http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/images/size340/Muslims_pray_outside_the_White_House_for_Chapel_Hill_shooting_victims_on_Feb_13_2015_Credit_Matt_Hadro_CNA_2_CNA_2_13_15.jpgWashington D.C., Feb 13, 2015 / 05:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Muslims gathered in front of the White House to pray for the victims of the Chapel Hill shooting on Friday, emphasizing a message of peace and love in response to the killing.
“We thought it would be best to create a safe space for everyone to sort of reflect on their feelings and be there for each other, in a spot like the White House, which is the center of change,” organizer Beyza Seflek told CNA. “We really wanted to focus on not ourselves, but how the family is grieving.” Fellow organizer Mahroh Jahangiri added, “We as organizers simply felt that we needed to bring a space to have Muslims be able to publicly perform their faith without fear of violence.” The mostly-Muslim group was between 200 and 250 strong, according to an estimate by one of the event’s organizers. They prayed to honor three slain University of North Carolina students, each of whom were Muslim. The students – 23 year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife 21 year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister 19 year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha – were shot to death in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Tuesday. The FBI is now investigating the case as a possible hate crime. The killer, 46 year-old Craig Stephen Hicks, shot the students over a “longstanding dispute,” according to Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt. “We do not know whether anti-Muslim bias played a role in this crime, but I do recognize the fear that members of our community may feel,” Kleinschmidt stated on Wednesday. President Obama decried the “brutal and outrageous murders” in a Friday statement. “As we saw with the overwhelming presence at the funeral of these young Americans, we are all one American family. Whenever anyone is taken from us before their time, we remember how they lived their lives – and the words of one of the victims should inspire the way we live ours,” he stated. Outside the White House in below-freezing temperatures, attendees of the prayer service emphasized peace and love in response to the killings which they saw as a religiously-motivated hate crime. “We didn’t know them personally, but they represent each and every one of us Muslims living in the U.S. We’re American, we’re Muslims living in this country, we give back to our community as much as we can,” said participant Miriam Ismail, from Boston. “I think it’s really important for the general community worldwide to understand that Muslims do represent peace. We represent justice. We represent humanity,” she added. Another participant, Mahmoud, said he was inspired to attend the service by a sister of one of the victims. “Her speech was magnificent,” he said. “It was just so powerful, it carried a lot of wisdom, a lot of love, no hate.” “I’m here also to remember them [the victims] and to convey also a message of peace and a focus on we need to come together,” he continued. “We need to really start knowing one another instead of fearing one another. There’s a lot of injustice, and there is also, I think, the fear of the unknown.” Others present reflected his dismay at what they see are anti-Muslim currents in the U.S. “In some ways, this violent, heinous crime is a strange fruit of 15 years of a dehumanization of Islam in this country, and Muslims,” said Jahangiri. “I think the underlying issue is that Muslims feel unsafe and vulnerable in this country, and that speaks to a much larger and bigger societal problems that haven’t been recognized and aren’t being addressed.”