On Feb. 10, three Muslim American college students were shot and killed in their apartment in Chapel Hill, N.C. Their names were Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Yusor and Razan wore religious headscarves, just like the one I wear every single day.
These killings not only sadden me, but terrify me to the point where I am questioning my identity, my place as a Muslim girl in America. This is the first time I have felt unsafe in my own country. Every day I leave my house wearing the hijab, an open symbol of Islam, and recently I can’t help but feel that people would hate me for my religion.
But I know that Islam teaches me peace, modesty, mercy, love, compassion and service – and this is the religion that every Muslim in the United States strives to embody.
I am writing because I want you to know that millions of Muslims in America are grieving at the deaths of Deah, Yusor and Razan. I want you to not only understand the true, peaceful meaning of Islam, but to defend and protect Muslims. I want you to grieve with us at the loss of three beautiful, bright Americans who had a future of serving our country and world.
I want you to start questioning – not only why three precious souls were gunned down, but why some in the media are brushing it off as a parking dispute. The accused killer is a hateful, ignorant bigot who only saw the headscarf and no meaning beneath it. This terrorist is blinded by the media’s false representation of Islam, such as “American Sniper,” a film that broke box-office records but that glorifies the killing of Muslims.
I see the memory of these three victims slowly sliding away, and it terrifies me. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had the situation been reversed – had the gunman been Muslim and the victims not. I believe their pictures would have been spread all over every news channel around the globe. People would be talking about the victims. The words “parking lot dispute” would not have been brought up, only that the suspect was Muslim.
Because this situation doesn’t fit neatly into the media’s preferred stereotypes, the slayings are being erased. It is important that we mourn our fellow students because the same attitude that is making it so easy to forget them is what caused their killings in the first place – the lack of value placed on Muslim lives.
Last week, President Barack Obama addressed extremism and the name of Islam that is being associated with terrorism. Listening to his speech gave me hope in the future of Muslims living in America. He said, “You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.”
These words resonate with me on many levels. As a young Muslim American student, I not only wholeheartedly agree with the president, but I also find solace in the fact that he understands the struggle of Muslims in America today. And I hope that you understand our point of view as well so we can move forward toward equality and peace in our country and the world.
Alisha Ahmed is a junior at St. Francis Catholic High School, vice-chair of the Sacramento Youth Commission, and a volunteer for local Islamic organizations and mosques.