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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. heloise8

    Reblogged this on The Trough.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  2. Arnold

    Religion is ridiculous. Please stop believing in made up nonsense.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  3. mimi

    I don't understand why Mary mother of Jesus wearing a hijab in certain depictions is such a great argument for wearing one. Jesus had a beard and wore a robe in certain depictions, yet trends have changed and in most circles this attire not considered more godly (and I think most western men would not appreciate being told they should wear a robe to be true to their faith).
    Anyhow, I personally couldn't care less if people walked around naked or covered entirely in trash bags, but people need to realize that until criminals stop wearing black hoodies to hide their faces from security cameras, and until terrorists stop using hijabs to hide their bombs, people are not going to stop being scared of these outfits. While I don't think hatred is ever excusable, I'd like to see people of faith especially take a more compassionate approach to those who are afraid, and focus instead on helping eradicatethe movements giving their outfits a bad name (if you think that is someone else's job then you have not thought enough about the amount of resources it takes to fight crime, and where those resources come from, i.e. people's pockets). And knowing people are afraid, thanks to the bad apples' actions, you should be conscious that you are exposing yourself to their fear every time you wear such an outfit. You are taking a risk and therefore are partly to blame, though I agree it is not fair, but such is the world. It's also not fair that people do not see bathing suits as appropriate business wear, but you take the risk of not getting the job if you wear one to the interview.

    April 9, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • John G.

      You're right. What one wears, or doesn't, should not be as important as character. At the same time, no one should have to change their beliefs because of intimitation by a few-or even intimitation by the majority. Since the events of 9/11 and the election of president with African decendancy, there's been too much hate and intolerance in this country. It's time to take a deep breath.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • rhobere

      so by your logic, if a criminal wears something or uses something to commit a crime, we should be afraid of that object.

      babies were outfit with bombs in their diapers during vietnam --> no more diapers allowed
      So the uni-bomber wore sunglasses. -->no more sunglasses allowed
      pretty sure charles manson wore pants -–> no more pants allowed
      I could find a way to hide a bomb in my phone --> no more phones allowed

      seriously though mimi? you think its justified to be afraid of any one that wears a hijab simply because a few people have used them to hide bombs? Not only is it a ridiculous idea because can you hide a bomb in ANY article of clothing, but its also a fantastic way to justify your racism. congrats.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • James

      You appear to be saying that if, and I often do, walk my son to school while I'm wearing a black hoodie, that I should expect to be harassed and even attacked because of my attire? I'm an old fart white guy, and in this neighbourhood, I can't see that happening. I wonder, however, about the black family that lives up the road from me.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      Hiding a bomb in a head-scarf? Where do you people come up with this stuff? That would be a suicide bomb for sure, but there isn't enough space to conceal a bomb big enough to take out anyone the suicide bomber wasn't hugging. Chicken little has a big imagination.

      April 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • mimi

      OK a few clarifications. Duh for bombs, I was clearly referring to burkas, not hijabs (I happen to know the difference but many don't). I have never said anyone should change their beliefs. Or that fear is a valid, justifiable response. And I've certainly made it clear that hatred is NEVER acceptable.
      All I'm saying is, some people WILL be afraid, not that they SHOUDL be. And yes, if people learned about bombs in diapers, I guarantee you some people will be scared of diapers! Never said it's warranted, and in most cases it IS inappropriate – whether you're a young black kid, a muslim, or lady gaga (and I think it's pretty clear if you're an old fart white guy in a black hoodie, your chances of being harassed are lower unless you live in a really dumb neighborhood). All this is common sense.
      What I am saying that it's not very kind to call people idiots for being afraid (even if it's very true), and that maybe, just maybe, we should think sometimes about condemning the real idiots perpetrating crimes and causing the outfit to elicit fear. But nobody ever seems to even mention it. It seems much trendier to call people racists than to ever say anything bad about criminals for some reason. And no I'm not saying racism is not a problem, it very much is. But crime is also. I live in Houston and it's hard not to fear being burglarized, robbed or shot in this town – by people of all color including rednecks. If you're an old fart wearing a hoodie you're probably not scary unless you act 'weird'.
      I have been to Muslim countries and respected their tradition and worn a headscarf myself. I was raised Catholic, studied other religions, am now an agnostic, but no matter where I am or who I'm with I always respect each tradition and belief. But I'm not a fan of accusing people who've done nothing but tremble in their shoes because someone was wearing something or other. And for the record I don't think any attire should be banned – including nudity.

      April 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  4. dtr

    Who is the best person to answer the question, Why Muslim women wear Hijab? I think, Definitely not a Muslim woman. They might say they consider hair as part of their beauty...blah...blah... Then why Arab constumes resemble strikingly(both men and women ). Both hide hair..? I think the costume evolved to counter the local weather there, over centuries and the religious people made things up to justify their beliefs. So costumes were there even before religions evolved!. Most religious people just say what they were told. They don't use their brains.

    April 9, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • rhobere

      do you mean customs?

      April 9, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  5. sam kohen

    You can always wear a hoodie over a hijab. Looks great

    April 9, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  6. Marcus

    The Hijab is worn by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Mary Mother of Jesus wore the Hijab as well!

    April 9, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  7. Rick

    Open your mouth nice and wide and prepare to insert that dirty foot of yours. When this investigation wraps up, I am willing to bet $1 that this was an "honor killing". She probably got too "Americanized" and got lippy with her superior. I mean really, a white guy walking around in that neighborhood with a tire iron would have drawn some attention. Don't you think?

    April 9, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Marcus

      Honor Killings are a pagan practice in some countries in Africa and Mid-East. It is also done by some Christians as well, it has nothing to do with religion. It is a tribal cultural practice by rural people in some regions. You actually see the same thing in places like the American South.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Rick

      Yes Marcus, I am aware that honor killings are done in other places in the world. Canada, Germany, France, and all over the Mid-East. Pretty much anywhere there is a large muslim population you will find nice things like honor killings and sharia law. I agree with other posters that these people defect to America in droves to get away from tyrannical way of their home countries and then complain about what poor treatment the receive in America. For the record... I subscribe to no religion, but if I had my way Islam would be labeled a terrorist organization.

      April 9, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      I take a tire iron everywhere I go. I keep it in my car, and here's the really wierd thing, no one notices.

      April 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Rick

      @ Rbnlegnd101... Cave someones skull in with it in a residential neighborhood where you will be seen as a foreigner and see how that works out for you. On second thought, don't! The media will blame me for the murder you commit.

      April 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  8. Onslow

    The brutal killing of the Muslim woman IS horrible, but yet the major tenets of Islam is that anyone that believes different from them must be conquered, and converted or killed. Once again religion bias is the root of all evil.

    April 9, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • Lisa

      you are showing your ignorance! Islam (the word means "peace") and the Qua'ran teaches muslims to treat other believers as if they are your brother. The "big 3" (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) all say the same, because if you are of one of those faiths you are considered "a believer" in God, and not worshiping idols. the hijab is worn for the exact reason jewish women wear scarves on their heads or wear wigs, (a womans hair is considered a part of her intimate beauty and is meant for her husband to see ) you really need to educate yourself, as your ignorance is laughable.

      April 9, 2012 at 7:56 am |
  9. Khadija Of America

    “Why not the same for Alawadi?” You’re comparing apples and oranges. The killer in the Trayvon Martin case was on the scene when police arrived and admitted to killing him. The Sanford Police Department took him at his word (in all likelihood – given the department’s history – because he was ½ white and Trayvon was black) and sent him on his way. We have had the benefit of time & leaks from the Police Department to draw certain conclusions in this case. The same IS NOT true for Shaima Al-Awadi. Evidence is still being collected and processed. There is no indicator to suggest the El Cajon Police Department is in anyway mishandling her case the way the Sanford Police Department has mishandled Trayvon Martin. You’re making broad assumptions publicly based on little information. It’s an irresponsible reaction.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:53 am |
  10. Ronnie Harper

    Your 'hijab' is a symbol of the hand that holds you down.

    April 8, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • NInio

      your comment is symbolic of how stupid you are.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Lisa

      you have no clue what youre talking about and your stupidity and ignorance are painfully obvious.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • Marcus

      So hands were holding down Mary Mother of Jesus too?

      April 9, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  11. Jim USA

    P. Larrain you obviously speak as you have no real base knowledge of these people. As I come into contact with them on a daily basis I speak from fact, not from the hypothetical lunacy of a pipe dream that you speak of. Why don't you wake up.

    April 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  12. sherrie0824

    I will never understand why women hide the beauty of their hair and face. It is NOT written in the Koran. The wearing of the veil was forced upon them by men. Don't give me the BS that wearing it "respects god" or anything like that. If your "god" wanted you to hide your beauty, he wouldn't have given you beauty (e.g., hair) in the first place.

    April 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Jim USA

      You are correct. It is because those people treat their women as subserviant.

      April 8, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • August Washington

      All religions treat their women subserviently.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • NInio

      sherrie: Maybe you should talk to a Muslim woman to find out before jumping to some ignorant assumptions.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Marcus

      Hello, news flash sister...MARY MOTHER OF JESUS WORE A HIJAB AND IT'S PRACTICE BY JEWS, CHRISTIANS, AND MUSLIMS~!

      April 9, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  13. man of Earth

    your hijab is a chain, put on your head by muslim men

    Pretending you are proud of it or that it is voluntary hurts all women

    April 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • P. Larrain

      I disagree with "Sound Off" - those who believe in this way, that the women are chained to wearing hijab by Muslim men. I have known many Muslim ladies who love their hijab as a sign of respect to God. A head covering much like the Amish women would wear, or like wearing a hat to the Christian church services, the Jew a yarmulke, the Catholic nun a habit. Who are they chained to? Is it too hard to believe people who love their Creator would show humility among themselves to their God. The women of Islamic faith who have shed their hijab and fallen into the ways of the west are many as well!! It proves that Muslim women are more and more using their own wills to decide their marriages, their mode of dress, and they never attended church services in the first place. The women do not go to the calls to prayer. Their faith is so incomprehensible to the close-minded, as much so as any of our religions are to the close-minded here and in the East. Please, learn before posting such things.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Marcus

      How ignorant are you? MARY MOTHER OF JESUS WORE A HIJAB!!!!

      April 9, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Marcus

      So Mary Mother of Jesus had a chain on her head?

      April 9, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  14. Abdul Habib Habibi Shishkabab

    At my Abib-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 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  15. Butch Tina

    Take your hijab and shove it up your va j j .

    April 8, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Jim USA

      Well spoken. I couldn't agree more.

      April 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • NInio

      spoken like a true dumba55.

      April 9, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Marcus

      MARY MOTHER OF JESUS WORE A HIJAB!

      April 9, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  16. Jim USA

    There will never be a place in this country for the muslim people after 911. The gates should have been closed years ago to these people. It is just like the egyption people who only really "hang out" with their own and are looked down upon by other egyptions if they go out with Americans.

    April 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • P. Larrain

      I believe that using the term "these people" about any group of people is a show of hostility of a most uncivil kind. I believe the bullies in the USA who get in the faces of those innocent ppl who practice a faith that is not against the rest of humanity, but flows along with it in the worship of the monotheistic god of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Isaac's brother(!) all children of Abraham. In the best interest of humanity and the years that remain for us all, would be the peaceful civility that offers prosperity and happiness. It is a pipe dream. A piped dream. A never can happen kind of dream, unless humans agree it is much more pleasant to give than receive, to help than to hinder, to love than to hate.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Kyle Nash

      Jimbo,
      They are growing right here . Faster than your ability to count. In a few generations there will more of them than you.

      April 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  17. Agha Ata

    I do not undersatand, why do people use a hood or a hoodie, anyway? Would anyone explain it to me please?

    April 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Hamedhamad

      To keep head lice and bed bugs from escaping.

      April 8, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • brillow

      its to cover your head . kinda like a hat

      April 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Agha Ata

      Is one's head dress MORE IMPORTANT than the HEADS of others? Why should it be so offensive for the wearer, if people want it removed? And specially, if it is important for the safety of others.

      April 9, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  18. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    In my local shopping mall, people wearing hoodies are told to either take down the hood or leave. One day I saw a person (presumably female, although the clothing was so loose fitting it was impossible to tell) walking around the mall unchallenged in full Moslem gear with nothing showing but the eyes. I asked mall security about it and got an excuse about "religious freedom". Somebody needs to start a Church of the Hoodie.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • P. Larrain

      Official church of the hoodie has begun with the Trayvon case in Flordia. The world has seen that America has plenty violence of its own, but you have a much higher chance of getting gunned down if your head & eyes are covered. I feel better when I can see someone's eyes, and face in general. A hidden look is suspect in the USA. But the hijab and abaya or the burka are as much tradition in the USA for certain Islamicists as the hoodie is for pretty much a wide variety of people. I don't know why it is strictly associated in the case of Trayvon with a race. The hoodie = racial prejudice?? The hijab/burka/abaya=religious intolerance. The Islamic woman in traditional dress of the faith is not a terrorist. She is a very religious woman who obeys the laws of the land and she plays a role in her family's best good. Why do so many here comment in hatred. All humans share one thing: humanity. There is room on this planet for us all despite how we cover our bodies. One would think the humility of the Islamic faithful much preferable to the nudism that is so acceptable in the fashion world now. It is an embarrassment to most women. My point is that the pious are not to be hated! God bless us all.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  19. M

    There is a large difference between the Martin case and the Alawadi case. In the Martin case we know who the individuals involved in the investigation are, in the Alawadi case we know the victim, but the perpetrator is unknown. You cannot assume the note is motive, it may very well be a red herring meant to draw focus away from the one responsible.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • cameron

      Exactly If i wanted to "honor kill" my wife. It smart to leave a false note for the police take them off the real killer. More investigation is needed before commenting

      April 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  20. American Mike

    If things are so good in your country – what the hell are you doing here? You start the description of yourself with the word Muslim.
    What a crock. You moved to America for what reason? I am an American first and of Italian heritage second. You and your country can take your religion and shove it.

    April 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Joe Gets

      I guess your priest already shoved his oooolong into you so now you telling everyone else to shove it.

      April 8, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Leena

      You make no sense by comparing your native nationality to a religion .. Being a Muslim and an American can be intertwined .. Just because you are an American, doesn't mean you can't be a Muslim . One is a religion and one is your country. If you think that you must be one or the other than you are an ignorant person. I can be a devoted loyal American citizen and still have the freedom to practice my religion.

      April 8, 2012 at 7:30 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.