Elon mourns Chapel Hill shooting victims at campus vigil

Students, faculty and staff expressed their deep sorrow, lit candles and prayed together as they honored the three Muslim students who were murdered this week  

The Elon community gathered Feb. 12 for a vigil in memory of three students who were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Elon community gathered Feb. 12 for a vigil in memory of three students who were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C.[/caption]Calling the tragic shooting death of three young people in Chapel Hill “a further degradation of our innocence and test to our resolve to make this world better,” Elon Chaplain Jan Fuller led a campus vigil on Feb. 12.

Fuller said the world is not the peaceful one God envisioned when humanity was created with tribes and peoples.

“We have become a world, and sometimes a community, that is full of racial and religious misunderstanding, disrespect and even hatred,” Fuller said. “We sometimes choose to be willfully ignorant and uneducated, when we believe untruth instead of seeing clearly, when we choose separation over community. This is not the way of God. And we at Elon have, instead, committed ourselves to deeper learning, fuller respect, understanding that breeds love – love that is measured by acts of generosity, hospitality and friendship.”

Fuller said the vigil was an opportunity for people to pour out their sorrow and lament the way things are. But she also said this was a gathering “to hear our hearts’ yearnings for peace and unity in our differences, to hear words of strength that can lead us back to hope, and to renew our commitments to becoming agents of peace in the world.”

President Leo M. Lambert spoke at the vigil in the Numen Lumen Pavilion's Sacred Space.
President Leo M. Lambert spoke at the vigil in the Numen Lumen Pavilion’s Sacred Space.[/caption]President Leo M. Lambert said the drumbeat of our lives has become a toxic mix of violence fueled by mental illness, religious-based violence and race-based violence.

“And then we are subjected to what follows: the posturing, cruelty, closed-mindedness, pettiness, snarkiness and ‘piling on’ of our so-called ‘social media,’ which more often feel like anti-social media,” Lambert said. “It is all numbing and wearing and spirit crushing.”

Lambert asked those at the vigil to maintain their resolve to come together and comfort each other, remembering some big truths:

“Kindness will prevail over pettiness. Grace will win out over sinfulness. Compassion is more powerful than blame. Understanding will triumph over prejudice and bigotry. Love will overcome hate.

“I believe these things as a condition of living in this world. And I come here to reaffirm these ideas with you today, so that we may encourage each other to be kind, to offer grace and compassion, to be understanding and to practice love,” Lambert said. 

Brian Pennington, director of Elon’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society, said the crime hit close to home on campus because the victims were promising young people, just like Elon students. He said he came to the vigil with a sense of anger.

“While many of us are here to mourn today because these three are fully recognizable to us as North Carolina college students, they bore on themselves the markers of difference that to others rendered them a threat,” Pennington said. “And so we cannot, should not, overlook the fact that they were Muslim. I recognize that now law enforcement and the judicial system are discussing the motive for this crime, and I wouldn’t presume to know more than they do about the facts of the case. But I don’t think we can, at the same time, overlook the fact that this action took place in an environment of pervasive vilification of Islam.”

Pennington discussed Islamophobia in society that he says has become a lethal threat that Muslims face every day. “This Islamophobia does not discriminate between so-called ‘good Muslims’ and ‘bad Muslims.’ It only sees headscarves and beards,” Pennington said.

The vigil included Muslim, Jewish and Christian prayers, and many of those in attendance lit candles at the alter in the Numen Lumen Pavilion’s Sacred Space.    

The Elon vigil was one of hundreds of similar gatherings held across the country in memory of the shooting victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19. Deah was a student in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, Yusor was a 2014 graduate of North Carolina State University and Razan was a current student at NC State.