This month we mourned and remembered the three young Muslim-Americans who were killed in their apartment last February in Chapel Hill. Local and national media returned to the the story and some news outlets turned their attention to how the Muslim communities in North Carolina and throughout the United States reflect on the lives and deaths of the three students.
The act of returning to a story and a community can be a part of constructing a mindful Restorative Narratives. Journalists writing in the genre often return to a story months and years after the initial media buzz has settled to learn more about how communities change and rebuild after tragedy.
A year after the deaths of the three North Carolina State University students, Deah Barakat and Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha, significant stories have emerged that shift the narrative from a place of fear to a more meaningful conversation about mourning, cultural inclusion and resilience.
Earlier this month, Mashable published “When Americans are murdered for being Muslim,” which examines and questions the rhetoric used by some media outlets when initially covering the shooting. The piece, written by Colin Daileda, dives deep into the perspective of Yousef Abu-Salha, who simultaneously lost both his sisters and his best friend when the three were shot by their neighbor. “Police officials, at some point, suggested that Deah, Yusor and Razan had been murdered over a parking dispute and many media outlets ran with that narrative, even though, to Yousef, it was clear they had been killed because they were Muslim,” Daileda writes.
“For the first time in my life, I could relate to figures in history who felt oppressed.” Abu-Salha tells Daileda. “Seeing how the media was covering this story and how obvious it was to me that my sisters were killed because of their faith.”
In addition to examining the rhetoric and lens used by some to report on the story, Daileda’s piece asks a much larger question: “How do you grieve when surrounded by hate?” Throughout the last year Abu-Salha has mourned and tried to make sense of being Muslim-America in a time in which Muslims in this country continue to be targets of hate crimes. His sense of resilience is mainly encouraged by the outpouring of support he has received from strangers and friends throughout the past year.
This sense of hope and strength in community is echoed in another story published by NPR’s Code Switch. The story, which was reported by Reema Khrais from WUNC in Chapel Hill, focuses on a mother and daughter who decided to become more visible and vocal by grieving publicly with the local Muslim-American community. In the aftermath of the shooting, Summer and Marjan Hamad also decided to make the personal decision to wear the hijab together. Despite the portrayal of muslims by some media outlets, they felt proud in their decision. “By the way the media is going, the timing will never be right,” Summer said.
Hear Summer and Marjan Hamad’s story below:
“In the year since the shootings, many local Muslims — like the Hamads — have chosen to be more visible in their communities,” Khrais writes. “They’ve become more proactive about sharing their faith, engaging with their communities and trying to create a collective embrace.”
In honor of the three victims, friends, family and community members founded the Light House, a community center that aims to change the Muslim-American narrative through education, outreach and advocacy. The Light House founders established February 10th, the anniversary of the shooting, as the Day of Light: On the Path to Resilience. Since their opening, the group has also led interfaith dialogues and lectures on diffusing stereotypes, organized food drives for local shelters, hosted reflective art exhibits, produced a multimedia spoken word performance about the tragic shootings and provided after school programs for high school students. The group is a resilient example of how a grieving community can rebuild and unite after tragedy.
In the Associated Press video below, Farris Barakat (Deah’s brother) shares how his brother, his wife and her sister inspired him to transform his late brother’s house into a common ground for peace and hope in his community.