Letting Our Suffering Speak and Be Public

Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 6:41am
Photo by Brendan Smialowski

Letting Our Suffering Speak and Be Public

God is with the brokenhearted. I sure hope so, because there is a grief that no human being alone can bear.

My eyes hurt from weeping. The more I learn about the three beautiful young Muslims who were savagely killed on Tuesday in Chapel Hill, the more my heart aches for them, for their families, for our community here in North Carolina, and for us as a human community.

Maybe it’s because I am a parent, I start with their parents. I cannot imagine their grief, their pain. We are who we are because somebody loved us, somebody sacrificed for us. These three beautiful, young souls — Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu Salha — were who they were because their families, the Barakat family and the Abu-Salha family loved them.

Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha.

And I mourn us as a human community, because I see that decades of love and sacrifice that went into making them who they were can be silenced by the hateful violent actions of a deranged man with a gun in a few minutes. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong, not just with the fact that young people this beautiful are taken from us so soon, but that in a few minutes violence and hatred seem to gain the upper hand over decades of love.

I want to believe, I choose to believe that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. I want to believe that light overcomes darkness and that hatred is bound to vanish before love. These nights make it harder to hang on to that faith.

Hate, violence, and bullets have had their say. Now it’s up to all of us to see how we are going to respond.

These three young people already understood one of the most powerful lessons of life: that we have to keep connecting the suffering “here” to the suffering “there,” because the humanity here at home already mingles with the humanity over there. Deah, the charming young man with the effervescent smile worked at both the local and the global levels.

Dentistry students and others huddle together during a vigil for the fallen Muslim students.

(Brendan Smialowski / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.)

His last Facebook post shows him in Durham offering a free dental clinic and handing out food for underprivileged communities. He also mobilized people to provide relief for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Here is a beautiful YouTube video showing Deah on the Syrian dental relief project called Refugee Smiles:

Deah’s wife, Yusor, carried on dental relief work among Syrian refugees herself in the city of Kilis, Turkey. I am haunted by this picture of her dancing with her father, during her wedding with Deah, which was just six weeks ago.

Yusor dances with her father at her wedding.

Razan, Yusor’s sister, was a talented 3-D designer studying at one of the top engineering schools in the country. She was also a gifted artist who put together an amazing project to engage and inspire Muslims titled “Optimism is a Lost Sunnah”:

You learn most about people not by where they stand not in times of comfort but rather by where they stand in times of crisis. And if you want to see an image of people whose faith and strength carries them through unbearable crises, watch the families of these beautiful souls. I urge you to listen to the older sister of Deah, Suzanne Barakat on the dedication of these “three incredibly brilliant, bright, beautiful young people” during her interview with CNN:

In this case, I tend to listen to what the father of the two murdered women, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, says: “This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime. This man had picked on my daughter and her husband a couple of times before, and he talked with them with his gun in his belt. And they were uncomfortable with him, but they did not know he would go this far.”

The health of any community is revealed by how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable people in our midst. At this particular moment in American history, Muslims are among the most vulnerable communities. We do not have a monopoly on suffering. There are many vulnerable peoples including African Americans, women, gays/lesbians, undocumented people, poor people, and more (and the overlaps among the above). But Muslims are surely among the very vulnerable communities among us, one of the few communities who are routinely demonized by mainstream media.

It is not the job of marginalized people to heal the prejudice of others. It is not the responsibility of vulnerable young Muslim students to heal the Islamophobia of others. It is up to all of us to reach out to one another and uplift all of us.

The great theorist Adorno once said, “The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth.” The communities of the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University came together to let their suffering speak. We held a vigil in which family members and loved ones spoke, remembered, and honored the three victims. We wept. We prayed. We let our suffering be public; we let our suffering speak. May that suffering indeed lead us to a greater truth, a truth that says acts of hate and violence can kill a life, but it cannot kill what gave meaning and beauty to those lives.

Students hold a vigil on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus remembering the students who were killed.

(Omid Safi)

This is how the civil rights movement got its origin: Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie, made the bold decision to hold an open casket funeral in 1955, and let the whole world see her baby’s suffering. I am not calling for anyone to hold an open casket funeral, but I do think it’s powerful and vital that we as Muslims let people see our suffering in public. May it be this leads to an origin for a new civil rights movement, one that will lead us to deal with new injustices and oppressions in our midst.

In some ways, this vile and heinous crime is the strange fruit of 15 years of the demonization of Islam and Muslims from the most public airwaves in this country. It’s a vicious combination: repeated dehumanization of Muslims and association of Islam with the worst of violence on one hand, and the sad reality of America being a nation with 300 million guns for 300 million people. It doesn’t take a systematic institution or movement to produce this kind of violence, only a few people here and there who “snap” and actualize the violence that is in our public discourse. That broader discourse of Islamophobia — along with sexism, racism, assault on the poor — has to be addressed now.

Here’s what I hope. The best way I can think of to honor the lives of Deah, Yusor, and Razan is to commit ourselves to loving one another, suffering together, working together so that we always remember that:

Knowledge is more luminous than ignorance
Justice is more beautiful than tyranny
Love is more divine than hatred.


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Omid Safi

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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Are we promoting 'Islamophobia' or are we promoting The Truth?

Three young Muslims were murdered in their home around 17:15 EST on November 10th.
Within twelve hours, the Muslim propaganda machine was in full swing, instrumentalizing the horrific incident with a campaign asserting that
the media was under-reporting the incident.

By early morning, accusatory editorials appeared in al-Jazeera and Huffington Post.
By 7:00 (AM EST) cartoons began to appear. By 9:00 Muslim political pundits were flooding social media with a crafted response, alleging media bias, “white terrorism” and “hate crime” . By 13:00 a mere nineteen hours after the shooting, the first major police news briefing revealed the crime was related to a bitter ongoing dispute over neighborhood parking spaces.

But the professional propagandists would not be deterred. Never mind that an average of 30 gun deaths occur daily in the USA. Never mind that, normally, no murders except those that are premeditated and politically significant are reported in the national press. Never mind that about 1500 US women are murdered by enraged husbands each year. Never mind that almost none of those murders make national headlines. Never mind any of that. Because the Muslim propaganda machine is determined to insist ---- regardless of emerging evidence---- that every garden variety crime of rage against a Muslim constitutes a “hate crime”.

The concept of “islamophobia” will be promoted by Muslim propagandists at all opportunities.
To remind ethnic Muslims living in the West that they reside in Dar-al-Harb, The Home of War, that they will never be accepted, never safe, as long as non-Muslims are near, that pluralism and peaceful coexistence are just a ruse.

May al-Haqq forgive them.

listening to
suffering speak
leads to Truth
only if
speaks truthfully

Asalamalaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh.


We all come from God and will return to God. He gives life and he takes it. No one understand his wisdom, nor fathom his justice ...

Thank you for sharing these photos and videos that help us understand the amazing young people we have lost, and to place their deaths in the context of the divisions and animosity that exist in the United States which continue to allow these tragedies to happen. May many be inspired to carry on the legacy of Deah, Yusor and Razan who lived lives of joy, hope and service.

Thank you for this thoughtful and honest piece on this horrible event. To call this heinous crime against these three young people anything other than what it is, a hate crime, is to disrespect their memories. I share your hope that this will spur us to work together in love to rid ourselves and our nation of this violence and hatred.

There are no words to describe this act or the shared sorrow. Thank you for doing the best that anyone could. God help us all.

No one should kill another cause of their Religion,Race or creed! The world now is so messed up now, with all the senseless killings!Please don't post mean or nasty remarks!

This is an extraordinary crime of hate, of course. But is it really about hating Muslims or is just an excuse for violence and untreated mental illness. In the name of the Prophet innocent people were murdered in a kosher grocery. When the Pope commented that he thought Islam a violent religion; Muslim terroists then burned churches and murdered innocent people . I am a gay man, in many Islamic countries just being who I am is punishable by death. What does that have to do with these three beautiful, extraordinary,brilliant young people? The answer should be nothing,but the reality is everything. I hope we see the kind of love and light shown by Deah's sister in the wake of this terrible murder. Because hate burns out, but love burns bright. This is an opportunity for the light of Islam to burn bright. And as a gay Christian man, I will pray that the light of the Prophet burns bright.

the heart should be invested in the love that does not judge people, but holds them in reverence. For me, it is when I think of the three young people murdered. Beyond that tonight... I will not go.

you have voiced what I too have been feeling. Yes we are all in mourning, collective mourning for not only the loss of these beautiful souls and great human beings, but for the loss of humanity that seems to have taken root in this nation. A nation that seems to pride itself over its possession of guns I every hand. Where Anyone can just take the law into their hands and shoot out their hate, or anger in such a violent and cruel manner, and then be declared mentally deranged,go through a protracted, expensive legal system, at the tax payers account, be incarcerated
for life on the tax payers account, in the name of humane justice. Boggles my mind. Don't know what to make of the dichtomies. If only the same dichtomies were accepted when found elsewhere.

Thank you for your words of wisdom, for sharing the reality of the beautiful lives that were taken from this world too soon, for the need to make public the suffering created by those who act out the hate that is being fomented across our world.

This is a tragedy but these fine people were killed by an angry unstable man where his instability manifested itself into his irrational obsession with parking. If he was going to kill folks over religion, then it would be hard to believe this would be his choice of action.

If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem. #NotOneMore #TakeAction

I heard this thought at Yoga this morning and felt is worth reflecting on regarding this tragedy and the tragedy of Kayla Mueller all of which are absolutely senseless. “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”
― Marianne Williamson

Thank you for your words, among the most moving I have seen since this disaster erupted in our midst on an otherwise quiet winter evening. And thank you for the visuals, which bring home the beauty and goodness of what we have all lost this week.

Such sadness I have not felt through this long, difficult decade of US failure to educate its citizens as to the beauty of Islam. These three young people embody that beauty. Let them inspire us. I am deeply grieved.

زهرات ثلاث
رحلوا الى السماء
تركو من الحزن جبلا
من غيظ وبكاء
فى ربيع العمر ماتوا
هكذا كان القضاء
هم منا ونحن منهم
ربنا ادخلهم جنةالشهداء
ربنا وتقبل دعاء
اما انا وأنتم فالنصحوا جميعا
فالنعرف كلنا من يكن لنا العداء
ولنقف سويا معا
ولنعلى كلمه الحق
فوق أعناق الأغبياء
لن اتخفى باسلامى فى اى موقف
ما جاء الاسلام للخفاء
انا بالإيمان حر
فى زحمة الدنيا سجناء
يا أحبابى الذين خطفوا من الدنيا
فى الدنيا أصبحتم
وامسيتم فى جنات الخالق
تنعمون بالصحبة والهناء
لكم منى كل العزاء

I am not as eloquent with words but Dr. Safid said it for me. I just can't imagine such hatred and the result of such misunderstanding of cultures. Eliminating this hate begins at home, parents, expose your children to all cultures so the difference becomes a beautiful difference they can respect and enjoy. My very best friend is Jewish and I so value what I have learned aboutJudaism. It is much easier to be kind than to be hateful.

Every murder is a hate crime....and when our culture demonizes Muslims and makes them the 'other' it creates an outlet for a hateful heart to attack and, in this case, kill. These young people had bright and hopeful futures. Their families and friends must be devastated by this brutal and senseless crime. My heart breaks for their loss. And, as an American, as a Christian, as a woman, I feel ashamed of a culture in which this type of hate crime can happen. The same way hate crimes have happened over the centuries...by separating humans into subgroups and attacking their character and their worth....African Americans, Jews, gays, women, transgenders....so much hatred. When will we remember we are one people? When will we remember the call of all religious and spiritual traditions to love one another. May these three and all others taken by hatred rest in the peace of God. And may God open the eyes and the heart of the man who perpetrated these crimes that he might remember that these three are his brother and his sisters....and may God forgive him as he comes to realize his fratricide. Peace to all sentient beings, Rev Mary Francis Drake

I am horrified that anyone would kill anyone over a parking space or over the religion they practice. There are many people in the world these days whose ideas are very confused and destructive to themselves and others. Those people come in all religious identities. THERE IS NO RELIGION GREATER THAN LOVE. ALL OF THOSE WHO WORSHIP THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND TRY TO PRACTICE IT BELONG TO THE GREATEST RELIGION TOGETHER IN UNITY. It doesn't matter what religious identity people claim, what reveals their connection to God is their loving actions. May people of all nations unite in respect for life and caring actions for each other and our planet.

Please know how deep the feelings are for the families who suffer from this terrible hate crime. It is time to put the rhetoric of differences behind us.No collective is responsible for these atrocities,only individuals who cannot speak for any collective. And that goes for the Charlie Hebdo killings too. I live as a tax-paying, voting citizen in a country - the United States - that does not even count the civilian casualties that we have caused by our "mistake" of invading Iraq. We cannot make ourselves pure from blaming others. I respect the religion of Islam because i have studied it, and know its beauty.

I pray for the three muslims that were killed... God Bless their souls. I also pray for the men who are responsible for the deaths... that they may find another way of expressing their anger and not use violence. It's a sad commentary of our society when violence is the answer. The last three lines of this essay are beautiful. I look forward to your post every week. thank you.

I feel a deep obligation to simply say Thank You, Omid Safi, for such lovely words, thoughts, honoring.

This the most effective tribute I could imagine, one that seems to do justice to the priceless legacy of these three remarkable people -- showing us in deeply felt detail what love had built in them, and the tragedy of their loss in a single instant. Thank you, Omid, for taking the care to put it all together so we who did not know them in life might appreciate what they lived and built in their short, invaluable time among us.

Thinking rationally,or, going deep into religions, shows that all were meant to bring and promote peace among people, irrespective of cast, creed and race. Differences in religions are not meant to divide into, "we and they" or, "our and their" camps, in order to settle differences violently. Despite all differences, the purpose of religions and free thinking should be one and the same, i., e., "live and let live".