Special vigil held for slain Virginia Muslim served to address fears

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, June 24, 2017
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A vigil held served as an pportunity for local Muslims to describe the tension they feel that makes them so certain it was.

CARY, North Carolina (WTVD) -- With long-stemmed flowers and dimly-lit candles they came to Cary; Christians, Jews, and atheists at Bond Park to sit and listen to the fears and concerns of their Muslim neighbors.

"I've been chased on 40 before, on highway 40," Nisma Gabr, a Muslim-American youth activist told the crowd. "Was it because I was wearing a hijab or was it because I accidentally didn't use my signal and I cut him off, who knows. But I was in fear."

Many of the Muslim women at the vigil wore their hijab, the traditional head covering, just like Nabra Hassenen was wearing walking back to her mosque in northern Virginia; when she and a group of other teenagers were attacked by a driver who chased them with a baseball bat. Hassenen was later found beaten to death.

"She was attacked by this man. I'll call him a monster, I won't call him a man," said Faisal Khan, Director of the Carolina Peace Center which organized the vigil.

While police investigate Hassanen's murder as road rage, many are calling it a hate crime, fueled by Islamophobia.

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"It was definitely a hate crime," Hebah Gabr, a 1st and 2nd grade teacher in Wake County. She is a religious Muslim-American born in New Jersey. 9 months pregnant with her first child, Gabr says she has newfound concerns about raising her child at home in Morrisville or in the United States altogether because of what she sees as growing anti-Muslim sentiment-- even in the minds of her young students.

"I've had students come and ask me, is it true what they say about us on television, am I really a terrorist; do I practice what these people do. And I tell them no, but I couldn't elaborate more just so I don't get in trouble and lose my job," Gabr said.

At the vigil in Cary, a small chance to bridge that divide and overcome fears on both sides.

"With a lot of Muslim families, the thing is a lot of parents are just scared. The reason why their kids are not doing a lot in the community is their parents are terrified," said Sinthia Shabnam, a Muslim-American student at NC State. "Literally when I left my house today, my mom was like, be careful what you say."

While police in Virginia will ultimately decide if what happened to Nabra Hassenen was a hate crime. The vigil at Bond Park served as an opportunity for local Muslims to describe the tension they feel that makes them so certain it was.