Tuesday’s shooting in Chapel Hill, which killed Mohammad, 21, her husband Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and her sister Razan, 19, changed all that. As soon as the victims’ names were reported, speculation swirled that the three had been slain because of their religion. Chapel Hill police said the shooting was motivated by a clash about parking, an explanation many disputed. The murders sparked a national debate about hate crimes and the treatment of Muslims in the United States.
But in life — as reflected in the StoryCorps conversation, which was published Thursday by North Carolina public radio station WUNC — Abu-Salha was a sincere believer in America’s capacity for tolerance.
“Although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering, there are still so many ways I feel embedded in the fabric that is our culture,” she told Jabeen. “It’s beautiful to see people of different areas interacting and being family, being one community.”
Abu-Salha and Jabeen recorded their conversation at a StoryCorps booth in Durham, N.C. The young woman had been a student of Jabeen’s at the Al-Iman school in Raleigh, as had Razan and Barakat.
In the interview, Jabeen congratulated Abu-Salha on her engagement to Barakat — the two were married in December, little more than a month before their deaths.
“I was so happy when I saw you guys together and when I heard about it,” Jabeen said. “It’s an amazing feeling when you see your children grow … Their accomplishments and their lives, that’s what give us as educators a sense of accomplishment.”
Abu-Salha later asked her teacher what she would say if she had the whole world’s attention.
“Live in peace, that’s what I would say,” Jabeen responded. “Make this world a place where everybody has the right to live and we don’t fight over our differences but learn to accept our differences.”
Abu-Salha replied: “Sister Jabeen, I love hearing from you. You always have the right thing to say, the right answers.”
She also recounted a lesson Jabeen taught her in elementary school: “When we asked for something, you used to say, ‘Don’t put your hand like this,’ and you’d have your hand out and facing downward, as if you’re taking something from someone, and then you’d flip your hand over and you’d open your hand upward as a giving gesture. Give, don’t take.”
“Oh my god, you still remember it?” Jabeen laughed. Later she added, “You guys never let me down.”
The conversation is brief — less than 10 minutes — but heartfelt. For Jabeen, who contacted WUNC after Abu-Salha’s death and asked the station to air the recording, it’s also heartbreaking.
“Listening to Yusor’s voice again, it just brought back all the memories,” she told WUNC host Frank Stasio. “But I want everybody to know Yusor, Deah and Razan, what values they grew up with, and what they are practicing in their lives … It’s a legacy that they have left behind.”