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My Take: My hijab is my hoodie
Trayvon Martin, left, and Shaima Alawadi, were both killed recently.
April 5th, 2012
01:04 PM ET

My Take: My hijab is my hoodie


Editor’s note: Linda Sarsour is national advocacy director of the National Network for Arab American Communities and director of the Arab American Association of New York. Follow her on Twitter.

By Linda Sarsour, Special to CNN

(CNN) - I’ve been among the millions mourning the killing of Trayvon Martin, but I’m also mourning the fact that another recent killing has gotten little national attention.

Last week, a 32-year old Iraqi Muslim mother named Shaima Alawadi was found brutally beaten with a tire iron in her El Cajon, California, home and died three days later. A note reportedly left beside her said, “Go Back to your country, you terrorist.”

As an Arab-American Muslim mother of three, I instantly thought about myself and my family.

Alawadi's death put a mirror up to my face. I am 32, I wear a headscarf, like Alawadi did, and I live during one of the most hostile moments that the Muslim American community has ever experienced, especially in the decade since 9/11.

Blacks in America continue to face racism on a daily basis, from the workplace to interactions with law enforcement. And yet racism against African-Americans is publicly acknowledged as unacceptable.

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No one in power dares use the N-word publicly, fearing the wrath that will be bestowed upon them.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for Muslims in America. Bigotry against Muslims is quite acceptable. From media pundits to elected officials to presidential hopefuls, spewing misinformation and hatred about Muslims and Islam has been normalized.

In America, terrorism has become synonymous with Arabs and Muslims. We see that clearly stated in the note left next to Alawadi.

Law enforcement is investigating Alawadi’s case and says it will not rule out the possibility of a hate crime but also called the killing “an isolated incident.”

According to a report released by the FBI in 2011, anti-Muslim hate crimes increased by nearly 50% in 2010. The latest statistics show a jump from 107 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2009 to 160 in 2010.

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Last year saw the coldblooded killing of two Sikh elders who apparently “looked” Muslim. The year before saw the stabbing of a Muslim cabdriver who told a white passenger he was Muslim.

Isolated incidents? I don’t think so.

Given mosque vandalism and opposition, proposed anti-Sharia laws and congressional hearings on American Islam, the rash of anti-Muslim hate crimes is not so surprising. As appears to be the case with Trayvon Martin, what’s dangerous is when ordinary citizens act on bigotry, born of misinformation and fear of the unknown.

While there has been some effort to connect Martin and Alawadi by focusing on their attire - a hoodie for the African-American teen and a hijab for the young mother - there has been a deafening silence and reluctance to take Alawadi’s case to the forefront of public debate by some in the Muslim community.

Major Muslim organizations and activists have been treading carefully, warning community members not to “jump to conclusions.”

I for one have been disheartened and feel disempowered by this response. As in Martin’s case, there is still an ongoing investigation into Alawadi’s death.

But with only initial evidence - a dead black teenager, an iced tea, a pack of Skittles, a neighborhood watchman - many of us have presumed the Martin killing is an unfortunate result of racism in America.

Some have even gone so far as to compare Martin's death to that of Emmett Till.

Why not the same for Alawadi?

Is an Arab Muslim woman drowning in her blood with a note deeming her a terrorist and telling her to go back to her “country” not explicit enough?

Instead of looking at Alawadi’s death in light of the anti-Muslim environment we live in, Muslims allow our internalized oppression to lead us to believe the stereotypes perpetuated against our community.

I have seen tweets and comments from Muslims suggesting the possibility Alawadi’s killing might be an act of domestic violence or, worse, an honor killing. 

In the United States, we need to come to terms with anti-Muslim bigotry, stand up to it and unequivocally deem it unacceptable. An injustice toward any one person or community is an injustice to us all.

I am Trayvon Martin. I am Shaima Alawadi, too.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Linda Sarsour.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Opinion

soundoff (1,301 Responses)
  1. Bob

    What an absolutely shameful article. Typical of the opportunistic victim hood being propagandized by Islamists in the West. This author is stuck in a time warp of sorts. People now have far more information on the daily crimes committed by Muslims against non-Muslims around the world. I highly doubt that this author would throw herself between an murderous mob of fellow Muslims and a non-Muslim minority in anyone of the majority Muslim countries where wholesale slaughter, intimidation and frankly cultural genocide have occurred.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  2. Nonimus

    Just out of curiosity, how are modesty and pride related in Islam?

    I can comprehend that hijabs are used to cover their hair in an effort to be modest and not show their "ornaments," i.e. hair in this case. I just wonder if the hijab itself doesn't become a thing of immodesty, by displaying their piety as an "ornament," especially in a western culture where hijabs do tend to stick out in a crowd?

    April 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Bob

      In the West it is a political and religious statement for some. For others it's demanded by those whom they live with and if it were taken off in public there would be consequences behind closed doors.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      One rather poignant moment in my period with the Jehovah's Witnesses was when they were discussing the issue of not being conspi-cuous and blending in fashion-wise. They simply stated: Don't be the first, but also don't be the last.

      I don't actually endorse that view. But I do respect it.

      April 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  3. nick

    Ms. Sarsour, you are the author of this article and you state that you can relate to what happened to the Iraqui woman...
    Of course you can!!, because it was your religious beliefs and practices what killed the Iraqui woman.
    You go further and state inacurate comments related to black Americans, and one has to wonder why the media has created such a squed reality of what is actually hapening in this country.....
    Stop victimizing blacks and muslims, stop your lies and inacurate comments.
    Every race receives racist comments. That is reality...

    April 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  4. Voice of Reason

    "what’s dangerous is when ordinary citizens act on bigotry, born of misinformation and fear of the unknown."

    Sounds like religion to me! Tax the churches and keep your religions and god away from our children and our government.

    April 6, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  5. False Paradigm

    With all due respect to Linda, you need to get over yourself. Hijab-wearing women in the west are so wrapped up in this romantic notion of their wardrobe choices that is deeply spiritually naive and simplistic and at the same time an excuse to jump on the victimhood bandwagon. The whole 'hoodies and hijabis' thing is a joke--it is apples and oranges to compare your experience as someone who chooses to put on a headscarf with that of black American men and boys, who have for centuries in this country been systematically abused, demonized, dehumanized, etc. There is no epidemic of hijab wearing women being systemically harrassed, targeted, injured and killed in the United States, much less with the sort of impunity we're seeing in the Trevon case. As someone else noted, they don't know who the killer is in the Alawadi case, and it is unthinkable that is that person is identified that they will not be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The oppression of Muslim women is most real in the Islamic world, by other Muslims-and this is easily confirmed by the most basic survey of multiple measures of well-being-education levels, legal status/rights, rates of domestic abuse, literacy compared with men, unemployment compared with men, etc. I can't understand how the same Muslim women that make constant excuses and denials of the very real problems of Muslim women's status within THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES WORLDWIDE are deciding that the Alawadi case is their moment of outrage.

    April 6, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  6. Pierre Alexes - Westmount, Qc

    TO: TEHKITTY –

    Col. Khakafi may very well have had a Little Green Book but the one I cited is an extract from Khomeini’s “Divine laws regulating a muslim’s daily life on how to urinate and defecate”. Read it !

    April 6, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  7. Fleiter

    Shaima Alawadi was killed by her husband. Glad you like your hijab. Some slaves like slavery. Doesn't change the fact that they wear chains.

    April 6, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Laurent Martens

      If I was a Muslim woman, I'd run like hell, from all the Muslim men, they are your enemy. Drop your"hoody", have a life.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Sam Gold

      Its better to cover then go half naked and be a meat and flesh for men

      April 21, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  8. seriously?

    To the author of this story – Have you read the latest on that story in El Cajon? The wife was trying to leave her Muslim husband who was having major issues with his daughter and a forced arranged marriage that drove the child to do some things that the father would consider shameful, which then prompted the young lady to hurl herself out of a moving car. Please continue to follow this story b/c using as a basis for your story is misleading, and helping to perpetuate what most likely will turn into a trial against the husband/father, and not a racially-fueled beating by a skinhead.

    April 6, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Pierre Alexes - Westmount, Qc

      Actually, this story is more in line, in my view, with something akin to what happened here in Canada – more precisely in Kingston, Ontario. The Shafia Case. Read about it; to summarize , it was honour killings.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  9. Pierre Alexes - Westmount, Qc

    Before accusing the "infidels" of bigotry, first look yourself into the mirror and question your own bigotry towards non-muslims. Muslims hypocritical double talk is well known. Have you ever the contents of Khomeini's Little Green Book? An imam who is considered a great man (in the minds of muslims, no doubt). Read it! Bigotry, hate, are symbols of islam. Read the hadiths of Bukhari, Muslim, Nawathi and hundreds of others then let's discuss and analyze. So, don't come here to start whining about the West's bigotry against islamism.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • TehKitty

      I thought it was Khadaffi who had a little green book

      April 6, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Pierre. While I understand a bit of your point I remember hearing a debate once over race relations in the United States and there was one African American who when they were pressuring him into a simple dialogue his response was that he could not talk to a White American until they read this book or that book, all with a black empowerment themes or just simply detailing the atrocities of members of the White race on minorities throughout history.

      Think about it. You are saying that the opening of dialogue requires acknowledgements of actions done by others and not by the person you are speaking to. If you are White and I, an African American, want to talk about the Martin shooting does that require you to admit and acknowledge something such as the Willie Lynch papers?

      You sound well read but after being blessed to work with a Palestinian and a family who are Kurdish, I have learned that just as Whites, Blacks, Jews, and pretty much every group on this plant... Muslims are severely not monolithic. Folks like the news media and Alqueda want us to build in our minds that they are but as they say “fear” sells.

      Pierre, there are people who think that all Whites go to bed and read Mein Kampf. There are ones that believe that Biggie and Tupac are the heroes to Blacks. Or try this …. that every Jew believes that Israel should exist.

      Bigotry and hate are symbols and if you are standing from the outside I am sure that folks can find it in any group. So can love and tolerance also be found.

      L'Chaim

      April 6, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  10. blog_o_matic

    Why is social media creating an issue like this?

    Everyone in the news media are creating a race issue that isn't real.

    STOP THE HATE AND RACE baiting.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  11. palintwit

    An Afternoon With Sarah Palin...
    Step 1: Put Palins in a large sack. Burlap or canvas. Your choice.
    Step 2: Hang the aforementioned sack from a large, sturdy tree.
    Step 3: Hit the sack with a ball bat or 2×4. Your choice.
    Step 4: Take a break and have a cold soda or beer. Your choice.
    Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4.
    For extra fun try adding a Kardashian or Snooki to the sack. Your choice.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • blog_o_matic

      @Palin-twit

      What in the world did Sarah Palin do to personally?

      You have much hate in your heart. You need some counceling to deal with your personal issues.

      You need help – NOW!

      April 6, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • TehKitty

      Well, if not the Palin's, can we still go ahead with the Snooki in the sack idea?

      April 6, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  12. 31337

    all religion does is give people the feeling they belong to something greater than themselves and of course create violence. How many people have died in the name of any religion. Lets face it the leadership of any religion is not about serving God, but making as much money and holding as much power as possible. A true servant of God worships in their own way. All the crazy rules from all the religions were created by man, regardless of what you think/believe. Some of you say "well yes it was created by man under the influence of God" okay, then prove it! Where is this proof that these "leaders" were the hand of God? When was the last time God came and spoke to you? What makes you think you are so important that you stick out to God?
    While the whole Treyvon issue is sad, the only reason why the media picked up on it was to stir the racial pot and distract people from something and it backfired when they found out Zimmerman was Hispanic and not White, that he was a Democrat and not a Republican and precious Treyvon was actually growing into a good little thug. You never hear the outcry of the community or media for the white kid who had gasoline poured on him and lit on fire by a group of black kids, or the seemingly random assaults on white people by groups of black people. What about the old man who was attacked by several black kids a week or so ago? What about Asians, Arabs, Indians, Jews? Are they never attacked? Why aren't their attacks all over the media? Where is the outcry?

    I don't even know what to call the media, but I do know they are only reporting the news they are told to report so I guess that makes them puppets or tools.

    April 6, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  13. doughnuts

    Shaima Alawadi was probably murdered by her husband (whom she was about to divorce), or by her daughter with whom she had a very bad relationship.
    The note was there to deflect blame onto fictional "Islamophobes."

    April 6, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Hijab a choice

      @doughnuts try a little experiment if you're a woman...wear a scarf in the summer cover your hair walk with your head held up,smile and listen to comments made in your direction. When you truly listen then you will know!

      April 6, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  14. Rational Libertarian

    How the heck are anti-sharia laws anti-muslim? The law should be the same for everybody, and I'd much rather my countries laws to be based on the principles some of the leading figures of the Enlightenment than on the teachings of a bunch of camel f uckers who worship an illiterate pederast.

    April 6, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • doughnuts

      THe proposed "anti-sharia" legislation is not needed.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • MPiamsoright

      #truth

      April 6, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • what

      how is this comment rational? At least take a rational approach and do a little wiki search on "Islam" before you start ranting IRRATIONALLY.

      April 6, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Please elaborate. How am I being irrational?

      April 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  15. JBS

    When "peaceful" muslims denounce violence and demand it stops amongst their people maybe Americans will respect them. Until they stop killing each other and us we will not accept their "religion"

    April 6, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • independentlyowned

      An atheist myself, I don't think her daughter meant it as a dig against us. She didn't say "all people who don't believe in God are murderers." I think she was (rightfully so) calling out the so-called Christians in the country who do murder others, in the name of God or not, since Christianity (and Judaism, and most major religions) explicitly say that killing is not allowed. She was saying, "You think your religion is so superior to mine that you went and killed my mother, but really you're just a hypocrite."

      April 6, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • independentlyowned

      Sorry JBS, that comment was in response to Maya below. Not sure how that got mixed up....

      April 6, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • blog_o_matic

      @JBS

      Don't hold your breathe. Zebras don't change thier stripes.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  16. Maya

    I felt bad about the Iraqi woman until I heard her bigot daughter go on the news and say that the killer must not believe in God, because no one who believed in God would murder someone. This woman complains abut being harassed about her hijab, but you can bet she doesn't give a **** about atheists being stereotyped and defamed. She's self-absorbed, self-righteous, and she'll get no sympathy from me.

    April 6, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • independentlyowned

      Maya, see my comment above. I don't think she was trying to say all atheists were murders.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Agreed Maya

      It's Jane Eyre syndrome. You expect others around you to treat you with respect but you don't mind bellitling others.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  17. chucklesome

    No sympathy from me..Muslims have no mercy when they blow up themselves and kill others in the process, no one can dare say a word about them or their prophet or they will get butchered, they are spreading like wilfire all over the world trying to impose their sharia..if you dare convert from Islam to chritianity you're dead! You are persecuted if you're not muslim all over the middle east and now they want to impose their rules in the West. Shut up..and don't play victim because your religion is the most vicious thing ever..

    April 6, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Scowl

      So this woman, a murder victim in the US is responsible for atrocities committed by Islamic terrorists the world over. Please let someone else think for you.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • chucklesome

      @ Scowl..I don't feel okay that this woman wasmurdered, I feel sorry for her and her family, however, ALL muslims, and not just the terrorists in farawy lands, think that killing anybody outside their faith is okay, as a matter of fact it is recommended so they become good muslims.. trust me I read parts of their "holy book"..so they need to stop whining about being mistreated and start asking their fellow muslims to respect and stop torturing non-muslims...

      April 6, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Chucklesome

      I despise Islam, as I do all religions, but I at least give it the courtesy of not misrepresenting it. First of all, the Koran doesn't advocate the murder of non muslims, except to defend Islam, nor does it advocate the murder of apostates. Some hadiths advocate the murder of apostates, but many creeds and clerics do not accept this.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • TehKitty

      "except to defend Islam" – there you have it. There's the justification many of them use to kill others. It doesn't matter if anyone is attacking Islam directly. All the proponents of violence need to claim is that they're "defending Islam".

      April 6, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I agree kitty, extremists use jihad to justify their violent actions, while other Muslims would claim that their is no justification. It's a semantic matter, I suppose.

      Either way, you'd have to be an absolute maniac to use the teachings of a warlord pederast to justify what you do.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  18. HonestSimon

    There is simple solution to all this, Dress the way the majority of the people dress none of you have any problem.

    You can dress inside your house or place of worship or play ground any way you want.

    Stop trying to change the wrold around you with your adamant habits.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Catherine

      That's ridiculous. People should be able to wear anything they want. People may treat you differently because of your attire, but that happens to anyone who wear something different than the mainstream. Having said that, I suspect part of the reason there hasn't been an outcry is there is some evidence that indicates someone in her family may have murdered her. There is an ongoing investigation. Comparing this to Trayvon is apples and oranges however. In the Travyon case they knew who the killer was and just let him go. I don't know at this point if it was racially motivated or not, but I do know it was wrong. If they find Alawadi's killer and let the killer go, then I will be in the streets protesting.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Why_Bother

      Yea, lets all conform and do it in the name of freedom...not communism....who wants self expression anyway. Going to by 15 sweat outfits all in the same color......be back in a bit

      April 6, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 6, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • just sayin

      True. Even a Muslim can find Christ in prayer be transformed and set free to throw the accursed hijab away. God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • Jim

      You're all just one sermon away form Jonestown.

      April 6, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • just sayin

      What "form" would that be Jim? God bless

      April 6, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Scowl

      He makes a statement that you are all a bunch of wackadoos (in not so many words) and all you can retort with is nitpicking on a spelling error/typo? You are not a good rep for Christendom, just sayin.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • TehKitty

      If you're going to use a contraction for "saying", then it should have an apostrophe – sayin'

      There. Fixed it.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are so full of crap and lies. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!". .. ...

      April 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  20. HarshReality

    I have a hoodie, but I only wear it on cold days. "Thugish" is not a style, it's a disorder.

    As to islam. . . well, the less said the better. See: "What if no one said "no" to David Koresh".

    April 6, 2012 at 7:43 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.