BY KATIE JANSEN, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.February 13, 2015
RALEIGH – Some 5,500 people including national Muslim leaders answered the daily call for prayer Thursday and participated in a funeral prayer for the three Muslim students shot and killed in Chapel Hill Tuesday.
Friends chanted prayers while carrying the three caskets that held the bodies of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, 21-year-old Yusor Abu-Salha and 19-year-old Razan Abu-Salha.
The funeral crowd was so large it had to be moved from a mosque to an athletic field at N.C. State University in Raleigh, where all three victims studied before Barakat moved with his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, to Chapel Hill to enroll at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Yusor Abu-Salha was to have joined him in the UNC dentistry school in the fall. She graduated from N.C. State in December.
Razan Abu-Salha was a student at NCSU at the time of the slayings. She lived in Raleigh and was visiting her relatives at the time of the slayings.
Nouman Ali Khan, a member of the Islamic Association of Raleigh, spoke to those gathered about the victims and the importance of their faith.
“We are proud of them that they are Muslim,” he said. “We are proud that they’ve been reunited with their creator.”
He said that their impact on the world, such as their love of helping others and feeding the poor, all stemmed from the basic teachings of Islam.
The thousands present answered one of the five daily calls to prayer, removing their shoes and bowing their heads to the ground.
“We take a spiritual timeout wherever we are — the university, the shopping mall,” Ali Khan said. “And that is what you are about to witness.”
Many of the Muslim leaders present spoke about continuing the three students’ legacy.
“They left this world but they brought us together,” Naeem Baig, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, said. “It is a sign of hope, not just for the Muslim American community, but for all of America, that there is love and hope and unity.”
Others focused not only on personal messages left in the wake of the tragedy, but political ones, as well.
“It is time to change the tone when talking about Islam and Muslims in America,” said Osama Abu Irshaid, national board member of American Muslims for Palestine. “We demand to be treated no less than any other American.”
Others in the Muslim community expressed similar concerns.
“The majority of the Muslim community has some fear that this was a hate-related crime,” said Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center.
She said that in the past, slaying suspect Craig Hicks had spoken to his young newlywed neighbors — always with a gun in his belt.
Yusor Abu-Salha spoke to her father about Hicks, but never reported Hicks to the authorities.
“He was picking on them, not just about parking,” Sabra said. “These kinds of acts of intimidation are becoming more normal.”
Sabra has lived in North Carolina since just before 9/11. She said although she thought the climate for Muslims was improving for a while, it has worsened after media reports of the Charlie Hebdo slayings in Paris and ISIS attacks.
She said she hopes that police, along with the State Bureau of Investigation, will continue to investigate until some clarity is shown in the case.
“I don’t believe that the parents of the victims will have any sense of closure until that occurs,” Sabra said. “They won’t be able to rest until justice is served.”
Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of Yusor and Razan, led Thursday’s janazah, or funeral, prayer.
Before praying for his lost daughters, Mohammad Abu-Salha spoke to the crowd of supporters.
“This has hate crime written all over it, and I’m not going to sit down,” Mohammad Abu-Salha said. “If they don’t listen carefully, I will yell … it was not about a parking spot.”
Authorities involved in the investigation were also present and acknowledged the crowd’s concerns.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker said that he and fellow U.S. Attorney Ripley Rand were “here to show our solidarity for this community in their time of pain.”
Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue said investigators would continue to examine every angle of the case, including the potential of a hate crime.
Mohammad Abu-Salha recognized the authorities’ presence, saying, “I thank every officer who stands here and supports us and takes care of us.”
However, he also called on President Barack Obama and the FBI to join the investigation.
“We don’t care about revenge; we don’t care about punishment,” Abu-Salha said. “It’s all about protecting other children from the same fate. It’s about making this country that they loved — where they lived and died — a safe and peaceful place for everyone.”
At the conclusion of the services at N.C. State, hearses carried the three coffins, in gray, white and silver, to an Islamic cemetery in Wendell.
EDITOR’S NOTE — The FBI announced Thursday that it has “opened a parallel preliminary inquiry to determine whether any federal laws were violated” in the slayings … Rand, the district’s top federal prosecutor, had said Wednesday that there was no immediate evidence Muslims were being targeted.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Article Courtesy: The State