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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. Keith

    Just read in article in "The Sun", about a woman who was married off at age 5-in England! She thought she was dressing up for her 5th birthday, not her wedding. This is real islam not the garbage that cnn depicts in these ridiculous stories.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • CS

      Citing the Sun is about like citing the National Inquirer; not your best source for journalistic integrity I'm afraid.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Keith

      CS, So this event never happend then?

      April 10, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Keith

      CS, So then the Sun is like cnn or nbc? Okay, now I understand.

      April 11, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  2. sortakinda

    The author might also add that she is a tool.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  3. sortakinda

    Talk about an obsession. CNN next plans to send hoodies to the entire state of Florida to keep the Trayvon Martin story alive, and having a daily raffle for free trips to the Trayvon Martin museum at CNN, along with a weekly Trayvon Martin look alike contest.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  4. Watcher

    Violence towards all women is cowardly and an indicator of a worthless male. As to the muslims who practce sharia law and commit honor killings or don't speak out against them,,,well there's not enough violence that can be done to them.

    April 10, 2012 at 4:58 am |
  5. Nader

    Couple things i noticed
    Some americans are extremely ignorant
    The stuff you see on tv is Bias
    Just because Bin Laden was a pyscopath lunatic doesnt mean all muslims are terroist
    The taliban in the middle east is compareable to The KKK in the south
    The taliban is just a bunch of middle eastern redneck thats all
    Now the lady might have been killed by her husband but how many american husband have killed their wives after a divorce ?
    is it because he is arab it becomes worse ?

    April 10, 2012 at 12:53 am |
    • Alycia

      I 100% percent agree with this comment. To be honest I’m dating a Muslim right now and he and his family are nothing like what all of these idiots say. He is a respectful gentleman like you would expect any other AMERICAN to be. If some of you didn’t know Islam and Christianity stem from the same branch so I personally don’t see what all the fuss is considering Islam and Christianity are very similar to each other. I’d like to see all of you immerse yourself into a Muslim family and see if you still have the same views and prejudice.

      April 10, 2012 at 1:06 am |
  6. Jim USA

    Remember 911? They didn't want to covert us. They wanted to kill us. They are a bunch of lying, stealing, thieves. They will and continue to lie to your face with no fear of repercussion. That is because none of us matter to them. Heck, their god tells them to kill us. What a f_cked up religion and way of life.

    April 9, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  7. Latwanda

    My hijab is my thong.
    I wear my thong everyday to hide my who-ha. It is not a religious thing. No man makes me wear one. And you can see my face so I can't hide behind it as most Muslim murderers do. Have a nice day.

    April 9, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  8. guest

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

    Really deep ending. Are you a writer for your high school newspaper or something? Sounds like something a 16 year old might write!

    April 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  9. Jim

    I'll accept your Sharia law as soon as I can bring my Bible into your homeland. Your goal is a Muslim world and you are culturally intolerant of any other religion. Go home and take all Muslims with you.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • guest

      stand up against the evil, hatred and intolerance of Islam Read "Cruel and Unusual Punishment by Nonie Darwish. Do not be fooled that Islam is peaceful because it is not. How can any human being accept Sharia law? Islam and Sharia law have held people hostage since its creation.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Logic

      Maybe you should do your research first that there are Christians in Muslim countries and the bible are there by the millions.

      April 10, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  10. Stapf

    Political correctness will lead to the demise of US, look what has become of France and rest of Europe, people who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes, Try entering Saudi Arabia with a bible, the airport security throws it in trash, Only in US can you build a victory monument called Cordoba over the dead bodies of our beloved.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • tony g

      So many hate words against Muslims here. Why? There are millions of Muslim Doctors, Lawyers, Professors and business people here in US and all around the world. And all those people are totally integrated into the Western society and functions as well and even better. You dont see Muslim kids doing drugs or getting drunk or dropping out of high school because they get pregnant at the age of 14. Stop hating and start understanding them. Their way of life is much more like a true Christian life.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • mimi

      lol tony 'You dont see Muslim kids doing drugs or getting drunk or dropping out of high school because they get pregnant at the age of 14' – I know plenty of them that do (and would they really be "totally integrated into the Western society" if they didn't? haha just joking... but then again some of them you hear in the news don't survive since they're killed 'for honor', that's less funny). Just like you can't generalize one way, you can't generalize the other. Muslims are not better than Christians, and vice versa. There's good and bad in all religions. There's doctors of all religions and atheists too. Anyway, you might be careful about giving them all a bad name with your superiority complex.

      April 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  11. JoeH

    Yes, you are right. Bigotry against Muslims doesn't get much attention.
    I was a bigot like a lot of others till I personally had interactions with some Muslims and noticed that what the media portrays and what my friends view is stereotyping all the Muslims as Sharia loving racial introverts.
    Its like blaming all the blacks for crime in USA... oh wait we already do that.
    I respect your opinion and appreciate putting an effort to give this issue equal attention.
    I personally think that majority Muslims live in poor countries which are breeding grounds for terrorist and your religion is taking the blame for it as power hungry ppl are using religion as a motivation factor.
    In a free country like ours you should be free to wear a hoodie or hijab , anything that doesn't interfere with others views/daily activities/US laws you should be free to do.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Big Bob

      Um, statistics and demography don't lie. But, keep the faith, I'm sure you'll be spared...

      April 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  12. Big Bob

    You folks know this story has been debunked. This women was honor-killed by her family because she wanted to divorce her husband. The husband and daughter are back in Iraq. Think they're coming back anytime soon? I can't believe CNN would still have this up. Oh wait....

    April 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  13. Mike D

    Linda, the murder of the iraqi woman was from within the muslim community! The letter's intent was to throw off the investigators in to thinking it was a hate crime. Here is a towel(no pun intended) to wipe the egg off your face. The nation will be waiting for your apology in the coming weeks.

    April 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Wastrel

      Look way back in the comments, and you will see that I said that the woman was killed by Muslims and the note was a red herring, before those facts came out. How did I know? It was obvious to me. That's how they roll.

      April 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  14. Stapf

    Loud and clear: Muslims are unwanted in US, go back to wherever you came from and enjoy your hijab,beard,inbreeding,honor killing,pedophilia and sharia law

    April 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • beth

      All people are welcome in the US: all creeds, races, and lack of religion. This is a country built upon secular law.

      I am ashamed to acknowledge you as a fellow American.

      April 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • guest

      Wise up Beth and educate yourself on the evil of Islam. It is a totalitarian and fascist ideology and no human being should have to live under oppressive Sharia law. The West had better wake up and stand up to Muslim immigration and the harsh reality of Islam in the West.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  15. Dean

    The muslim terrorist has changed the world we all live in more than any other group in the last 100 years. And their goal continues with no end in sight.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Wastrel

      Dude. It's been going on for over 1000 years. Read some history and you will be even less sympathetic to Islam. Its stated goal is to take over the world. It must reform or be destroyed.

      April 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  16. ug

    Just more punks to deal with on the left.

    April 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  17. Ray Anthony

    Unfortunatley hoodies do not represent religious believes, specially those that believe Christians and Jews are infedels!

    April 9, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  18. coastlinecascot

    Why did she did not discuss the hatred towards Jews? The most hate crimes in the US bar far and wide are against Jews. Im not part of any religion. Just stating the bias against these groups.

    April 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Kay

      Actually you are right. According to the FBI's crime index for last year, Jewish people were targeted more than other religious groups for religion based hate crimes.

      April 9, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  19. Jim

    Wow, my symbol of middle eastern repression is so hip !

    April 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  20. Just ... wow

    So much venom and hatred.. Truly sad.

    April 9, 2012 at 12:55 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.