At the end of February, three young immigrant men, two of whom were Muslim, were tragically killed in Fort Wayne, Indiana under unknown circumstances. They were murdered “execution style” in an abandoned building that was “under surveillance” by police for “gang and violent crimes.” The young men themselves did not have gang affiliations.
Student activists, some identifying as Muslim themselves, helped bring to the attention of the Smith Campus the stark contrast between the media coverage of these deaths and the murders of three dental students in Chapel Hill North Carolina.
The murders of Deah Barakat, Rezan Abu-Salha, and Yosur Aby-Salha, in North Carolina in March of 2015, identified as a hate crime, brought media focus to Islamophobia and Xenophobia. Here at Smith we vigiled and mourned these deaths. It was a tragic moment. It was also a moment that helped create the opportunity for Muslim students on campus to talk about their daily fear of being targeted.*
Organizers of the #OurThreeBrothers vigil drew attention to the social media campaign that made visible what was obscured by silence and ignorance:
While these young people murdered in North Carolina, educated and naturalized American citizens—were named and widely acknowledged and mourned, remembered as #OurThreeWinners—almost exactly a year later the murders of three Somali born men were barely mentioned in the media.
In this post and the one that follows, I will be looking at the ways that students have brought an interfaith vision of resistance to the campus through shedding light on stories not highlighted, or often even told, by the mainstream media. They have been courageous enough to name their religious as well as racial and ethnic identities in service of justice. Below are the introductory remarks from the March 6th vigil, followed by the statements of two student leaders who organized and spoke at the gathering.
Friends we welcome you today on behalf of Al Iman and BSA to a vigil of remembrance and honoring. My name is Matilda Cantwell and I welcome you on behalf of the staff of the CRSL, and we along with the office for Institutional Equity, Inclusion, and diversity are honored to be supporting this profoundly important commemoration today.
Week before last 23-year-old Mo-ha-med-taha Omar, 20-year-old Adam Mekki and 17-year-old Mu-hann–ad Tairab were killed in Fort Wayne Indiana.
If this moment is the first time you have heard these young men‘s names, you are not alone—but in the moments that follow we will hear more about what others of you know already, all too well—the race, immigration status, ethnic background, and religious affiliation of these men made them invisible in the eyes of a racist and xenophobic North American context.
James Baldwin famously said to love, and to make art, have the same call—to make another conscious of what they do not see. I am deeply moved, and deeply grateful, for the students on this campus who are bringing to our attention what was not seen. Today students are coming forward to share what they know, in deep ways, to tell their stories, to shed light on corners of experience that are covered in the shadows of racism and dominance.
We are here to honor the identity, and the faith of these men, to look critically at the way dominance and erasure plays out within religious communities—to acknowledge that religious identity matters. The Muslim individuals here today are called to speak the truth of their faith, they are speaking from their faith, and calling us to the deepest truths of Islam.
To vigil means to stay watchful, to pay attention. We invite you know to watch, listen, and speak in this spirit. By being here, you are refusing to be complicit in the enforced silencing of others. Refusing to agree that we can say all lives matter and be done.
These three men sought refuge in the US, and their lives were erased. Today we are here to rewrite them. We are deeply grateful for our siblings who have brought us here today to say their names, to write them into the history of our hearts.
STATEMENT BY SU’DI ABDIRAHMAN, 17
Thank you all for being here!
Our three brothers’ bodies were found on Wednesday February 24. But the news of the killing did not surface in the media until Sunday the 28th. And there was no mainstream coverage of the tragedy.
Mohamedtaha Omar (23) and his cousin Muhammad Tairab (17) and their friend Adam Mekki (20) were young Sudanese men and teenager who were found dead in an abandon house in Fort Wayne, Indiana; killed through an execution style killing. My heart not only breaks, but it tares. It tares because of the method in which my brothers have left this world. It tares because of the lack of support from those clad in the same uniform that is supposed to protect us. It tares because instead of humanly outrage people pick and choose which lives to stand up for.
These were lives that were taken, why are we not yelling with outrage, demanding the killers to be found, and giving our sentiments to their families. Is it because they were black? Or was it because you heard they were Muslim? Adam was a Christian and Mohamedtaha and Muhammad were Muslims. The lack of uproar from the Muslim community confuses me. And it saddens me to say: Muslims can be racists too. This deafening silence speaks louder than words. Open your eyes and look beyond the colors of one’s skin and imagine if that was your brother, your cousin, your friend.
I understand we will not live forever that is a natural process, but I don’t understand why any living being would take another’s life. What a devastating reality it is that we can choose which lives we want justice for, yet ignore or stay neutral to those that needs us the most.
Mohamedtaha, Muhammad, and Adam may God reward you for the injustice you have endured, Ameen. Ina lilahi wa ina ilayhi raji’un, To God we belong and Him we shall return.
STATEMENT BY AYAN NUR, 19
As a Black Muslim, I sometimes feel as if we are viewed as walking contradictions by never truly molding into the stereotypical characteristics pinned onto us. A drug dealer or a terrorist. Oppressed or loud and sassy. The two identities don’t usually coincide and we are left constantly being pushed into one category or the other depending on how we carry ourselves. My reserved nature is everything but natural, but has everything to with Islam. Changing of my vernacular is labelled ghetto, and the list goes on. Within our own communities we are obscurities as we don’t fit into the main narrative by simultaneously being Black and Muslim. With these two identities not coinciding, we are lift to be invisible within society.
The Muslim community faces this inconsistency with what we usually practice and what we preach. We deny that anti-blackness exists within our people, as Islam doesn’t stand for racism. Our defense is the last sermon of the Prophet (S.A.W) where he stated: an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. We give the example of the token Black companion, Bilal (R.A.) mostly because we can’t think of any other Black figure from Islamic history, and we talk about Hajj; everyone, despite race, economic status, and age stand shoulder to shoulder. Despite all these examples holding true, we fail to implement this into our day to day lives.
It is easy to feel as if Black Muslims are unimportant. Non Black Muslims so easily forget our influence within Islamic history. The first martyr, Sumayyah, was a black woman. The first place the companions migrated to was the Horn of Africa. They forget that Islam is the dominate religion in around half of Africa and yet they treat us like foreigners.
Arab and South Asians are quick to unite when it comes tragedies like that of the Chapel Hill victims, Deah, Yusor, and Razan. But when Abdisamad Sheikh Hussein, the 15 year old Somali boy, was murdered a few months before them, there there was no outrage. We were all there for Ahmed Mohamed, the boy arrested for building a clock but was it because he was revered as a smart and educated kid in the sciences and the fact that he didn’t look like the conventional Black boy, allowing people to erase his Sudanese heritage and label him as Brown?
The examples don’t have to be as overt. It can be seen in the silence surrounding the death of Black Muslim lives. It can be seen the all the Salaams that were never returned. Mohamedtaha Omar and Muhannad Adam Tairab came from this Muslim community that failed to adhere to the preaching of standing with the Ummah by leaving their families with no support. A community that jumps onto the notion that it had do with gang related issues. A community that spews anti-blackness, but simultaneously rejects its existence. Adam Kamel Mekki, Mohamedtaha Omar and Muhannad Adam Tairab are ignored by the Black community by tagging it as having to do with their faith, although Adam was Christian.
No one wants to recognize that a Muslim can face anti-blackness or that a Black person can face Islamophobia leaving us to fall between the cracks.
* – Sometimes when we refer to Islamophobia, we are referring to discrimination against those who are visibly Mulsim or who may even not be Muslim, but “racialized” as Muslim within the Western Context in which there is a long history of anti-Arab sentiment, and race, religion and region are often confused.