himself into the police. Hicks was indicted by a grand jury on Monday, Feb. 16, and is facing three counts of first degree murder.

We encourage the community to learn about Islam and the true meaning of being a Muslim instead of just blindly following the media’s depiction of our religion. The generosity and compassion of the three victims encompasses the most highly regarded values in Islam

While the specific motive behind the shooting remains under investigation, some observers speculate that Hicks may have acted out of hatred for the victims and their religion. This is based largely off of reports about his outspoken disdain for many different religious beliefs displayed in his social media rants. The incident has caused public uproar and community members are in disbelief over what they are calling racial and religious injustice.

Students are looking to spread awareness for these issues and stop the violence.

In an interview last week, Leena El Maleh, MSA President, explained her concerns with how the media handled this particular event and her hopes to change these perspectives.

“This was a very tragic event where three accomplished and generous young people were shot and killed. In the media, it didn’t get portrayed correctly and it was downplayed,” El Maleh said. “We heard things like ‘they were in the wrong place at the wrong time’, but they were in their own home.”

El Maleh is hoping to gain the support of the student community in order to change the portrayal of Muslims in American society.

“We encourage the community to learn about Islam and the true meaning of being a Muslim instead of just blindly following the media’s depiction of our religion. The generosity and compassion of the three victims encompasses the most highly regarded values in Islam,” El Maleh said.

Noha Khalil, MSA Event Coordinator and Model United Nations Club member, also commented on the role of the media in the portrayal of Muslims.

“Although I understood that the negative depiction of Muslims in the American media will have an impact of some sort, I never thought that this would manifest in the horrific crime that took place in Chapel Hill, killing three Muslims inside their homes, execution style,” said Khalil.

As a transfer student from the American University in Cairo, Khalil has experienced violence first hand, and she said that she is frightened by the persecution that she can still be subject to in here.

“For the first time in the US, I was scared to walk in a parking lot alone, scared to stay alone at home when my brother was in his volleyball practices,” Khalil said. “I lived during the revolution in Egypt and have seen how violence depicts itself in many forms. But I couldn’t imagine that because I am wearing the hijab, the Muslim religious dress, I could be singled out to be subjected to harassment and maybe even murder.”

ASA member and vigil organizer, Zala Askarzoi, highlighted the importance of sharing these issues and remembering the fallen victims.

“The reason ASA decided to put together the candlelight vigil was mainly for two reasons. First, we wanted people to become aware of the Chapel Hill shooting since a lot of people on campus were not aware,” Askarzoi said. “Second, we wanted to let our fellow students know that the Muslim community at Cal State exists and we have a voice.”

MSA and ASA members urged all students to educate themselves on these issues and most importantly, educate themselves on the Islam religion in order to break down stereotypes and shift the portrayal of Muslims in America.

“I would like people to know that the negative depiction of Muslims in the media is causing hatred in the American society and is causing Islamophobia amongst the Muslim community,” Khalil said. “I encourage anyone to research and study to know more about Muslims and Islam without using the mainstream media as a source. I am very happy when people come and ask me questions about why I wear the hijab and why I am Muslim.”

These organizations’ leaders are planning for future events and they welcome the student body to participate as well. They said they intend to keep advocating against violence and continue to push these issues towards the forefront of the American psyche.

“We are planning an interfaith dialogue in collaboration with the other clubs on campus to create a space where students from different faiths can have place to discuss and share topics, to harbor an environment of understanding on campus. Professor Kim Quinney was very generous to help us make this possible,” said Khalil.

To take part in these upcoming events, contact MSA or ASA for more information. Follow the organizations on social media by sharing #MuslimLivesMatter.