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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. Jeff

    MS. Sausaur.
    What YOU dont understand, is that the world WANTS to accept Muslims, simply because they hate JEWS so much. You COULD take advantage of it, but you DONT, because you feel that you can have your cake and eat it too.
    All too often, you see the hordes of Muslims protesting and denigrating THIS country; yet, we NEVER see you , en mass, standing up and condemning terrorist attacks by other Muslims – THAT'S why you're not liked here. You write a great "poor me" article – WHERE was your voice when Hammas sent a guided missile to an Israeli SCHOOL bus ? That you stay silent when YOUR people attack US and our FRIENDS is a testament to how you really feel about US – and then you lament that we dont LIKE you ?

    April 8, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • abdul-ali

      jeff u have no idea what we do in the masjids all over the world whn the so-called muslims attack people for no reason what soever and fyi it does anger us whn these so-called muslims bring harm to differnt nations in the name of AL-ISLAAM and we have fought many battles against these tyrants as we have done for many years as we r doing right at this time n yemen know the facts first jeff b4u type/speak.www.troid.org

      April 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Jeff

      Abdul:
      On ONE hand, you are correct, in that we DONT know how or when you respond negatively to your fellow brethern's terror attacks – THAT was my point ! WHY dont you stand up and let the world SEE that you condemn ? It is YOUR silence that we see; EXCEPT, of course, when we SEE you burning American flags; when we SEE you passing out cake and dancing in the streets after 9-11.
      WHY do we see THAT..and NOT your condemnation ?

      April 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • abdul-ali

      again jeff u only see what ur eyes see,so u c news coverage than u run with it like many others,they (hollywood)showed tom hanks as forest gump talking to jfk and they showed natilie cole singing with her already deceased dad nat king cole so u c what appears 2b muslims who did the evil of sept.11 and then u run with it look deeper if u r truthful,again u have NO IDEA what we r dealing with reguarding this evil being done in the name of ALLAH,just cause u do not c it doesnt mean that were not fighting against these demonic tyrants,remember this jeff the way to throw someone off is 2b out in the open but if one is really taking care of business they do it not 2b seen,their our serious muslims putting n some serious work to combat these evil forces.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  2. Brunhilda

    It is my knowlege that the woman wanted a divorce from her mule of a husband and then she was killed by it. These people need to be exported back to their pigonistic countries where they can enjoy the fruits of their labor....not ours.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • abdul-ali

      u have NO understanding what soever about our religion a women can ask for khulaq when her husband is not doing what ALLAH has commanded him and there r NO backlashes what soever so again its very clear that u r so ignorant about r religion, anyway why r you concerning yourself about what goes on in our religion if u r happy with yours? 2ub your religion and 2 us b are religon.www.troid.org

      April 8, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Jeff

      The PROBLEM with that, Abdul, is that YOUR religion tells you to kill us...ALL of us "infidels". So, it's kinda hard to "let your religion be yours, and ours, "ours".

      April 8, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  3. Abdul Habib Habibi Shishkabab

    The people from this country, Egypt and other third world countries who abandoned their motherland (because it was so good) are murderers, thieves, and tell lies constantly. Never trust what they tell you. They will stab you in the back to get whatever they want. They are the ones ruining the United States of America.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  4. Hijab Bajih

    Ok....we'll go to your country and wear a face mask (for religious purposes of course) and carry a gun and let's see what would happen to us. We would be slaughtered within minutes. This is simply more of this 3rd world bullcrap that is another excuse to hide behind. Get out of this country if you don't like it!

    April 8, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • abdul-ali

      u appear 2b very miserable, all of you with your hatred and negativity towards us muslims, if u r really happy with ur lives why concern urselves with the the way we (men&women)dress we have r way and u have yours live and let live right?

      April 8, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • ca3b

      Abdul,
      we were ok with letting you live your lives – until 9/11. The purpose was not to convert us, but simply to kill us.
      And although it was done in the name of "Allah", we didn't see mass outrage by Muslims. Instead, we saw
      people dancing crying "Allah Akbar!" Then we noticed the same type of bombings going on in Western Europe
      and Russia. Things changed.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  5. Babooshka Hockershushka

    Working with these people on a daily basis I can tell you that the majority of what they tell you is an outright lie. I do not trust one word that any of them ever tell me.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • abdul-ali

      ur bills r being paid correct? whats the big deal? carry on.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  6. Ben

    That you are wearing a hajib and would be shunned by your family if you did not tells me all I need to know about how brainwashed you have become. You aren't oppressed or hated by Americans, you are oppressed by your own people, and you beg for more. Pathetic.

    Martin wasn't killed because of racism, fyi.

    April 8, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  7. jOHN

    We don't need your religious beliefs in our country. As long as your religion demeans women and have honor killings, go back to your country.

    April 8, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  8. TrueAmerican

    Linda Sarsour, why not just return to the middle east, Asia, or wherever you came from and have your life surrounded by those that think, eat, worship, and dress like you. Your religion will NEVER be accepted here in America and it does not belong here in America. I can assure you that 90% of red-blooded patriotic Americans (Christian and Jew) wish you would all just pack your bags and return to where you came from. Heck, I'd pay for your one way ticket!

    April 8, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • abdul-ali

      we are here because we r allowed to be here,go get educated cause its clear u and those like u r very ignorant.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  9. faeyth28

    You can't take black off for the day. Poor article.

    April 8, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  10. truthordare7

    It is totally two different scenarios. Martin was wearing a hoodie which he could take off any time but he can't take off his blackness – not saying that he was murdered for it but going along with your premise here. You, on the other hand, with that hijab, represent a cult that oppresses women at every opportunity it gets and a belief system that is corrosive to anything that is progressive and modern. Everywhere there is a sizable muslim community, there is a serious conflict (look at asia, europe and africa for example) and that issue is not started by the other side but instigated by the muslims whining about the special status they require that nobody is accorded in a secular society. One might be a coincidence, maybe even two, but to account for a huge number of conflicts around the world clearly shows, empirically, there is a serious issue regarding this belief system that takes everything in its holy book as the whole truth and its messenger as the perfect example. Anybody who disagrees are vehemently and violently suppressed or outright killed, even for such stupid acts like making a movie or drawing a cartoon. Anybody who still chooses to follow such an oppressive belief system, even when presented with the full modern education, quite clearly wasted their brain cells or never had the ability to reason properly. You can't fool the west for long. We see what is going on here.

    April 8, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • abdul-ali

      why r u concerning youself with affairs that dont concern you? could it be that your really not happy with your own life? people who are happy with their own lives can care less what others are doing with lives.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  11. RonnieLee

    It was an honor killing. Not surprising. It would be nice for someone to point out the simple fact that far more Muslim women are murdered for being un-Muslim like in this world than are targeted by anti-Muslim zealots. This article needs to be taken down. It's a sad, sad irony.

    April 8, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  12. Menno Aartsen

    Utilizing the unfortunate, and hitherto unexplained, death of a black teenager at the hands of a civilian security patrolman to score points about a completely unrelated religious view is disingenious at best. The majority of my devoutly religious Muslim and Jewish women friends would not be caught dead donning the garb and demeanour prescribed by some leaders in their religions, and are perfectly happy living in their secular environments. Some have decided to live in your world, and while I respect their choice, I would instantly "unfriend" them should they decide to score political points over the dead body of a young African American. Reading your missive, I have to wonder whether your hijab, and your reasons for wearing it, have not clouded your mind in an offensively discriminatory manner.

    April 8, 2012 at 5:53 am |
    • ca3b

      good comments

      April 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  13. ca3b

    You have a choice whether or not to wear a hijab in the US and bring attention to yourself, the same as if I were in a Muslim country and not wearing a headscarf. It is the same for a Jewish person wearing a yarmulke, or a nun wearing a habit. However, a person of color has no choice. They cannot remove an article of clothing and be then assumed to be of a different race. You're not getting much sympathy on this website because your religion is the only one where terrorists are shouting the name of "Allah" as they commit their acts. People in the US aren't worried about a car bomb set by a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Wiccan doing it for their deity.

    April 8, 2012 at 4:17 am |
    • truthordare7

      In some muslim countries, you don't have that choice. I hope you don't try that.

      April 8, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • abdul-ali

      ca3b get educated about a thing b4u speak u DO NOT KNOW FOR CERTAIN WHO THE EVIL DOERS R in reguards to the terror being brought about n the earthfor instance that black girl in newyork about 18yrs ago said she brutally attacked by white racist men thn the black nation was very angry at the white nation thn we found out she was was lying thn we have a white women n north carolina who drowned her two toddlers in her car and she but it on a black man and the nation believed her thn they found out she was lying the point is just cause the media plays or says something doesnt mean it always true,the media said to the nation,flock to the stores grab batteries,water,can goods flash lights, generators etc etc cause come the year 2000 caos will insue,alot of people did so and no caos never took place,we muslim r warned by ALLAH to NOT MAKE MISCHIEF IN THE LAND IN WHICH WE LIVE and as for killing the infadels those r the people who wage war against the muslims unjustly not innoccent people, jews and christian lived amonst the muslims and were protected by the muslims over 1400yrs ago thats r history.my advic 2u and others who think as u do,if u want to know the truth about AL-ISLAAM go to troid.org or salafipublication.com cause u will never know the truth about AL-ISLAAM thru the news media or a preacher,rabbi,monk,priest if u want to know how swim u ask someone who doesnt know how to swim if u want to be a dentis u dont go a auto machanic school u go to a denistry school well same thing applies here if u really want to know about AL-ISLAAM visit those websites,u dont have to embrace this religion but at least have some knowlege it if u r truthful thn u will c wht r beliefs our,u as well as other owe it to urselves to at least have some understanding about THE QUR'AN&SUNNAH as was understood and practised by our salafs(the first three generations)who ALLAH said about thm RAWDY-ALLAHU AN HOOM (ALLAH IS PLEASED WITH THEM),this are way the way of the salafs who were the best of people.www.uthaymeen.com and http://www.sheikbinbaz.com.take care

      April 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  14. Chris

    The writer needs to stick to the facts and not jump to conclusions about the Iraqi woman. The police are looking at leads within the family.

    http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2012/04/06/iraqi_woman_beaten_at_calif_home_planning_divorce/

    April 8, 2012 at 2:31 am |
  15. jackiesmith

    your hijab is not your hoodie. your hijab is a mark of misogyny from a backwards ideology that teaches women they're nothing but objects asking for it if they show their hair.

    shaima was killed by her husband because she wanted a divorce, and her family is covering it up. stop with your victim politics and self-pity. i hope you write an article apologizing for your whining when the husband gets sent to jail.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  16. nobody cares

    i don't think anyone cares what you wear...more that you look like an oppressed person when you wear stuff like that...even if its self induced.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:00 am |
    • nobody cares

      which i doubt it is. more likely patriarchy that has been shoved down your throat since birth like it is here.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  17. telsa

    Well , I am prejudice towards muslims. And if the majority of all terrorist acts were done by yellow people wearing green caps, I would be prejudice against them with the same amount of dedication. If you dont like it, you can always take your whining ass to a different country and try to push your beliefs on thise people.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • davidnica

      The vast majority of terrorist attacks in the US (according to FBI factbook) are actually non-Muslim. Over 90% of terrorist attacks are not committed by Muslims. Do you feel stupid now or what?

      April 8, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • telsa

      No. I do not feel stupid....but you should. No where did I say in the US only.....world wide ....muslims commit more terrorist acts than any other people......Do you feel stupid now?

      April 8, 2012 at 11:53 am |
  18. mmi16

    GOD has yet to write a Holy Book for any religion. Men have written these books off what the percieve to have been their communications with GOD. Spirituality is of GOD. Religion is of MAN.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
  19. EatYouAlive

    Once the facts come out about the note and then murder, then start beaking off. For now, make me a sammich.

    April 7, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  20. Trina

    Your wear your hijab for your religion, not for your god. Your god requires that you not draw attention to yourself through your appearance. In America, the hijab draws attention to you. To follow your god, you should remove your hijab and follow your god's wishes. Your god wants purity in your heart, not a political statement.

    April 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Sue

      How do you know what their god wants? From some interpretation of a holy book?

      April 7, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
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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.