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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. K

    Ms. Sarsour;

    Thank you for your article and for sharing your perspective. Don't be dis-heartened by all of the ignorance on display in some of the responses. Unfortunately, America has it's share of uneducated ignorant fools who have nothing positive to contribute to society. The hate mongers are racist losers, who do nothing other than perpetuate problems for the rest of us educated people to try to solve. There are many Americans who would in fact like more dialogue with Muslims so that we can understand your faith more. It is not right that the case of the young woman you described did not get more attention, and thank you for sharing the story. Please know that you do have friends in this country despite some of the loudmouths.

    April 14, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  2. joe

    When non-Muslims can walk through Mecca and enter Mosques in Jerusalem, then we can talk about equality.

    April 14, 2012 at 6:17 am |
  3. shamgar50

    Take that rag off of your head, and I might listen to your opinion. No matter how you slice it, it's a symbol of oppression, and ignorance. It's a shame, you're so brainwashed that you think it's something to be proud of. If your men can't control themselves, why not just cuff them, until they learn some control. Why is it, it's only the women that have to cover themselves?

    April 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • William Demuth

      She looks very sesky with that hijab on!

      April 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • the new muneef

      Are you serious? im a muslim woman and i went to saudi arabia and guess what?!! Saudi women AND men wore head scarfs. i didn't wear a headscarf and i was fine! No one stared! Not like america! Like everybody stares at you in the US! Seriously! And i LIVE hear!
      You guys have to stop being full of hate!
      And that, is the very truth!

      April 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  4. Mary Santarcangelo

    Seeing women wearing a hijab makes me wonder if they ever experience feeling "...the free, fresh wind in their hair"? If not, I think that is sad.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  5. William Demuth

    Hey Linda sour you are very pretty! Can I have you digits?

    April 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  6. Sra. Julia

    The hijab is a symbol of a woman in slavery to men of a particular faith-don't think so? Try not wearing it in Saudi Arabia or some other conservative countries and see what happens to you. It is not voluntary it is a requirement to keep women in their place and under the absolute control of men, the same with female genitalia mutilation another fine muslim tradition.
    As for the woman that got murdered-right of I said to myself the husband did it why? A) She is muslim and she asked for a divorce B) Her daughter's response was not typical of a daughter's behavior of a murdered mother, C) The family hurriedly left the country. Do you think the husband will be back to answer any questions? I don't think so either.

    April 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Stephanie

      You know, believe it or not, some women in America are not required by anyone to wear the hijabs. Some truly feel more modest, and feel more secure with them on. Why bash someone for what they believe it it is not hurting you? Yes, the laws in some parts of the world seem wrong to us, but we should let the people who live in those countries decide that. I am sure that in their own home gardens/yards the women who wear the hijab in public can feel the wind in their hair. As for Arabia and middle eastern countries, change is coming. Not fast enough for most European people, but the middle east has been this way for centuries and when the women have decided enough is enough, there is change. It may be slow, it may be 3 steps forward 1 step back, but its still change.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • the new muneef

      well then, why the note? and don't you think that people leave the country beacuase the people IN the country SCARED THE BEJEEBS OUT OF THEM?

      April 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Ladervijd

      Yes, from what you described it is a possibility, and you named a possible motive of such possibility, particularly, regarding the filed divorce, if so. Tho if the possibility is true then the motive may as well have been about money and/or property, about insult or similar in relevance to what friends and/or surrounding may think about it itself or the man in particular, or other 'reason', using "clima" as intended diversion. So or so, "A)" sounds as if spousal violence, for whichever 'reason' (such as egotism and/or jealousy), is bound and/or limited to a/the given group, which is something which surely applies the other way around too as in that spousal violence "may" (as in it technically being possible, tho ) happen in Muslim families and a different case does not anyhow mean that anyone else would be excluded.
      Surely, social-economical situation may have to do with it too, including that violence may be in part in connection to submarine syndrome, tho again to simply assume that it so "simply because" is not valid. Similarly if you were to use a "psychological" differentiation system, such as Typology of temperament by Hippokratus, there is not necessarily a relation between such and type of temperament – e.g. to assume that a cholerik type is more ("due to type") or less ("due to training") bound to violence, or even at all, and that perhaps also with assumption of other type is not at all, is not valid. The gossip part of assumptions may (again, as in technically possible) (co-)cause feeling of guilt about themselves being wrong, such as to name an example, anti-Muslim clima where Muslim has a "negative" association and a non-muslim woman being violently beaten by her non-muslim husband and inhibited to not doing anything about it where the prime reason isn't other with or without more or less of isolation, and again, similar with different associations.

      As for "B)", not knowing anything about it, she may have been distant to her mother e.g. recently, and technically, she could be the murderer (too), with a palette of possible motives. C) may be relevant in the mentioned possibilities, but may be as well due to fear of scene. Tho yes, if no forward address was left they may not know about the results of investigation and eventual court of law, but if they are mainly scared of that a drone will chase after them, then it is kind of understandable that they did not leave a forward address if they didn't.

      And another possibility is that of an outside murderer having done so with a pretext. And/or the possibility as indicated. Or the possibility of assumpted 'martyr-suicide'.

      i doubt that female genital mutilation, and any female plastical operation for that matter, is scriptural. And it is foremostly a matter of child right protection, meaning in particular the right of the child to not be changed unless the child is old enough to make the decision as adult whether or not to give up on this right, and/or unless it is for valid medical reason.

      April 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Ladervijd

      *"training" meaning also self-trained/-learned during life without school-training and/or sorts

      Not overally sure about human rights legislation, and how it where looks like, tho it seems that it is important to make the distinction between child and adult regarding (not only) the issue of genital mutilation or sorts of and as well point out the issue of indoctrination which may (again, as in technically possible) be various, from ideological conviction to do a wish of his or merely for self-confidence. Point being that especially children should not be subjected, nor be candified really.

      April 14, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  7. Elizabeth

    I live near Alawadi and have been following her case ever since I heard about that ridiculous note found near her body that fooled no one except, apparently, the writer of this article. Seriously lady? You didn't take one look at that case and think "husband did it?" Because everyone else did, and that's the REAL anti-Muslim sentiment you need to face. Whenever we hear of a Muslim woman getting killed the knee-jerk reaction is "husband did it/honor killing" because violent, repressive misogyny is the impression most non-Muslims have about Islam.

    April 13, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Ahmad

      Regardless of who killed Alwadi, the numbers don't lie. Hate crimes against Muslims have risen by 50%?! Since when has the media reported on this.

      Furthermore, take other examples of terrorism: the shootings in Norway or the recent campus killing in California. If the shooter had been Muslim, the gunmen would have been referred to as terrorists. However, because they were not Muslim, the media did not use the word "terrorist" even once to label them.

      The wider issue here is that there are many misconceptions about Muslims in the United States who work hard everyday striving to be productive members of society and it is all swept under the rug.

      April 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  8. glades2

    And that's the difference – the hijab is a common garment worn in the Middle East for many centuries, while the hoodie (taken from the word neighborhood) is a sign of rebellion in American society...

    One is a garment worn out of respect and the other is a garment worn out of disrespect – I'll let you guess which is which...

    We Americans can learn from other cultures – we certainly aren't learning much otherwise...

    Head coverings are still allowed to be worn by women in the Catholic Church (though since Vatican II it is not a requirement), and as many know at the time of Jesus they were worn by all women, including Mary, the Mother of God – again our own culture has much to learn, because if things are not related to gang violence and rebellion of one kind or another, we Americans seem to be uninformed...

    April 13, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Pat

      "Hoodie" taken from the word neighborhood? Not HOODed sweatshirt? Not first worn as a common piece of athletic attire? Wow.

      April 13, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Stephanie

      So a hoodie is a "sign of rebellion"? You obviously don't attend athletic events, or otherwise, leave the premises of your secluded home. Many people where hoodies for different reasons, like to keep from getting wet during a rain shower or simply because it's that person's choice of fashion. No person should become a target because of what they are wearing, especially in this "free" country.

      April 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • mom

      you are pathetic...disrespecting who? whites like zimmerman i believe. its people like you who make America look sick to the rest of the world. lordy!

      April 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • mom

      your ignorance is appaling yet unpardonable

      April 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Chris Munchin

      Glades2, your comment is RE-TARDED ("tard" coming from the phrase "tarred and feathered," the reasonable reaction of society to a comment so unbelievably stupid, and the "re-" coming from the fact that this is by no means the first time you've proven yourself to be a complete moron.

      April 14, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  9. yahmez the mad

    Don't go to Florida, they shoot people wearing hoodies.

    April 13, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  10. sarai

    Very well put, CS and Stop Sharia. And isn't it wonderful that we can openly, without fear of barbaric reprisal, express all of our individual opinions on a venue such as the Internet (which was invented in this democracy) where millions of people all over the world can see them. After reading about the total corruption, and the seeing videos of the unmentionably horrendous tortures inflicted by long standing regimes of many of the Islamic states on their own people, I would think that Muslims, whether American or Arabian are much better off over here than they would they would be over there, where Ms Sarsour nd many of my fellow respondents could arguably have our right hands severed and tongues cut out writing and speaking our views so freely and in public. Ms. Sarsour has every right , as do we all, to condemn racist and prejudicial behaviors, but get a perspective and acknowledge the freedoms we have here, unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Yes, it's far from perfect, but it's a process, we work on it. I wasn't born here, but particularly as a woman, feel lucky to be here.I'm patriotic and appreciative, so sue me. To my mind the only ones with a genuine grievance in this society are the African Americans–for obvious reasons including the fact that they helped build this country and still haven't been paid!
    The torture and murder of Ms. Alawadi , a young mother, is indeed a tragedy ; hopefully the perpetrator will be caught and sentenced accordingly. And if it is found to have been a hate crime by a stranger it should be prosecuted as such, and get at least as much publicity as the recent case of the recent and ongoing case of the two students at Rutgers University.
    Incidentally, Ms. Sarsour, that is a beautiful photograph of you and I find the colorful head scarf very flattering- it sets off the prettiness of your features.

    April 12, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Nauman

      Are you crazy?? You are basically saying that since Muslims are oppressed in their own countries, they are still better off living in America as second class citizens. I was born in America, my kids are born in America. I do not know of any other Muslim country. Using your twisted logic, African Americans are better off being profiled or even kept as slaves since they are better off as compared to present day Africa.

      April 13, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Ashahmal

      Oh we live in a democracy? Please tell me more about this republic for which our flag stands!

      April 13, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  11. RynB

    People are starting to see the unrest and problems that Muslims have started in every country that they have immigrated to in large amounts. Look to our European cousins, the Danish cartoon controversey, problems in France and Italy, and Greece etc.
    And for the people that say it is only a few radicals that wish us harm – on 9/11 driving home in Orlando Fl past a very large mosque on a major highway I personally witnessed literally hundreds of their Muslim congregants in their parking lot jumping up and down and cheering. When I called my Mother and told her about incident she described exact same reaction by large Muslim business in her office tower – in another state.

    Because while I would not kill someone just because they are Mulsim- we all know there are plenty of Muslims happy to kill me because I am not.

    April 12, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  12. Allah

    الله هو الله كاذبة ومحمد كان شاذ جنسيا.

    April 12, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • John Hillman

      that translates to:

      "God is a false God and Muhammad was a pedophile."

      Needs to be removed

      April 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • biggal195

      John is right. I checked it on Google translation services.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Rasheed

      هؤلاء الأخيرين المعلقين لا يعرفون ما الذي يتحدثون عنه. أنهم رسل من الشيطان الأكبر!

      April 14, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • allah

      It's actually supposed to say Allah is a false God.

      April 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  13. Haime52

    The distrust and outright hatred displayed in this country toward anyone with whom you disagree is more than just sad. It is atrcious! It is wrong to hate! Whether muslim or black, white or purple polka dotted. I see so much venom between Christian and atheist, it is, in some ways, frightful to see the hate filled rhetoric flowing in their comments to one another. Whether or not this woman was killed for the fact that she was muslim or not is really beside the point. The fact is that it is considered alright to put down Islam and muslims, in general, is acceptable to most Americans at all is alarming. Who will be the next target of hate? Will it be me? Will it be you?

    April 12, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • The Flamingo Kid

      Since when are there "polka-dotted" people?

      April 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Haime52

      Flam, You've not seen the spotted people? How sad for you! They are such a joy to be around!(rhetorical)

      April 14, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  14. aggirmara

    Too bad the Alwadi's death is turning out to be another Honor Killing and not a hate crime for being "murdered for living while hijabed". It was anything but an anti-Islamic hate crime. It is misongyny at its finest. This one thing in common between CAIR and Sharpton/Black Panthers they both must create Straw Men to advance their causes. Sharpton/Black Panthers just couldn't help but perpetuate the myth that this was a white on black crime. CAIR can't help to paint the Alwadi death as an anti-Muslim crime when it is turning out to be an Honor Killing. This opinion piece is perpetuating another myth – that there is a rise of hate crimes against Muslims in response to the people who are brave enough to report factually and accurately the threat of fundamentalist Islam. It's turning out that TRUTH is a victim, too. The thing is...is that they are both tragic – two individuals died and two political causes are using their deaths to advance thier own agendas.

    April 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  15. Stapf

    Again, for all those people living in fools paradise and asking for evidence: Do your own due diligence, the crusades were fought for a reason, remember the history of Spain, pay attention to what is happening in UK, France and other parts of Europe,The British muslim religious leader Anjem Choudary, leader of Islam4UK, a group recently banned in Britain under the country's counter-terrorism laws. He wants Islamic Sharia law to rule the United Kingdom and is working to make that dream a reality, You do not start digging a well when you house catches fire,

    April 12, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Muneef

      These movements are not only limited to your mentioned countries but as well are happening here in the Arabic world adding to Africa and Asia...but that does not mean ordinary Muslims agree with their motives but rather the majority of Muslims were victimized due to such radical movements that are made by pure evil gangsters hiding behind the religion wearing it as a mask to fulfill their agendas...you will find among us who reject them and will find those who are brainwashed supporting them,therefore it is not right to blame all holding them responsible when they only want to worship in peace and not interested in politics or ruling the world...

      April 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  16. Ayala

    Yes and your hoodie represent an evil religions. So I would not be so proud of it.

    April 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Muneef

      The religions are not evil but you can say that there are redial religious one's who are pure evil and use the religions as masks to cover their agendas...and those can be found hiding active behind all religions and not only one religion.

      April 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Abusereen

      Yes Ayala, Islam is the most beautiful religion in the world and incidentally the fastest growing too, I wonder why?

      April 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Nathan wheeler

      Im sorry but this article is very spewed. Whenever a Muslim or Islam is criticized they quickly say we are ignorant. Very tired being told i just understand. Perhaps if they read their holy book and read up on Sharia law they might realise that what they believe is hocus pocus.

      April 13, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Monty

      Most beautiful religion? Fastest growing religion? Really, now?

      April 13, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Stephanie

      Ayala you are an idiot and ignorant. I think her scarf is beautiful and anyone should be able to wear a scarf without being thought of as a bad person. If you look at American Fashion in the 60's you will see that many a WASP woman wore a scarf similar in wrap around her head. I think it looks awesome!

      April 13, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  17. Muneef

    “If the Virgin Mary appears wearing a veil on all her pictures how can you ask me to sign on a Hijab ban law?” — Roberto Maroni, an Italian politician from Varese. ... He was Interior Minister of the Italian Republic from 1994 to 1995 and from ...

    April 12, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  18. Bill Wright

    Whites face racism too. No one has a monopoly on victimhood. And all area lessened when hate rights. We are all one race, human, and should treat all people equally.

    April 12, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  19. seyedibar

    the difference here is that primitive religions don't force people to wear hoodies, lest they be publicly stoned.

    April 11, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • joe86

      They're all primitive. Just depends which part of the "Good Book" someone decides to listen to.

      April 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  20. Jennifer

    This woman was brutally murdered for being muslim ,which is a very horrible thing to happen to any one. People don't like change in abundance like many arab woman wearing their hijabs. I think I would be scared if I lived in a country where people don't tolerate the way I dress. I would not live there.for sure. There should be a way for people to respect each others differences and that goes both ways. The Arab man that killed his daughter Noor a beautiful girl that just wanted to be an American by running over her with his car because she shamed his family. Why did he come to this country. Be tolerant of others,however,be tolerent of your own as well.

    April 11, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • S.Parsons

      THIS WOMAN WAS BEATEN BECAUSE OF HER HUSBAND, AND YOU ARE RIGHT IT IS BECAUSE SHE WAS MUSLIM AS MUSLIM EXTREMISTS DO NOT VALUE WOMEN, THAT IS THE ONLY REASON THIS CRIME WAS COMMITTED AND TOO MANY FEET WERE QUICK TO JUMP WITH JUDGEMENT AND CONDEMNTATION WITH OUT ALL THE FACTS,, ALL MEN CAN KILL, ALL MEN CAN DEVISTATE, ALL MEN ARE CAPABLE OF THESE CRIMES. IT ISN'T A QUESTION OF RELIGION OR FAITH OR CULTURE, AS WOMAN ABUSE IS PREVAILING IN ALL

      April 12, 2012 at 2:31 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.