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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. Paul

    The hoodie is a dunce hat as is any head covering that people are forced to wear by religious overlords.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • boocat

      What the hell are you talking about? I have a lovely hoodie that says THE BEATLES on it...and you're calling hoodies dunce hats? Do you know what a dunce hat is?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  2. San Diego Res

    Apparently, Ms. Sarsour has not read the papers lately – I live in San Diego where this unfortunate murder took place. The police are now leaning towards this NOT being a hate crime, but as long as there are those out there that will commit murder and place the blame elsewhere we have incidents like these. The husband and wife are in the process of divorcing and the wife was moving to TX. Also, the daughter was set to be "married" – pre-arranged (forced) and her and her boyfriend were NOT happy with the mother about this...bottom line: there is WAY more here that is NOT explained in Ms. Sarsour's article...

    April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • christina

      agreed, live in san diego and the police never said it was a hate crime, media just picked up and ran with...as usual

      April 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  3. angela

    No Hijab is not degrading women. Shorts/bikinis and walking around almost naked does the job.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • boocat

      If you got it flaunt it...if you don't forget it....it's the 21st century...wish you were here.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  4. peter martinez

    Hey Linda Sarsour get the F#@K out my country u fing moooooslem!

    April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Emperor Vadik, CA

      ohhhh the irony...

      ...people like you want YOU out of this country too Mr. Martinez, I'd be careful what you wish for...

      April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • peter martinez

      f u kunt

      April 5, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • boocat

      Martinez, huh? How do we know you aren't an illegal with that last name?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  5. Seriously

    I'm reading these comments and am just uphauled at the level of ignorance in this country. Let it be known by reading this board, that Racism is alive and well in this country.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Max in NY

      lol ignorance... as in the spelling of "appalled"

      April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • peter martinez

      why dont u join linda

      April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • angela

      I agree

      April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • No Likey

      Uphauled?? Can you explain this. Did you get a forklift and pick up this level of ignorance? Or did you pick it up yourself? Maybe you mean uhaul? I here you can rent those. Hahahahaha, learn to spell.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • hapa1688

      @ No Likey
      "I here you can rent those. Hahahahaha, learn to spell"

      Clearly you do know how to spell but perhaps YOU should learn the definition of the word you're spelling
      Here: [heer]
      adverb
      1. in this place; in this spot or locality ( opposed to there): Put the pen here.

      HEAR: [heer]
      verb (used with object)
      1. to perceive by the ear: Didn't you hear the doorbell?

      April 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • boocat

      ISLAM IS NOT A RACE.....the lack of intelligence in some of these comments is mind-boggling....

      April 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  6. CS

    Give me a freakin break people...IT IS JUST A SWEATSHIRT FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!

    April 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Real Truth

      Except when wore by a criminal its a disguise.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  7. KrisM

    CNN, should we expect a similar article from an Indian who wears a TURBAN?

    "My Turban is my hoodie"

    April 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  8. doda

    You desrve to be looked upon that way, a taste of what the Christian go through in their own country in the middle east, it is good and OK when you people are doing it to the Christian but you cry foul here when it is done to you. Hypocrit...

    April 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • timothy

      so, by your rudimentary thinking..... we should emulate undemocratic countries?

      April 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • prairieghost

      Um, they left their country and became Americans... They're not the ones oppressing or committing acts of violence against Christians. It's only hypocrisy if the INDIVIDUAL does something contrary to what they claim is right. If you're going to hold an entire race, religion, nationality, culture, or other group of people accountable for the acts of SOME of its members, then the entire human race is guilty of hypocrisy.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • boocat

      Hey Timothy...though I don't agree with doda.....YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  9. Real

    She should cover her face too. How do you say 'fugly' in Arabic?

    April 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  10. She is just SOOOOOOOOOO persecuted.

    What sleazy tactics. Hijack Trayvon headlines for your own agenda.

    You didn't win any allies today, Linda.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  11. Cyn

    Here is an update to the case of Shaima Alawadi . This might not of been a hate crime, but caused by a family member/spouse.
    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/04/records-hint-iraqi-womans-death-not-a-hate-crime/

    April 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Real Truth

      Surprise surprise....notice how CNN doesnt report this... Its not something they can hype... Trayvons shooting wasnt racial either, just a violent punk who got killed by being a thug.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  12. Seriously

    Long live the french!

    April 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  13. Please spare me the B.S.

    Why kind of drugs is this Muslim on?

    April 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • boocat

      Don't know and don't care to imbibe any either.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  14. Real Truth

    The way Trayvon attacked Zimmerman is why the punk is dead, good riddance to bad news. This california woman was killed by her family guaranteed. it was not racially motivated except by her racist family tryin to pin their murder on "made up racists" with their BS note.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  15. Bhicks

    Put it back in the deck.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  16. agent001

    A Christian Nun wearing her "hoodie" or the head cover is revered, which is also dictated by religion. Why the double standard against the Muslims wearing their hijab.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • seyedibar

      no double standard, just one standard: wearing things on your head because an invisible being told you to do can make you the object of ridicule and derision.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • clamp

      First, most of the nuns nowadays do not wear scarfs, second, it is a miniscule number and at any time they can decide not to, scarfs in Muslim women is a cultural mandate, not an option. Now, why men do not wear scarfs, by the way?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  17. Mony

    I live in this area, according to recent reports she was most likly killed by her daughter or husband who set this up to
    look like a hate crime.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  18. Patrick

    Sharia law ring a bell. The laws of the United Sates are far from perfect and there are hundreds of idiots out there that can not be controlled. Maybe a womans rights are better in an Arab Country. NOT. Why is it we have not heard about a fifty year old white old man is on life support after a near fatal beating. Police have arrested two black teens. The attack occurred near the community where the Trayvon Martin self-defense shooting took place. Is it because it was a white person beaten by two misguided black teens who, under the distress of racial profiling and prejudice, decided to take their anger out on a defenseless, innocent white man??

    April 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Please spare me the B.S.

      AMEN!

      April 5, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • sam

      You're not buying into the black bullshlt, according to which there are no innocent whites.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Kevin

    These types of killings of innocent Muslims are tragic, but extremely rare. And inarguably less frequent than the tragic killing of innocent non-Muslims by Muslims.

    So please lady, let's not play this "we innocent Muslims have fared worse than others". Nope, not even close.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Real Truth

      Her family killed her, Muslims kill their woman..unfortunate fact

      April 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Shaz

      I have to agree. To go down this road then, we need to also discuss white Christians being beheaded overseas at the hands of Muslims. Let the blacks have their say this issue without making it a Muslim thing.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • timothy

      kevin is obviously one of the racist red-necks...

      April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  20. The Flamingo Kid

    The hijab should be outlawed. It is degrading to women.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • John

      Anyone else ever notice that the people claiming hijabs and other assorted things from other cultures are degrading to women..... also happen to be supporters of telling women whether they're allowed to use birth control (Christians in general), and sometimes members of churches that explicitly disallow females in leadership positions (Catholic)?

      You may or may not be right – but the glass house you're in is definitely not one in which you should be casting stones.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      Women having to have monthly periods and having to bear child birth should be outlawed. It is degrading to women.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:16 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.