Episode 5: Shattered Glass

May 20, 2016

Poet Mohammad Moussa believes his friend Deah Barakat was murdered in a hate crime; and he refuses to remain silent. Shattered Glass, Mohammad’s multi-media spoken word poetry show is a year of reflection and mourning wrapped in the power of storytelling and signed with a poet’s pen. It’s a demand for answers and accountability, and it’s a journey that leaves us both broken and whole. On this episode of Stories with a Heartbeat, host Will McInerney sits down with Mohammad Moussa to talk about poetry, processing, and parking disputes.

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Host Will McInerney
Credit Jackson Hall / WUNC

  Over the past four episodes of Stories with a Heartbeat we explored the human stories behind the Chapel Hill shooting. We pulled out the magnified glass and the atlas to track the emotions and motives of this complex narrative. We talked to family members, close friends, the police, and local reporters. Today, we turn to a poet to help us make sense of it all. This is the final installment in our 5-part series on the tragedy.

On February 10th, 2015 Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. All three young American-Muslims were shot and killed execution style in their home. Their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, turned himself in, was arrested, and charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

Poet Mohammad Moussa
Credit Mohammad Moussa

  Mohammad Moussa was a close friend of Deah Barakat. They met on a youth group ski trip and made prank phone calls in the back of the van all the way home. The laughter of that evening still echoes in Mohammad’s mind today. “The year after the tragedy, particularly the first few months. Every second is a minute, every minute is a year. I could spend hours talking about the day that I heard about what happened,” Mohammad says.

"The fact that Muslims are standing up and saying I believe I could be killed because I'm Muslim and only because I'm Muslim, that needs to be addressed."

  Mohammad has spent a lot of time reflecting on the death of Deah, Yusor, and Razan. His show, Shattered Glass, is a combination of photos, poems, stories, and videos about the beauty of their lives and the tragedy of their deaths. He believes it’s a powerful way to honor his friends and to challenge the Islamophobia he sees.

“The fact that Muslims are standing up and saying I believe I could be killed because I’m Muslim and only because I’m Muslim, that needs to be addressed,” Mohammad says.

In the first few days after this crime, competing narratives emerged around motive. Early reports suggest this was a parking dispute gone wrong. But family and community members feel like it was a hate crime directed at the three young American-Muslims.

The idea that this crime was motivated by a parking dispute, it’s flat out wrong, Mohammad says. He says none of their cars were parked in the so-called disputed parking spot on the day of the murders. 

Mohammad Moussa performing 'Shattered Glass' at NC State University.
Credit Will McInerney / WUNC

“They weren’t even there. They were having dinner. They were in their home. They were in their safe space, where they belong. The word dispute implies that maybe somehow they caused what happened. That’s so disgusting to hear. That’s so disrespectful,” Mohammad says.

Mohammad says he and his wife have changed since the Chapel Hill shooting.

“We don’t feel safe anymore, not it could have been us, it could be us. Today, tomorrow, next week, next year, if things don’t change I could be Deah. She could be Razan or Yusor, and we have to work to fix that.”

Below is an excerpt from Mohammad’s show, Shattered Glass.

The echoes of a gunshot keep ringing long after the trigger is pulled.

Three Muslims were shot in their home

executed one after the other

an ocean of untold stories on the floor.

The media says this is a parking dispute between neighbors.

Our deaths are a byline in a newspaper no one wants to read

excuses packaged in a narrative that can’t fit a Muslim victim inside.

The case is closed

decorated with shell casings and police tape

this is what our present is wrapped in.

Mohammad’s show ends with an intimate moment of connection between friends, a last encounter, and a final memory to hold on to.

A few weeks after the shooting

I had a dream where I am walking down a path

when I see Deah.

His smile like a beam of light

his red lanyard across his neck like a medal of honor.

I realize this may be the last time I see him

so I start thinking of what to say.

I have to say something perfect

the best last words between friends.

But before I have time to fully think it over

the words “assalamu alaikum” run out of my mouth

peace be upon you.

While reflecting on the dream with Deah, Mohammad says, “And that means so much to me. Because that tells me everything I wanted to tell him I already have. That there were no words between us that were missing. That I told him that I love him and I care for him and that I said that while he was alive.”

Mohammad Moussa performing 'Shattered Glass' at NC State University.
Credit Will McInerney / WUNC

You can learn more about Mohammad’s poetry and his show Shattered Glass on his website. www.MohammadMoussa.com

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This music for Stories with a Heartbeat is created by Stephen Levitin aka Apple Juice Kid