Freshman Raja ‘Safi’ Aziz honored at Hendricks Chapel memorial service

A musical recording of the Quran played out from speakers in Hendricks Chapel on Monday as students filed into a set of pews.

As clergymen, a group of freshmen and Syracuse University officials walked toward a pulpit, the crowd remained silent to commemorate Raja “Safi” Aziz, a student who died during winter break in Pakistan.

“He gave off such warm and friendly vibes, that before I knew him, I knew he would be a joy to be around,” said Rachel Hayashi, a floormate of Aziz’s. “That man could walk into any room, and I kid you not, within a minute, he would make someone laugh or smile.”

Aziz, a 19-year-old freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, was honored during a memorial service held at Hendricks Chapel on Monday. He died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning while vacationing in Pakistan with his family.

The freshman was raised in the United Kingdom, but moved to Boston with his family. Those who flew to Syracuse from Boston and the U.K. thanked campus community members who also came in support of Aziz.

“It’s so heartwarming to see how many of you were friends with Safi and got to know him,” said Aziz’s uncle, Suleman Baig. “For us, we’ve been speaking to his friends in the U.K. and in Boston, and the same things are coming up everywhere: an infectious laugh, fantastic sense of humor, generosity … for us that’s something to take away.”

About 40 people sat in Hendricks Chapel, including family, floormates, friends and some people who said they had never spoken to Aziz.

The service included a prayer from Rev. Brian Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel, and a reflection and supplication for Aziz from Muslim Chaplain Amir Duric. After the memorial, attendees were invited to the Chaplain’s suite for a reception.

As an aspiring doctor and musician, floormate Sarah Butts recalled how Aziz said he wanted to turn his dorm room into a recording studio, an idea she was not “entirely thrilled with,” as his neighbor. A short segment of one of Aziz’s own songs was played at the memorial service.


Courtesy of Sarah Butts

“Although only 19 when he passed, it is obvious from all that knew him that during his short life, he had a great impact on the world … most especially on his family, his friends and his classmates,” said Karin Ruhlandt, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “He was hungry for life … we were proud to have him.”

Hayashi, a freshman in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, who lived on floor 19 of Lawrinson Hall with Aziz, said she remembers spending time with him in the lounge, laughing and feeling like family.

“Wherever he went, pleasant energy followed,” she said. “I guess the best way to put it is that he made living on floor 19 a lot more enjoyable.”

His floormates were surprised by Aziz’s strong English accent when he first introduced himself, during the fall 2017 semester, Hayashi recalled. And he was always joking, his friends said.

Butts said she remembers the last text to her friend: “Safi, please stop yelling,” she said. He was playing video games while she was trying to nap.

“There was a constant buzz of life wherever he went,” said Butts, a freshman in Newhouse. “It was easy to trust Safi. Safi was perhaps one of the most unapologetic people I’ll ever meet in my life. Not in the sense that he would refuse to say he was sorry, but in the sense that he was going to be himself.”


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