CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – This week, thousands in the Triangle are celebrating Islam’s holiest month, Ramadan, which began in the U.S. on May 26.
Despite the reflective and celebratory nature of the religious holiday, Ramadan has been marred with recent terrorist attacks and a deadly anti-Muslim attack in Portland.
UNC Chapel Hill Muslim students want to shift the conversation and construct positive change.
CBS North Carolina’s Beairshelle Edmé spoke to leaders of the Muslim Student Association who hope to bring a Muslim center to campus.
The student leaders want to build a place of unity and acceptance.
“For us not having a center on campus it’s not safe for some people to be able to express their true faith,” explained Hamza Baloch, a UNC sophomore and MSA board member.
Baloch says in recent years, Muslim students have faced hardships because of their faith and misconceptions about it.
“Ever since 9/11, Muslim students have to take the responsibility of the name that Islam bears,” the business major said.
This week, MSA launched an online effort to fundraise $700,000 to build the Muslim center, which the group hopes will be within a 10-mile radius of the campus and open to the public.
It’s an effort that’s been pushing forward for years, but hasn’t been fully achieved.
“First of all, kind of ashamed that we don’t have it already,” said Farris Barakat “This is UNC that we’re talking about.”
Farris Barakat is the brother of Deah Barakat, a Muslim UNC dentistry student killed in a neighborhood near Chapel Hill.
Deah Barakat’s wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and his sister-in-law, Razan Abu-Salha were also killed in what the victims’ families said was a hate crime.
The Barakat family’s foundation, the Light House Project, has teamed up with MSA to see the vision of a Muslim center come to light.
“Especially after the murders, the idea of being unsafe on campus has become more and more prominent and really from the university’s perspective and the community’s perspective is to affirm that the Muslim students have a right to co-exist and exist on campus,” he detailed.
Organizers hope the proposed center could make a major impact in the triangle because as Barakat described, “Ever more there’s a widening gap of Muslim-Americans and who we really are.”
Baloch agrees, noting that “Most people don’t really ever get to a chance to meet a Muslim and having a center that we can actually invite people to will open up the doors to see how we truly are.”
CBS North Carolina did reach out to UNC about MSA’s effort.
In a statement, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp said:
“While Carolina provides space for student groups to gather on campus, historically, some religiously affiliated student groups have chosen to maintain a dedicated space off campus that better meets their needs. While those venues are not affiliated with the University, we are supportive of them and have provided the MSA with advice and guidance to support them in their efforts to secure a venue of their own.”
To donate to MSA’s fundraiser for the Muslim center, click here.