Reminders come frequently. They come when I’m out with my friends and I get the prayer notification on my phone. They come when I catch myself halfway through saying something I know I shouldn’t be. They come as a text from my mom when I’m not home two minutes after curfew. And last February, I got one in the form of a phone call.
I remember February 10th because, looking back, the triviality of my worries shocks me. I had a Spanish 3 quiz to study for. I hadn’t talked to my sister in a while. My friends and I were trying to decide where to go to lunch the next day. Surah Al-Hadid describes the reality of the transient life of this world. Several descriptive words are used to reveal to us its true nature. Allah warns us to remember that the life of this world is nothing but a “deceptive enjoyment,” and that was something I had to be reminded of.
As Muslims, our every action has a purpose. The underlying call for social justice that accompanies Islam is not something that should be easily forgotten, and though unbearable sadness came along with the loss of Deah, Yusor, and Razan, so has unprecedented productivity. Countless events aimed at raising money for the homeless, refugees, or scholarship funds have been founded in their names. In just a few months, I’ve watched the Light House undergo an incredible transformation. With them in mind, it seems as if anything can be done. Losing them reminded me that this life is fleeting, and there are far more important things to be living for and worrying about than the proper conjugation of “nadar.”
There’s a hadith that says, “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would believe it,” and Our Three Winners embodied this concept through and through. Countless acts committed on behalf of Deah, Yusor, and Razan have been popping up all over the internet in remembrance of them, and however small, memories like the time Deah stayed up late in the library to help one of his peers understand a concept, or when Yusor encouraged Muslim women to hold on tightly to their identities when times get rough via Twitter, or how Razan used her talent as an artist to raise money for Palestine, remind us of the genuine compassion that these three individuals let guide their lives. I didn’t know any of the victims especially well, but I remember that the night of Deah’s death, I had emailed him asking for details on the dates of the upcoming trip to Turkey. After hearing of my interest in journalism, he had raised the possibility of me joining the group and documenting the trip through pictures and blogs. Deah had a way of making anyone, even an under qualified seventeen-year-old, feel valued and appreciated, and that’s not something I will soon forget.
Deah, Yusor, and Razan were cornerstones of our community, and, a year later, are more present in spirit than ever before. Though heavy hearted, I am forever grateful to them for allowing me to witness the inspiration that such young lives can bring into a context plagued with social struggles, and for the kind of comfort that comes from community solidarity in such difficult times. I am proud to have known Deah, Yusor, and Razan, 3 young individuals who serve as a daily reminder of the kind of character we should all be working towards.
In the fall of 2005, I moved to the Triangle area to work as the principal of the Islamic school where Yusor and Razan were seventh and fifth grade students. The academics were not the only area they excelled in. They were actively involved in every service or fundraising activity the school sponsored, and in community events and social gatherings, I was always impressed by their good manners and the lovely smiles that never left their faces.
Deah had already graduated from the Islamic school, but I got to know him as a friend of my sons and also through several initiatives and charity events that he led in collaboration with the Islamic Association of Raleigh and the Muslim Student Association at NC State University. Deah, too, had a lovely smile that could fill up a room. He, too, had remarkable manners and a demeanor that was simply uplifting.
The years have gone by, and today I find myself thinking of the school principal who has learned from her students Yusor and Razan a lot more than she could have ever taught them. I also reflect as an aunt who feels fortunate to have crossed paths with Deah Barakat.
To these three lovely souls I say, you taught me that some people live long lives and others live wide ones. Your years in this world were not long but they were definitely full. You filled them with love, life, passion, action, achievement, and pleasant memories.
Deah, Yusor, and Razan, because of you, I can see how our physical presence has little to do with how we contribute to the lives of others. While you were taken from us a year ago, you continue to inspire service projects, community gatherings, interfaith events, and a host of initiatives. Deah, your dream of serving the refugees has reached far beyond what you had in mind for one year.
We want you to know that evil may have snatched you away, but it could not take away our love, our hopes, or our dreams. We will not let hate and bigotry affect our good will or defeat the peace within.
If you were here, you would be proud to see how your parents have been grieving ever so gracefully while demonstrating patience and acceptance. You would be pleased by how your siblings assert love and tolerance while reaching out to serve and educate. You would be satisfied with how your loved ones band together and continue to push through.
I find solace in thinking of Judgment Day when each person will be held accountable for their actions and true justice prevails.
It is comforting to think of the Afterlife and how in Heaven people are united with their loved ones in eternal happiness.
There is great consolation in thinking that you are now in God’s hands and in His mercy.
Deah, Yusor, and Razan, I think of you and feel an urge to work hard so that I could answer the persisting question, “what am I leaving behind?”