By Reza Nekumanesh
In the Glorious Qur’an, the holy book of Muslims, God tells humans that taking the life of one innocent person is equal to killing off the entirety of humanity in the eyes of God (5:32).
Countless acts of senseless violence and terror around the world today need to be seen as crimes not against one victim, two victims or even 100 victims, but rather need to be viewed as crimes against all of humanity. One needs to look at the beheading of 21 Coptic Egyptians not as such, but as though the entirety of humanity was beheaded 21 times on that beach. In Paris and in Copenhagen, 18 times over the entirety of mankind was murdered. In places like Ferguson, in Staten Island or at Fruitvale Station in Oakland, time and time again, the entirety of humanity was murdered. Humankind was killed two times over while sitting in a patrol car in Brooklyn. In Syria over the past three years, humanity was wiped off of the face of our planet 300,000 times over. And in Chapel Hill, three times over, the entirety of humanity was taken from this life too soon. And the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, the media in general has done a good job highlighting some of these crimes and their victims, while neglecting or even downplaying others. The main problem is that many people do not feel the same pain when a member of their own human family is senselessly murdered when they may look, sound or believe differently than they do. There needs to be a deep belief and total acceptance that all life is valuable, all human beings are dignified and no one life is any less worthy than another.
With that, just as the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen were gruesome realities of the presence of hatred and intolerance in our world, so too were the Chapel Hill murders not only a senseless act of violence perpetrated against three bright young Muslims but also acts of aggression against the security and sense of peace for all of us. And, while the norm for such crimes is to be reported immediately and even sometimes during initial findings, many cannot help but wonder why it took so long for the national media outlets to report the shootings and discuss the possible nature of the crime.
As a matter of fact, only after social media protests and continuous questioning on the Internet as to why large media outlets had not reported the story did they even begin to discuss the horrible crime. Long before any real media coverage, #ChapelHillShooting was the top trend worldwide on Twitter, so it is unfathomable to think that large media outlets were unaware of the murders. And then when they did decide to report, they began immediately touting the idea that Deah Barakat, 23, his wife of just over one month Yusor Mohammed, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammed Abu-Salha, 19, were all murdered merely because their killer, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, had been in a dispute with them over a parking spot.
Need I argue that if a Muslim man had perpetrated this heinous crime against three young non-Muslims that the story would spread like a wildfire? Furthermore, many Muslims would ask that even if this particular case is approached as a hate crime, that if the perpetrator had been Muslim, would it be labeled by the media as a hate crime or as terrorism? William Youmans, assistant professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, stated, “Had the killer been a Muslim and his victims three white college students, CNN and Fox News probably would have reported it earlier Wednesday…No mainstream media raised the possibility it was a terrorist attack. Had the killer been Muslim, they would have without a doubt.”
In addition, while the media usually does a good job normally highlighting the humanity of victims and highlighting their work and their accomplishments, they failed miserably in doing the same justice for Deah, Yusor and Razan. All three victims were philanthropists, actively working in an organization that feeds homeless. Deah also worked as a volunteer to provide dental care to special-needs children in Palestine and this coming summer was going to travel to Turkey to serve Syrian refugees. No one wonders why the news outlets normally honor victims and their work; they merely question why some victims are worthy of the honor while others are not. It seems that there is not only a loss of hope to end violence, but a lack of hope in the recognized humanity and dignity of all of us.
The rest of the previously mentioned verse of the Qur’an (5:32) states that “if anyone gives life to another person, it is as if he had given life to all mankind.”
While we may not be able to stop all of the bloodshed in our ever-so-violent world today, we can try to combat the violence by saving the lives of our fellow humans with whatever means we have. We can build schools to educate and serve those who are in need and foster in our students compassion and understanding of their fellow creation. In addition, develop in them the skills needed to be self-sufficient and productive in society to alleviate the great disparity in socioeconomic class that leads so many to react violently to an unjust society.
We can build hospitals and other service-providing organizations to serve the underserved and raise the standards of health and life in many areas that struggle. We can save lives by educating our own selves about the beauty in the diversity of the human experience, thus seeing all life through the equal scope of dignity and the loss of any life as a great crime. We can save lives by continuing the work of those three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, serving humanity with whatever talents we have.
I, as a Muslim, can save lives through education. There is a lot of false information out there about the beautiful and peaceful religion of Islam, and when some weak-minded individuals get that wrong information it can lead them to many conclusions. On one side of the spectrum, this false idea of Islam can lead some to become extreme and violent in their twisted religiosity, and then groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS or Boko Haram are born. On the other side, that false information can lead some to become Islamophobes, some not only hating the religion but also acting out in violence against its adherents just as Hicks did in Chapel Hill.
I can teach others about the beauty in my religion so that others do not dehumanize those who believe like me. When they learn of the almost million Iraqis who have died since the 2003 invasion, they might understand the tragedy not merely as collateral damage for a political agenda, but as a human rights crisis and the entirety of humanity dying a million times over. The more times that we view one life not merely as one life, but as the entirety of humanity, the more likely it is that violence will decrease and we will be able to focus on the beauty and good work of all. And in that there is hope.
Reza Nekumanesh manages the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno and is active in the community. Contact him at reza@icfresno. org.