3 slain college students strived for a better world

3 Muslim college students shot in the head
3 Muslim college students shot in the head

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    3 Muslim college students shot in the head

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3 Muslim college students shot in the head 03:24

Story highlights

  • Three Muslim students near campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were shot
  • Mariem Masmoudi: Our prayers are with Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

Mariem Masmoudi, a Tunisian-American, received her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a graduate student in Islamic Studies at Columbia University and works at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)I was on the phone with a friend in his junior year at my alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill, discussing his campus work and future goals, when his roommates relayed the news and he stopped, suddenly, and said: "Mariem, Deah and his wife were shot. They are dead."

A ping of utter shock struck. Then dismissal. Denial. Thinking I must have misheard, I asked, "You're kidding, right?"
Of course, I would never think that my friend or anyone else I know would make light of such a thing, but it was too heavy a loss to swallow so quickly. In the minutes and hours that followed, I learned of the full magnitude of the situation. Deah Barakat, Yusor Mohammad and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, three beacons of light and honor in our communities, had each been shot in the head in their apartment, and died.
    Mariem Masmoudi
    It is difficult to put into words the rush of emotions that we all felt last night, and that continue to fill our hearts and bring pain to our souls. We lost so much in a matter of minutes. These three young Muslim Americans were active in their neighborhoods and communities, worked with local and international charities and relief efforts, supported their brothers and sisters in the Triangle community in their educational and professional pursuits, promoted love, tolerance and togetherness. They laughed with us, shared in others' pains and sorrows, offered relief, and put their actions where their words so constantly were: striving for a better, more just and more caring world.
    In the hours that followed, as police arrived on the scene and began their investigation, family and friends gathered in the clubhouse of the apartment complex, grieving, praying with one another and offering comfort to the parents and siblings of our fallen.
    Deah and Yusor were barely six weeks married, a story of love, respect and support that warmed all our hearts. Razan, Yusor's younger sister, was visiting her big sister and brother-in-law when they were killed. Police said their neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, came into their home and shot them. I cannot imagine the sweltering hatred and utter disregard for human life that must have plagued the killer's heart and soul, but all must know and honor the kinds of people Deah, Yusor and Razan were to understand how terribly they will be missed.
    A second year dental student at UNC Dental School and a community youth leader, Deah was the only one of the three I had met. He was an awe-inspiring model of all the absolute best attributes of humanity, and I am blessed to have known him. Yusor and Razan, though I never had the great honor of meeting either personally, radiated the most wonderful and captivating aura as I have ever seen. They were beloved by all who knew them, and they all made us better people, better friends, better brothers and sisters to our siblings, better children to our parents, better citizens and better Muslims.
    For them, and for all of us, our Islam is our guiding light, our motivation, the lens through which we see the world and our places in it. Our Islam -- Deah, Yusor and Razan's Islam -- is the Islam of grassroots organizing, giving and promoting charity work, treating everyone with only the best manners and a smile, always a smile. Our Islam tells us to do what Prophet Jesus said and did, to "honor thy neighbor as thyself." These three did this every single day. Our Islam tells us to do what Prophet Mohammed said and did, to confront hate and evil with love and kindness. Deah, Yusor and Razan transformed this mantra into their lives' work and passion, and lifted us all up in the process.
    They say you may not remember what a person says, but you will always remember how they made you feel. Well, these three made everyone they ever met feel cherished, valuable, empowered and loved.
    My prayers and those of my family and friends are for their souls' everlasting peace and rest, for patience and strength to their families and loved ones to endure this tragedy, and for the God consciousness we all need to carry on after such devastating loss.