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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. Kevin

    Shaima Alawadi was either killed by her daughter, her husband or both. her daughter didn't like her and she was divorcing her husband (who is safely in Iraq at the moment). i don't buy the hate crime crap unless it's obvious. Calling someone a name is not a hate crime, it's rude. Tying them behind a car and dragging them to their death because of their color is a hate crime. attacking a 70 year old white man and leaving him in a coma is a HATE crime. Lady, you are the problem.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "... attacking a 70 year old white man and leaving him in a coma is a HATE crime."
      Hate against age? race? I'm not following this one.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  2. Chris

    You are who, with what authority?

    I'm so sick of this story and I'm even sicker of seeing hijab or whatever you want to call them. Patience is gone for muslims. As far as most are concerned we are done with the BS.

    All of you, go back to your own country and kill each other.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  3. Nonimus

    I think the point Ms. Sarsour is trying to make is somewhat valid, in that Muslims are facing more and more violence and prejudice. And, somewhat similar to Trayvon's case, anti Muslim crime can be overlooked and/or minimized by the public and the media. However, I don't think she presents her case well or fairly.

    First, she paints all America with the same broad brush she claims Muslims are abused with, e.g. "Bigotry against Muslims is quite acceptable," and "In America, terrorism has become synonymous with Arabs and Muslims."

    Second, she is claiming similarities between the cases of Trayvon and Shaima when neither case is settled and Shaima's case seems even more indeterminate than Trayvon's, e.g. http://abcnews.go.com/US/iraqi-hate-crime-murder-probe-raises-questions-daughter/story?id=16079093#.T33c3GEgeWg. Perhaps she should "tread... carefully" as "Major Muslim organizations and activists" have been warning, at least until more facts are in.

    In addition, Ms. Sarsour mentions the 2010 FBI report, but she herself overlooks the fact that the majority of bias related crimes are racially motivated (47% of "single bias incidents") and of those 33% were "Anti-Black". Religious motivated incidents (20% of "single bias incidents") only narrowly beat out se.xual-orientation bias incidents (19%). And, of the Religious bias incidents, the majority, 65%, were "Anti-Jewish", followed distantly by "Anti-Muslim," 13%.

    By numbers, there were 2,201 "Anti-Black" "single bias incidents" in 2010 compared with 160 "Anti-Islamic". (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/hate-crime/2010/tables/table-1-incidents-offenses-victims-and-known-offenders-by-bias-motivation-2010.xls)

    Just for perspective's sake, there were 739 "Anti-Male Hom.ose.xual" incidents, 575 "Anti-White", 160 "Anti-Asian/Pacific Islander", 534 "Anti-Hispanic", and 5 "Anti-Atheism/Agnosticism/etc." (Even in crime Atheists get no respect.)

    April 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Nonimus

      To be fair, the African-American population in the U.S. was around 38.7 million in 2010 and the Muslims population, as far as I can tell, was around 4.5 million.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  4. yaarrabba

    Your hijab is your hooide which is stuck on your head for eternity. You're intentionally or unintentionally missing the crux. It's not about hoodie or hijabit about freedom to wear or not wear hoodie. LOL

    April 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  5. Wake up

    No lady, the jihab is not a hoodie. It is a symbol of islam's oppression of women.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      or the liberation of women (from male se xual deprivation), depending on your point of view.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  6. Peace

    1 Corinthians 11:4-10
    Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.
    And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved.
    If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.
    A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
    For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;
    neither was man created for woman
    For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • terry moore

      Ahhh...another bewildered religious person... citing Corinthians to make a point.... If informed arguments have to rely upon the scriptures, then we are doomed, all of us... So please, refrain from mixing christianity and sociology... and that goes for the Muslim lady as well.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • seyedibar

      Anyone who takes their fashion cues from old folktales is asking to be ridiculed.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  7. Really?

    Lady, go and have a seat. Trayvon didn't have a choice BUT to be born black. His killer is still at large. Your comparison makes no sense. Please stop trying to make this into something it isn't, and STFU.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Kevin

      You base this on what facts? The grand jury meets on the 10th. Then when they decide he should face charges he will. They may see it differently as we don't have all the facts.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  8. Tipus

    Hijab is a sign of oppression and shouldn't have any place in a civilized society. No matter how many slaves are going to advocate slavery it won't make slavery morally right.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • B(iraq) Hussein Osama

      Civilized Society? You mean the one that manufactures and ships BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars in Weapons of Mass Destruction to brutal foreign "non-civilized" countries every year? You consider yourself civilized?

      You need to go to Walmart and go to aisle 13 and buy this tool, its called a takeyourheadoutofyouran us socket. Once you ve bought this tool and used it, perhaps you will be able to tell what is civilized and what is not.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • Wasiu

      Actually you are wrong...My wife started wearing the Hijab even before I met her and her dad is not even a practicing Muslim so i don't see any oppression there.Its her choice and isn't that what America is all about? Women deciding they want want to dress in a certain manner just because they feel like and as long as it doesn't infringe on other people's rights!!
      I'll tell you this, in islam, there's this belief that a woman's hair is part of her nakedness and women are advised to cover it....it is however not compulsory and sisters can choose if they want to or not.That's just the simple thing behind it.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  9. Reema

    As an american muslim in the United States, I see exactly where she is coming from. I have witnesses discrimination and profiling first hand. The changes in the world must start at home.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      @ Reema,,,, You wrote,,, "The changes in the world must start at home."

      Changing the world, one home at atime seems to be but a way of keeping apart the socialists' movements. United to stand while in diviisions we fail.,,,,,,,, 😦

      April 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • johnv

      Really???? I guess if your kinds don't drive themselves into buildings and blow themselves up maybe we wouldnt be hating Moose-slime. Religion of peace my ar se

      April 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  10. crazy

    Sure ! Thats what even terrorists say .. My gun is my hoodie.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  11. bspurloc

    that doesnt even make sense.....
    bigots dont look at women with Hijab as a threat they look at a women with a hijab as a women being controlled by their terrorist husband.....

    April 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  12. ctbeckyw

    Seriously? The hijab is religious wear to cover the hair. A hoodie, in Trayon's case, was thug wear or weather protection. Comparing Linda to Trayvon is comparing apples to orange. Missed by a mile on this one CNN !

    April 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  13. ronmexico99

    n 2008, 105 hate crime "incidents" against Muslims were reported nationwide. There were 10 times more incidents recorded as anti-Jewish during the same year, the most recent for which figures are available, FBI records show. Reported anti-Muslim crimes have declined over recent years, though they still exceed what occurred prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In all there were over 7000 hates crimes that year. 105 of over 7000??? Wow you're stretching it. By the way, about the so-called "hate-crime", ABC News reports police investigating the murder of an Iraqi mother in southern California, initially thought to be a hate crime, have filed papers with a court that suggest the mother had a diffcult relationship with her daughter and her husband, also saying it was an isolated incident, or in police-speak, the victim knew her attackers. Way more Non-Muslim American citizens died on American soil at the hands of Muslims than Muslims dying at the hands of Non-Muslims. A father in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada killed his teenage daughter for allegedly refusing to wear the scarf. Halfway across the world, fifteen students at an all-female school in Saudi Arabia burned to death in a fire after the country's religious police did not let them leave the building because their heads were uncovered. You Hijab apologists, imply that to veil or not to veil is always a free decision on the part of the woman in question. Millions upon millions, maybe billions of women do not and many have died trying to change that. The continuous defence by people like Linda Sarsour by attacking those who dare to question Islam and challenge the atrocities committed in the name of Islam are the reason western societies view Islam with an uncertain, cautious eye.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Kevin

      Our definition of hate-crimes has broadened considerably so your numbers are probably way way smaller to the point that being muslim in america is a pretty safe bet.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  14. Pipe-Dreamer

    People of today's timeline have issues with emblematic socialisms. Many social enclaves tend to need an emblem of some sort in order to be accepted by their peers. Socialists who need emblematic issues to be accepted by their peers have nothing but falsehooded rationalisms.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  15. Johnny America

    There is a difference between hate and realism. If this woman saw a group of white men dressed like red necks sitting in a truck out side her house, maybe they are roofers or construction workers, she would call the police. Also, in the case she was referring to the prime suspect is the victims husband who has fled the country. Ignorance passed off as intelligence in the name of "civil rights" is just as dangerous as anything else. It leads to more hostility because any intelligent person can see through the BS.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Just what the world needs

      Leave this country. Your ignorance is pathetic, and your arrogance is pitiful at best.
      By the way, when you're trying to make a sound argument, try not to blanket it with assumptions and fallacious generalizations.

      You DO know what a fallacy is, right?

      April 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  16. Jason S

    It's Back!

    April 5, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  17. foreigner

    every minority in america has the same problem with the white,christian majority.but,minorities have no leaders that would organize and coordinate resistance to lawlessness of the whites.many black guys enlist and go murder muslims for a lousy bonus and a few benefits,serving those same bullying whites.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Tom

      Not true.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • foreigner

      yes,it is.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  18. Judi

    I agree with all the comments. Why is the Hijab necessary to wear? Place a scarf over the head and that will work also and not so obvious in a world that most likely not change for the better. Just sayin

    April 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • OJ

      I am not sure how the Hijab is different. If you want to sell Saudi to stop imposing rules on women, then you should start at home. Stop imposing your views on women.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  19. cheryl

    It's very sad... Trayvon didn't hav a chance... He was interrupted by Zimmerman @ 7:16pm. @ 7:16pm first 911 caller... it's clear that Trayvon is screaming for his life... in that same call you hear a shot then the screaming stops! All during the 7:16pm minute Trayvon was approached, attacked, and killed all in one "MINUTE" 7:16p.m. The Police arrives at 7:17p.m. I'd like to figure how did Trayvon run after Zimmerman attack him at his car and then end up 70 yards from his home?????? I believe the minute Trayvon laid eyes upon Zimmerman... He was in the fight for his life all in One Minute... 7:16pm.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Please spare me the B.S.

      WOW. You have all of the facts...or rather what you read or see in the news. YOU dont have a clue...or he would already be in jail.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Joe

      If I'm gonna believe that one I'm gonna say my own theory. MAGIC. It's just as plausable.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Moktor

      I'll tell ya right now that it didn't happen in one minute, and sure as heck the cops didn't arrive in one minute. Stop thinking with your heart and start using your head. It is apparent that things are not nearly as clear as the media led us to believe at the beginning.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  20. WRONG MUSLIM!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Hillarious Story!!!!!! This Muslim most likely got killed by her Muslim husband who then ran to Iraq where killing your Muslim wife is acceptable... Now this muslim LINDA – is comparing this woman to Trayvon!!!!! Its hillarious – I cant believe CNN takes this stories and idiots as writers... LINDA you just knocked CNN down a few notches in my book....

    April 5, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • OJ

      It is possible. Evile is among us all. There is a good chance someone killed her for money or other motives and using the hate crime. The investigators will find that. They are trained to do that. The problem is with you. You like to take a single incident and paint all muslims the same or use anything to promote hate speech. I am very sure if this was face to face discussion you would be less relcutant to say that. Not because you are afraind, but because deep down you know you have a rcist agenda and its notright. Coward!

      April 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Mojojuju

      See that right there? Yeah, you, original poster?
      You're part of the problem.
      A bigot to your core, and proud.
      To most people, you're a sickening example of what we don't want in our society.

      Are you wrong about women's rights being a problem in the Middle East? No. You're right. Where you're wrong is in assuming that every Muslim-American shares the same views. After all–many of them are here because they chose not to live in those more restrictive societies.

      This is no different than if I said, "I bet she was killed by a black man. Everyone knows that black men have high violence rates. They kill each other all the time!"

      The logical fallacies you've woven around your hatred and ignorance crumble with the slightest breath of air, leaving one conclusion.

      You're a bigot.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Pwnd

      @mojojuju – you're part of the problem as well. The OP is an ignorant idiot; but sadly, you don't know what 'bigot' actually means, you just like slinging the word around because you think it makes you look righteous. Not every ignorant fool is a bigot. Get a dictionary.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Junior

      Mojojuju you too are the problem. To you he is a bigot. Others may not feel so. Who are you to judge and ridicule him for being opinionated and having beliefs? Though somewhat uncouth in his delivery, the fact is that it is of Arabic tradition to kill wife’s and daughters when they have disgraced their families. We hear of stores like that and can’t comprehend how any society does or ever condoned acts like that.

      Just because you disagree with his believes doesn’t make it wrong. Is it widely acceptable? No. Does our society really need it? no. But he has every right to feel as he does and to be proud just as every Arab and Black has the right to do and say what they want and to be proud.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:53 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.