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'We Are All One': North Texan Muslims Remember Chapel Hill Victims

On Friday, North Texas Muslims gathered in downtown Dallas to remember the victims of the Chapel Hill shooting. 

We talked to an expert and some attendees about what can be done to address the issue.

As the sun set Friday evening, a group of Muslim men, women and children gathered at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. They kneeled on the grassy knoll and prayed as rush hour traffic passed by on Elm Street.

Behind them, another group – people of different ethnic backgrounds and faiths -- sat on steps holding candles and large, brightly-lit magenta-colored letters that spelled out the message “We Are All One.”

Alia Salem, executive director of the DFW chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke about why coming together to remember the Chapel Hill victims was so important.

“It does not matter if you are Muslim. It does not matter what religious background, what ethnic background, what national origin you come from, what demographics that you represent,” Salem said. “Hate is not acceptable. Bigotry is not acceptable.”

Salem said if people don’t take the time to reach out to one another and learn about each other, hateful and bigoted actions will only continue.

She urged those at the vigil to share anti-hate messages on social media and support the charities that the Chapel Hill victims supported, such as helping Syrian refugees and food drives for the homeless. She also urged Muslims to report any hate acts or crimes.

Last month, a small group of angry, anti-Islamic protestors showed up at Muslim Capitol Day in Austin. Last week, three young Muslims were shot in the head and killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Local authorities are still investigating whether the murders were hate crimes. 

Sahar Aziz, Associate Professor of Law at Texas A&M School of Law in Fort Worth, is not surprised by the social backlash Muslims have faced recently.

“It’s very fear-driven and fear can motivate even the best intentioned people to act in ways that are unacceptable,” she said.

Aziz said Americans should speak out against bigoted and hateful speech of all kinds.

“It’s a very fine line between anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism and anti-black racism and anti-Latino racism,” Aziz said. “And we need to be looking at bigotry as a broader problem within society.”

She said people who join anti-Muslim protests often think they’re doing what’s in the best interest of their community and country.

“They think they’re engaging in national security, they think they’re patriots,” Aziz said. “And that’s primarily because they don’t understand Islam. They don’t understand Muslims. They don’t know Muslims.”

During Friday’s vigil, Emad Salem carried a large American flag that hovered over the crowd. The Tarrant County resident is a member of the Muslim Democratic Caucus of Texas. He said he believes more education and collaboration among interfaith groups would go a long way.

“I think that would definitely help in getting those people to change their minds or least understand other religions and how we are all together in this as Muslims Americans, Christians, Jewish,” he said. “We [are] all together in this country and we [are] all proud Americans.”

As the vigil wrapped up, 19-year-old Mohamed Herbert had a message for everyone. Herbert is an Imam at the Mansfield Islamic Center.

“Now that something happened, everyone is waiting for your reaction. Everyone,
 he said. “All eyes are on you. Everyone is looking at you, seeing how you’re going to react. Are you going to react in anger? Are you going to react violently? You shouldn’t.”

Instead, he told them, you should act kindly.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.