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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. wavejump1100

    if you dont like American customs then why are you here? wearing a hijab is not an American custom. its a custom of people of islamic countries wich America is not. if you worked for my business you would not be permitted to wear that stupid thing on your head. no one is aloud to wear hats and your religious beliefs do not give you permission to avoid our dress code. America should be more like Australia they dont put up with foreigners nonsense.

    April 7, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Brunhilda

      I agree. Put them all on the next boat and ship them back to their crap countries.

      April 7, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  2. Abdul Habib Habibi Shishkabab

    At my quickie mart we now have buy 3 cigarettes get one free.
    All senior citizens get a free coffee stirrer stick.
    Hackaschasha sandwich with achnid toe sauce $1.99
    Vomit bags buy on get one free.
    Plus get a free tarot card reading from Ms. RashimabdulHockerjihijiiijh

    April 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  3. Samir Alibaba Hasim Shaka laka heidi ho

    Now let's move onto the wonderful world of Egypt. Another fine country that is full of lying crap thieves.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Brunhilda

      I agree. My boss is Egyption and he is a complete as_hole.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  4. Babooshka Hockershushka

    I believe that most of the information presented in this article is not true. Unfortunately this is why no one with 1/2 a brain believes anything that these arab style people say. It is 99% lies which is what they are used to doing in their country. Put a lie detector on them and they will fail miserably.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  5. Brunhilda

    I believe that the woman wanted a divorce from her mule of a husband and then she was killed by it. These people do need to go back to their 3rd world countries and their pigonistic ways.

    April 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  6. doubt7nought

    Linda Sarsour, I would like to point out that the reason you see "No one in power dares use the N-word publicly, fearing the wrath that will be bestowed upon them.", is because racism has been a century old problem and because it is such an old problem, its being dealt with the way it should. The issue of Muslims is in comparison completely new, so there hasn't been enough time to put this "issue" of Muslims into perspective. The issue is not MUSLIMS, the issue is displacement of blame for violent acts by individuals. RELIGION is not the problem, its DISPLACEMENT OF BLAME. Linda Sarsour, you should continue to speak against these crimes because its absolutely the right thing to do, but you should also speak out against the MISUSE of religion for the violent acts that PROPAGATE such terrible acts against the labeled "Muslims." Please tell your brothers and sisters around the world to be tolerant of other religions. I'm doing my part. I'm telling everyone to do their part.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Thomas

      Let us not forget that a 'hoodie' does not indicate a self ascribed lower status by the wearer, it may have that connotation to some viewers but it is not designed to indicate the lower status of the wearer - it can and is worn by BOTH mean and woman. If a man were to wear a hajib in Iran he would be killed by hanging. Therefore I suggest the analogy of the two may serve is political reference point to the author but is a senseless, insincere and somewhat insulting suggestion. For many Western people it is not racism that prevents an embrace of this 'tradition' of the hijab or its religious significance but rather an accurate understanding of the subjection of woman it enforces. Those who suffer the ills of racism, who because of physical attributes of which they have no control, deserve a much better comparison than offered by this author. If you choose to follow a religion which subjugates woman and children (and for me this include ANY religion) and then elect to wear clothing which outwardly presents this choice you may indeed find others who do not treat you 'equally, which should come as no surprise since that is a status you are indicating you approve of. If you chose to be part of the problem of discrimination and they want to 'advertise' this under the guise of religion I do not think you can reasonably expect others to applaud or even respect your decisions. You may have the right to chose and even advertise such a choice but you also have the responsibility to understand why those who were born in or elected to come to a country which has evolved to a more egalitarian concept are not 'open' to your advertisement of submission and all that it entails.

      April 7, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  7. Urafkntool

    If you don't like your own medicine, go back to your middle eastern third world crapholes, terrorists.

    April 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Brunhilda

      I agree 100% I am tired of these 3rd world people coming into this country and ruining it. Ever work with them? I do. They continually lie about everything and think nothing about it. They suck.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Urafkntool

      I'm surrounded by uneducated, ghetto groids all day every day.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Brunhilda

      Myself as well. They can barely speak English, lie about everything and everyone, and then say "Oh....there must be some kind of misunderstanding" or "oh I not no dat" I have to talk at a 4th grade level to people who are in their 30's and 40's.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  8. ThirteenthLetter

    Starting to look like you've been played, Linda. This one's starting to look like another "honor" killing. Would you like to revise and extend your remarks?

    http://www.jammiewf.com/2012/another-hate-crime-that-probably-wasnt/

    April 7, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • nr

      father and daughter are in the middleast for the burial. evidence found that it was an honor killing.

      April 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • ertdfg

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

      Agreed...

      "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."

      Ah yes, we must use bigotry, misinformation and fear... because those are good things and will bring justice and fairness. Waiting for proof and evidence and knowledge of what really happened is a bad thing... we must act rashly now on partial and potentially incorrect information.

      Interesting you're linking this to Trayvon Martin... I have one question. As white male how many times do I have to allow an African-American to smash my skull into a sidewalk before I'm allowed to defend myself? Or am I required by your rules to allow myself to be beaten to death without a defense to avoid being racist?

      Sorry, I'll be racist... and defend myself instead of being someone you'd accept, and dead.

      And when it appears a man beat his wife to death; I'll accept the calls of "anti-Muslim bigotry" when I say you shouldn't be allowed to slaughter your family members for "honor".

      Yep, totally inappropriate and racist; thinking I get to defend myself, and that killing your wife is a bad thing. Oddly I don't feel ashamed of myself; maybe you should try harder.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  9. sam

    The censor of this comment section is a certifiable moron!!!

    April 7, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  10. mike

    THugs no matter how you slice it

    April 7, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  11. Punisher2000

    We all would like to like you a lot. There are a number of things that render our intention not possible. in the 60s and 70s, Muslims wore no hijab. They came and were proud to become Americans. Not now, even when an hijab is NOT a religious obligation, but, in my sense, more of a political statement. Most of all terrorist acts committed worldwide, are carried out by Muslims who are unhappy with one thing or another. Many Muslims want Sharia Law installed in the country they now live at. Sharia Law does not apply to non Muslim countries all of which have their own Law systems. While we let Muslims worship and build Mosques freely or almost, we are often not allowed to worship and even less to build Churches in Muslim countries. So, you come here. You enjoy all our freedoms and allow us none if we go to your country. While any violent death is abhorrent to me, if you want to be treated with dignity, afford us the same treatment. Then we can talk.

    April 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • tgallant

      Well said.

      April 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • doubt7nought

      the crime against the Muslim was an incomprehensible and senseless act. There should be justice, and that person should get life in jail. NOT because he killed a MUSLIM, but because he killed an innocent woman and blamed terrorist acts on this innocent person. That being said, Muslims are the most intolerant breed of religions that I have met. The men are so crude and disrespectful to women who don't dress "correctly" because they will not TOLERATE different mindsets. Muslims need to start policing other muslims just as others of different faiths, and beliefs are trying to do now. nothing is perfect, but I definitely agree that if I as a Christian were to go to an Islamic state without a hijab or burka, I would be hated on sight, or looked at with disdain and JUDGEMENT at the very least. I've been called an infidel by a Muslim to my face, i've been told that I should be killed and that i am an enemy of Muslims. America gives more justice than i think any other country would or could. And i have faith that America will come around and do the right thing, even if the Muslim countries will not. Afghanistan has not apologized for all the American lives lost in efforts to suport the country-why? because they hate us. so please, if you will cry out about an atrocity, keep in mind the frustration on both sides that is going to take much time, patience, and efforts on everyones part. if you intend to garner sympathy, you should write from both sides, not one, because it creates MORE animosity instead of your intention of dispelling it. (im writing this due to the excessive negative comments I've noticed in response)

      April 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Kan

      So in your mind when in the US people have to follow our laws, but if YOU go to another country their laws don't apply to you? That's rather arrogant

      April 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  12. popseal

    The hoodie is popular with thugs because it hides the face from security cameras and is bulky easily hiding a weapon. The hijab protects men from being soiled by their own lust towards the inferior woman. Too bad media weenies don't get it ! Kum ba ya, kum ba ya...can't we all just get along ?

    April 7, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  13. Samir Ubahdi

    Our lying culture is just how we are. We pretend to not know the answer when in fact we do. We will steal the shirt off your back when given the chance.

    April 7, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  14. RealityCheck

    Well perhaps there is one 'Silver Lining' in this mud puddle of a propaganda piece - I too am outraged that Sikhs have been targeted for persecution due to their tragic resemblance to muslims. How ironic, the Sikhs , although they wear a turban, are the polar opposites of muslims in morality, compassion, temperment, and HUMANITY. Sikhs have nothing but good will toward all, and, as I have actually read their Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, I confess it struck me as being the most enlightened and love-filled religious text I had ever read, with ill will toward no other religion, and how it elevates women.. yes, there are 'good guys' who wear turbans..

    April 7, 2012 at 8:42 am |
  15. RealityCheck

    CNN should be ashamed at allowing this propogandist to piggy back on the Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi media attention. And to Ms. Sarsour, I only have to say Shut The Hell Up, your crocodile tears are right out of the Islamic Propoganda Playbook... spew hatred and commit violence, perpetual outrage, malevalence toward all non mulsims, mob violence, etc., then cry 'victim'.. I guess the only good thing about the news reporting the daily Islamic violence and venom is that now the world sees Islam for what it is, and the world is recoiling in horror... and you want Sharia Law? Go back to the hell hole you crawled out of and have your beheading, limb chopping, dog kicking, wife beating, gang raping , stoning to death, HONOR KILLING Sharia Law.. just go away!

    April 7, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  16. da99en

    http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2009/03/honor-killing-islams-gruesome-gallery.html

    April 7, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • nr

      how sad and tragic for these beautiful women. I can't understand a religion where women are thought of less than an animal. Thanks for sharing.

      April 7, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  17. Reality

    How much money would the following save the US taxpayers ?:

    Only for the newbies–

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
    There never were and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror like 9/11.

    – One trillion dollars over the next several years as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will end.

    – Eighteen billion dollars/yr to Pakistan will stop.

    – Four billion dollars/yr to Egypt will end.

    Saving 2 billion lost Christians including the Mormons:
    There were never any bodily resurrections and there will never be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    – The Mormon empire will now become taxable as will all Christian "religions" and evangelical non-profits since there is no longer any claim to being a tax-exempt religion.

    – Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    – Four billion dollars/yr to Israel saved.

    – All Jewish sects and non-profits will no longer be tax exempt.

    Now all we need to do is convince these 3.5+ billion global and local citizens that they have been conned all these centuries Time for a YouTube,Twitter and FaceBook campaign!!!!

    April 7, 2012 at 7:41 am |
  18. HD

    Well said!

    April 7, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 7, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • jackvigdor

      Nonsense. Prayer only gives hope for the individual. It changes nothing external.
      By making a categorical statement, you don't persuade anyone and in fact, your comments are stupid since they do not have anything to do with the article which is one woman's opinions about the symbolism of her wearing the hijab.

      People like you are dangerous since you have a delusion rather than an opinion.

      April 7, 2012 at 7:51 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 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Jim P.

      I agree. Christianity is the only way. These middle eastern third world countries continue to kill themselves because the base of their foundation is an eye for an eye.

      April 7, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • OhPlease

      "I agree. Christianity is the only way."

      What total B S. Christians killed millions to steal America from the indians, they have blood on their hands too. Only an ignorant person doesn't understand that religion has killed more people in human history than anything else. Christianity is a cult that is bad for our society just like all other religions.

      April 7, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Punisher2000

      My cat doesn`t know it is an Atheist. What a stupid statement.

      April 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • The One True God

      Nothing fails like prayer.

      April 7, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things*

    April 7, 2012 at 6:52 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 7, 2012 at 10:16 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.