12:53 p.m.: My mom leaves the house to do some shopping that she’s been meaning to get done for a while. She’s talking to me on her way out, reminding me of things I should get done today and her voice trails on her way out as she opens the door, a gust of cold air briefly stunning me before she closes it; she’s gone now.
12:54 p.m.: Drinking some tea. Thinking about Chapel Hill.
12:56 p.m.: My sister is shuffling in front of me, trying to get her stuff for school together. It’s cold, she pulls her jacket closer to her. Without realizing it she touches the top of her hijab (headscarf)– she always does this, just to fix it, adjust it slightly, even though it doesn’t need fixing. We are complaining to each other about all the things sisters complain about before she realizes she’s going to be late. She rushes out, no goodbye. The door slams shut.
12:57 p.m.: I take another sip of my tea. Still thinking about Chapel Hill.
12: 59 p.m.: The feeling washes over me all at once, so quickly that I feel like I am drowning in it– there is no escaping it. My heart feels like there is a fist clenching it, twisting it, my throat is feels like its on fire, everything is blurry. I realize my own tears are impairing my vision before I realize what it is that even causes them. I reach for my phone.
Should I call them and tell them not to go out today? My mother and sister, the two most important people in my life, my best friends, who just stepped out into the 32 degree outdoors that feels infinitely colder today? Will college campuses and malls in this country ever provide the type of safety for my mother and sister, both dressed in hijabs (headscarves), visible symbols of the Islamic faith, require? Is this the world that I will have to live in– one where I will spend the rest of my life worrying if my mom and my sister, myself and my friends, will make it home?
Or is this just about a parking spot, about a man who, as the New York Times described it, was involved in an altercation that was just a “lethal escalation of a neighborhood parking dispute”. Is this about questioning, as CNN puts it, “what role, if any, the victims’ faith played?” Is this about the fact that it literally took an international concerted effort on social media to even get this story to media stations, who still swiftly paint it with subtle pro-white, anti-Muslim propaganda?
Or is this about the fact that I am Yusor Abu-Salha. My sister is Razan Abu-Salha, and my fiance is Deah Barakat. We each carry their story with us, in our siblings, in our daily lives as American Muslims, and furthermore in our efforts to balance activism with school and deen (religion) with dunya (worldly affairs), to get married and play basketball and be with friends and cherish our parents, just as they did. Today I mourn the loss of such excellent human beings, and tomorrow I will don my hijab (headscarf) with a melancholy pride. And it will feel a little heavier, a little more difficult to wear, and as each of these Islamophobic tragedies adds to its gravity, I pray I never have to choose between hijab and life. I pray I never see the day I am not capable of bearing its growing responsibility. And I pray for the safety of all my Muslim brothers and sisters imprisoned by twisted perceptions of their religious beliefs in this land: the land of the “free”, home of the scared.
Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha will never be forgotten. Let their legacies be that of phenomenal human beings, beautiful people who touched the lives of so many through their selfless character and glowing personalities. Put their names down in our Muslim American history books; tell your kids about them: about these stunning human beings, victims of a war that most of the population pretend isn’t being fought every single day, martyrs in every right. Let them make du’a (supplication) with you every night that they are in the company with the very first victims of this senseless war against believers of this faith, Yasir and Sumayyah (may Allah be pleased with them), more than 1400 years ago– may Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) allow them to join their ranks in Paradise.
Let their deaths not be in vain. Let them be the seeds they tried to bury that, instead, gave fruit to a revolution. Demand a re-visitation of the narrative that brands brown men killing over the loss of their countries, families, and homes as terrorism, and white men killing over parking spaces as just that. Demand a re-visitation of the narrative that causes our belief system or varied level of melanin to detract not only from our right to thrive, but also our right to survive. And bring the world to its feet: let everyone come to the realization that this was not about a parking space.
It was never about a parking space.