Chapel Hill, One Year Later: An Interview with Farris Barakat

Feb. 10, 2015, a day forever etched in the memories of many — as the world and Muslim Ummah mourned the loss of three beautiful souls while the gardens of paradise gained three angels.
Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha tragically lost their lives that evening in Chapel Hill, N.C. when a neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, consciously and maliciously decided that this would be the day they returned to their Creator over a “parking space dispute.”
Though the tragedy invoked countless emotions and left a nation and global community stunned, there has been a ray of light that has shone through the darkness.
The tragic events of Feb. 10 brought forth a conversation about faith, service, charity and dignity as the lives of Deah, Yusor, and Razan were honored through their service work and endeavors to provide those who are under-resourced and underprivileged with dental care and humanitarian relief.
Razan, 19, was a student of architecture and had the desire to build playgrounds in developing nations with a focus on Africa so children could enjoy the simple pleasures in life while Deah, 23, and Yusor, 21, traveled to global locations, providing dental relief to refugees in need. As we learned more about the three lives lost, it became evident that they were on a path to serving Allah (SWT) through acts of love, charity and understanding.
In the wake of their passing an endowment was established. “Our Three Winners,” would continue the legacy of charitable endeavors through the provision of aide and assistance to those in need, globally, that Deah, Yusor, and Razan had sought to accomplish. You can learn more about this initiative by visiting their Facebook page or by visiting the official website.
On Jan. 21, 2016, while in Chapel Hill, for a speaking engagement at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I reached out to Farris Barakat, the brother of Deah, to learn of how the legacy of Our Three Winners was living on. I spent some time with Farris learning about The Light House Project, which is being established on a property Deah owned in Raleigh, N.C.
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Farris shared the project with me and we spoke at length about its mission and vision to continue charity in their names. The home was being remodeled while I was visiting and rooms were being divided into community and office spaces that would be interchangeable to maximize usage. The center would focus on education, engagement, community and service, among other things.

MuslimGirl: Since the passing of Deah, Yusor and Razan, have your families found a ray of light — giving comfort and strength, through the tragedy? Has continuing their service work been a source for it?
Farris Barakat: Believe it or not, mostly I’d explain our actions after the tragedy as going through the motions. It’s been a terrible year as it were in terms of “comfort” or “strength.”
The apparent strength is the coming together of good people to make the most of what is left for us to do. Deah, Yusor and Razan have won, that in itself is what is best for Deah, Yusor and Razan.
Though they left a gaping hole in our lives and whatever Allah were to do to replace what He has taken is of course going to be magnificent and a blessing but it’s really all on the way to hopefully achieving our own personal salvation.
How has their untimely death impacted your own personal career/professional journeys? In our conversation at the Light House, you shared that you had not returned to work. Why has finishing this project been a priority for you that you have not returned to your prior personal endeavors?
I knew the adjustment was going to be a tough one. Yusor was at work with me that day until 4:30 P.M. She was murdered at 5:00. I guess that’s part of why initially I didn’t want to go back. I also had a lot to do in terms of being there for others, as well.
It was a full time job and an exhausting one at that. I needed whatever break I can get and a regimented day where I exhaust energy on even more than I cared to handle was just not going to happen.
I reflected on all the things I wanted to do before I die; I guess I lost patience for the detour many of us take between where we are now and where we want to be. I analyzed my situation and focused on putting what came naturally to me to use.

The apparent strength is the coming together of good people to make the most of what is left for us to do. Deah, Yusor and Razan have won, that in itself is what is best for Deah, Yusor and Razan.

What is the mission of the Light House Project? Who will it service? What do you want readers to know about this effort? You shared that your families see this as a continuing charity.
As part of the reflections I had for the four months after the murders, I came away with a short list of things I’d actually care to pursue. One was to use my story to help people understand Islam. It was time we reclaim our own narrative.
That requires work and perseverance. Most people are starting to fit into two camps now and we aren’t really listening to each other. It will target young professionals through high schools.
What can people do to support the Light House project? What do you see this project accomplishing, 10 years from now?
We have some work to do to share the story of our three winners in the form of a documentary. We could definitely use donations to continue funding that.
We’re also looking for seed funding to help us get the house going. The house is essentially our office space, though we have big plans for the house. Deah wanted to help the youth with their projects, so that’s what that house will be focusing on.
Can you tell me something special about Razan to share with MG readers? Much of the focus in news stories had been on Deah and Yusor and we would love to know something special about Razan.
Razan loved her sister so much and was happy to be a third wheel the entire length of their engagement. So very talented! She had so much talent and was so ready to put it to use for causes she believed in. She was very peculiar in her taste of dress and music, haha! A total leader. mgheart

Though candlelight vigils and memorial services pay homage to our dearly departed, I believe that the work the Abu-Salha and Barakat families are doing is how to truly honor the memories of the ones we love and have lost.
Through charitable efforts, community service projects and engaging in continuous charity (Sadaka jariyah), we are embracing the beauty of a tenet of Islam and working for the collective good of society.
There are many ways we can engage and support those in our ummah and greater community.
Our blessed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known for his charity and support for the underprivileged. His good deeds and actions serve as a reminder for us and we should make every effort to remember our loved ones through charitable efforts.
“(O Prophet!) Tell those of My servants who believe that they should establish Prayer and spend out of what We have provided them with, both secretly and openly, before there arrives the Day when there will be no bargaining, nor any mutual befriending (14:31).”
May Allah (SWT) reward the efforts of those who support, participate, and work with these charitable endeavors. May the light of Deah, Yusor and Razan continue to shine through the darkness and illuminate the path of love, peace and charity for all who walk on it.
To learn more about Light House Project and how you can help, please email:

Written by Suehaila Amen.
Feature Image: Provided by author.
Images: Project Light House Facebook page