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By Sarah Hafiz || Contributing Writer

     Deah Barakat, a 23-year-old dental student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, dreamed of being part of a “structured and unified community,” and to “have a voice in our society.” On February 10th, his, his newly-wedded wife’s, and her sister’s lives were taken away from them in their own homes. These three individuals are more than just victims of hate. They embodied what it meant to be both Muslim and American. They are winners.

     Yusor Abu-Salha, Deah’s 21-year old wife, who was on her way to joining Deah at UNC Dental this upcoming fall, recently stated in her StoryCorps project:

     “Growing up in America has been such a blessing, and you know, although in some ways I do stand out, such as the hijab I wear on my head, the head covering,” Abu-Salha said, “there’s still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is, you know, our culture. And that’s the beautiful thing here, is that it doesn’t matter where you come from. There’s so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions, but here we’re all one, one culture.”

      The youngest victim of the execution-style shootings, Razan Abu-Salha, 19, was the creative and artistic type. Having been accepted to a competitive architecture program at North Carolina State University, she also actively served to help feed the less fortunate in the community. Razan encouraged others to “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would believe it.”

     While both Deah and Yusor started a charity program aimed at providing dental care for Syrian refugees in Turkey entitled “Refugee Smiles,” which has now surpassed the $20,000 fundraising goal by 2359%, Deah’s last Facebook post shows he was out providing free dental care to folks downtown Durham.

    Having had mutual friends, I know how much these souls were when they were alive and clearly when in death. These three not only inspired the Muslim community, but also set an example for many young Americans. As a Muslim-American myself, these past couple of days have been troubling but also very inspiring. Americans have lost three wonderful souls — youth who were dedicated to both their religion and service to the community. They had high aspirations and had so much to offer in years to come. Yet, their deaths have not gone in vain. Instead, they have sparked a new founded sense of hope driving billions to uphold their legacy.