“I’m scared, Chaplain Amy.”
I couldn’t breathe for a moment as I looked at the beautiful (both inside and out) college woman before me. On Tuesday evening, three young Muslims in Chapel Hill were brutally murdered at their home. Our campus is only about an hour away from Chapel Hill, and many of our students have friends at our state’s flagship university. Our Muslim students are no exception – several of them have relatives at Carolina who knew these vibrant young adults whose lives ended so tragically. As I asked my Muslim students how they were doing, the response was the same – they’re scared.
I wanted to reassure them so very badly. I wanted to tell them that this would never happen to them. I wanted to let them know that no one would ever single them out for their faith. I wanted to tell them they would be safe. But I make it a point not to lie to my students – these wonderful women who will be the leaders of our communities and who will change the world for the better. They have all been instructed by their families for years about what to do and what not to do as Muslim women in our society so that they could be safe. They know the “rules” about how to avoid conflict or dangerous situations in a culture where most people can only associate being a Muslim with being a terrorist. But when students who have done all the right things are shot execution style in their own home, how can my students ever feel safe? How can they live without fear? What does this truly say about our society?
I’m a lifelong North Carolinian. Sometimes I’m proud of that, and sometimes I feel like I need to apologize. As the entire world discusses my home state, I know that this is where Rev. Franklin Graham also lives – a man who continually has labeled Islam as an evil religion and spouts “facts” about Islam which are completely false. I know that far too many people in my state (and in my country) do not know the basics of Islam – do not know that it is an Abrahamic faith with the same roots as Christianity and Judaism – do not know that the Christian Bible has far, far more texts about the use of violence than the Qu’ran.
Anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times more likely to happen now than before 9/11. I also remember talking to students on that day and in the days after – trying to reassure them when they felt unsafe and were scared. I remember all of us thinking about the good that could come out of that terrible event – that we could find ways to live in community and truly respect others, no matter how different we might all be.
No one will ever truly know why this man committed these terrible murders. People will blame it on mental illness or a parking issue or some other excuse. People will ignore the ways he acted towards these obviously Muslim young people and his comments on social media. But the fact remains that we live in a society where a Muslim individual can never feel truly safe. We live in a society where Muslim children are taught from an early age how to be careful of people who are ignorant about their faith or who willfully misunderstand and mischaracterize it. We live in a society where people, including people with power like Rupert Murdoch, choose to demonize an entire religion and all its adherents.
Muslim Lives Matter. All lives matter. The spark of the Divine is in each and every individual we will ever meet. As a society, we need to step away from the fear, the hate speech, the deepening of dividing lines. When we lessen the value of another, we are downgrading our own value. All lives matter. Let us act like it, and let us speak out when others ignore this basic facet of what it means to be in a just society.