URI North America: After Chapel Hill shooting, respond with peace

11 February 2015, 2:19 AM

(L-R) Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, 2015. Photo from Al Jazeera.

On this tragic day, we mourn with the families of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and send our prayers to their families, the Chapel Hill community and all those affected by this loss.

Yesterday, three Muslim students, a husband, wife and her sister, were shot and killed near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While police have not confirmed the accused killer’s motive, speculation that this was a hate crime has already begun to arise.

As we respond to this tragedy, URI Global Council Trustee for North America, Sam Wazan, who lives in North Carolina, urges us to speak words of peace.

He calls to mind something he wrote following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013:

“Finally, refrain from the inhumane desires of articulating thoughts of vengeance. Our children must not grow institutionalized by a history of suffering, but an outlook of harmony for all living beings of all faiths, ethnicities and dispositions.”

Whether the killer in this case was motivated by religion, this is a moment to recognize that violence is not the answer, said Sandy Westin, a member of the URI of Henderson County Cooperation Circle.

“This is a not a solution for anything. Shooting is always lamentable, killing is always lamentable,” she said. “This is something that tell us we need to remember who we are, to change our paths and reactions to encourage others in the way of peace.”

It is the purpose of United Religions Initiative “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing.” We are the world’s largest grassroots interfaith organization with more than 665 Cooperation Circles in 85 countries working for peace.

During this time of grief, let us seek to create interreligious dialogue within our own communities. A few ideas, including ones from the URI Talking Back to Hate toolkit and toolcard:


  • Get involved with a Cooperation Circle in your area that is promoting interfaith dialogue.
  • Organize an interfaith service project.
  • Interview community members from different religious and ethnic backgrounds on what they love about being a _________ (Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jew, multi-racial person, recent immigrant, transgendered person, etc.).
  • Do something nice for a person you know who has been the victim of bullying or harassment.
  • Initiate a campaign to celebrate and raise awareness of the different religious and cultural holidays of the year. A great resource for this can be found here.  
  • Invite community and religious leaders from different traditions to join you in preparing a thoughtful, united response to an act of hate.
  • Host a dinner that celebrates the religious and ethnic diversity of your community.
  • Start a campaign in your community similar to the I’ll Ride With You initiative in Australia in which strangers offered to ride on public transportation with anyone who didn’t feel safe.


“Let us continue to speak out against such hate,” said URI Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr. “Let us redouble our efforts to dispel stereotype and prejudice and teach understanding and respect. Let us stand together against violence and particularly religiously motivated violence, and for justice and peace. We weep for these young people whose lives have been cut short. We must remember them always and be inspired by their lives as we continue our work.”

If you are interested in getting involved in creating cultures of peace in your community, please contact North American Regional Coordinator, Sari Heidenreich, and she’ll do her best to connect you with a local group. If you are already involved in interfaith work, but your organization is not a member of URI, we invite you to contact us as well.

Cooperation Circles Involved