Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Remembering Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha: 'She exceeded our expectations'

Deah Shaddy Barakat (23), Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha (21), and
Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha (19) /
They were Americans just like you and me.

American Muslims make extraordinary contributions to our country every day and, yet, we are left asking ourselves why three young university students, who were American Muslims, were shot to death in Chapel Hill, N.C., earlier this month.

It has left many American Muslims across my country worried and afraid.

This brutal crime that took the lives of these kind, young and exemplary citizens -- a husband, his newlywed wife and her sister -- came just weeks after other recent anti-Muslim attacks in Europe that were carried out in an apparent response to the January murders (committed by Muslim extremists) of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris.

Teacher and student /
Mussarut Jabeen (L) and Yusor Mohammed
Abu-Salha together in happier times.
"Growing up in America has been such a blessing," said one of the slain students, Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha, during a 2014 NPR StoryCorps oral history project interview that resurfaced days after her death. Accompanied to the StoryCorps booth in Raleigh, N.C. along with her third grade elementary school teacher, Mussarut Jabeen, Abu-Salha explained: "Although, in some ways, I stand out because of the hijab, there's still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is our culture. Here, we're all one ... Open, compassionate ... That's the beautiful thing here ... It doesn't matter where you come from. There're so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions. But here we're all one -- one culture."

Among my many Muslim friends from the North Africa countries of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, whom I've become acquainted with over the past several years via Facebook, they are united by their faith and share in mourning the lives of their Muslim American sisters and brother half a world and many time zones away, too. They insist -- and I agree -- that no one should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship. 

Yet, I'm left wondering and I'm sure others are thinking: How do you convey a message of tolerance throughout a large country like mine that's comprised of so many different religious faiths and political attitudes, especially when certain cross-sections of the American public -- including certain American media organizations -- are not showing tolerance themselves and, worse, come across as Islamophobic? 

My Muslim friends are human and compassionate -- and they share many of the same hopes and feelings just like you and me. None of them are religious fanatics. However, they are very worried about the escalation of deadly violence shown by Muslim extremists, who seem to have taken their Islamic faith hostage through acts of terrorism across the world. 

Through dozens of conversations covering countless hours, thanks to my open-mindedness and being a good listener, many of my Muslim friends have shared in confidence with me things they might not ordinarily be comfortable in sharing with their friends or family. So, I can attest to their honesty, their compassion, their sense of wanting to have a better life than their parents and to pass along a better life to their children. Sound familiar? First and foremost, together, we've worked hard to build a sense of trust and, also, to share the love of our friendship. 

Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha /
On the occasion of her 2014 graduation
 from her beloved North Carolina State
University in Raleigh, N.C.
I invite each of you to try reaching out to connect with a Muslim or somebody of a different religious faith than your own -- and truly get to know them and to learn about their faith. Take off your blinders and try to establish a dialogue and build trust. You'll feel better for making the effort.

During their StoryCorps interview, Jabeen recalled: "I remember Yusor as a little girl when she was in third grade. She had this sense of giving that really makes her different from other children."

In December 2014, Yusor graduated from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. 

In closing, Jabeen said: "I would like people to know and remember (Yusor) as a practicing Muslim, as a daughter and, above all, as a good human being. You know, when we write our comments on report cards, we say they exceeded our expectations. She exceeded our expectations."

Now, I hope you will take a few moments of your time to pause and listen to the voice of Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha from her entire StoryCorps interview: 

I'm not ashamed to say that listening to Yusor's beautiful and loving voice -- so full of life and hope less than a year ago -- brought me to tears.

Photos: Courtesy of Facebook and StoryCorps.org.

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