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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. sean

    "Bigotry against Muslims is quite acceptable" – I wonder why that would be? Could it be that when Arab-Americans were attacked on 9/11 with the rest America not one of their muslom leaders stood up to condemn the attacks?

    April 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • foreigner

      why would they?you are occupying palestine and do your leaders condemn it?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • sean

      there is no Christian army in palestine. When the CAtholics were blowing everything up in Ireland all the western leaders did condem the IRA's terrorists acts. So did many other community leaders. Yet to this day, have any middle eastern clerics said a word against their terrorists.?

      April 5, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • sean

      and let us not forget that in 1958 Palestine was offered a state that would have been protected by the United Nations. Palestines answer was "no" becasue they thought they could drive the European and American Jews into the Mediterranean.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  2. MrId

    I miss the times when women were burning their bras. Now they are wrapping themselves up because their men told them to. So much for Women's Lib.....

    April 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  3. Felsen Stark

    It appears now this was a Muslim on Muslim honor killing. There is no connection in reality.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Mark

      where do you get this assertion from, or just propaganda buzz?

      April 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  4. shut_up

    what is a HI JAB is that soemthing you do in MMA. i would prefer to lojab someone you stupid creep. hoodie, woodie shouldie. why dont you take on your own country and ask them why women have to wear that silly thing. why dont you ask why men dont wear it? you are an american, or your not, burn that silly scarf and join us. spend time laboring instead of dividing you maggot

    April 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • steve

      if you do not like america, please go back to where we came from, please leave us free in the US, we do want to see women wearing hijab in America. I feel they all need to go to Saudi Arabia, they should be thrown out of this country the way France did it few months ago, American liberals need to wake up from this, and get this crap out of this country, it is becoming an Islamic nation with all the hijabs and the muslims in this country, who live on dole and food stamp.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  5. MrId

    Yeah but people in hoodies don't blow themselves up in crowded markets and airports......

    April 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Unabomber?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • emma

      Unabomber never blew himself up.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  6. WILLstradamus

    I agree. We need to ban together to stop injustice. Simply put.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Central Park West

      Well said. Justice for all. Respect for all. Liberty for all.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  7. Mark

    Few days ago CNN put an image with an arrow indicating Mecca, next to that image CNN placed an image of a slave women, it appears as if the they suggest to the readers that slavery is the direction to Mecca or vis-versa.

    Today, they put the black kid in a clear image, next to the moslum women in a SHADED IMAGE. I wonder why they express their hate and reject to moslum in such implicit and expilicit fashion.

    I ask CNN to avoid silent rejection of moslum, or become FOX2

    April 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  8. portland tony

    A woman wearing a hijab doesn't phase me in the least. A man or boy wearing a hoodie bothers me when worn in good weather at midnight. How many of us would be bothered when boarding a commercial flight if all the passengers were wearing hoodies or a Hijab?

    April 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • boocat

      I'll take a plane full of hoodies over a plane full of hijabs, burkas...whatever they are.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  9. Maggieb

    Linda, ALL bigotry is unacceptable; not just anti-Muslim or anti-black bigotry. But, once we've agreed on this point, what next? The reality is that bigotry exists, and while society can deem it undesirable, just what do you expect can be done about it on a societal level? We pass laws, but those laws can only affect a person's outward behavior; they cannot reach into someone's heart and mind and change them.

    A better reaction is to strengthen individuals to withstand the bigotry they will inevitably face at some point in life. There is race bigotry, class bigotry, ethnic bigotry, economic bigotry, etc. Teach people to be strong and honest, and you will have accomplished far more than all the laws passed since the beginning of time. And, while you're at it, remember that what you wear sends a signal of how you think. This doesn't just apply to a hijab or a hoodie; we were all told, growing up, that how you dress, is how you will be viewed. Dress like a slob; don't be surprised to be treated like one. Dress with care; be treated with more respect. This is ancient wisdom. Like it or not, clothing sends messages. Do not complain, then, when someone "reads" the message you're sending. Wearing the hijab is a clear message that you place great importance on being a conservative Muslim. This is neither good nor bad. But while you can control this message, you cannot control the reaction to it. With luck, you may only encounter people who are not bigoted towards Muslims. But I wouldn't hold out hope.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  10. mikemmm

    Since when did we become a nation of whiners. All these people do not want to assimilate to our culture. Until they do their whining will fall on deaf ears and rightfully so.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Cyrus

      American culture doesn't dictate fashion, idiot. The founding fathers didn't wear jeans and t-shirts. Get a life.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  11. nancy

    The killing of the Muslim woman you are referring to was not a hate crime. Evidence suggests the killing was done by either her daughter or her husband. This woman was seeking divorce and her daughter hated her. You may want to do a little more research before you call either this killing or that of the Martin case which may yet be the result of self defense. Zimmerman has yet to be arrested. Also, Sharia law has no place in the US. If you choose to live here, you obey the rules of the US. If you want to live strictly by Sharia Law – go back to a country that rules that way and enjoy living your backward life.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • emma

      Yep, you go girl...all the way back to the 12th century.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • purplefinger

      Nancy, you just said go back to your country.. that is exactly what was written on the note left beside that poor lady in El Cajon. Maybe this is not a hate crime, but as long as we have people with you mentality, we will still have hate against Muslims, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, Jews, Gays, and any one who doesn't look like you.

      I don't get it.. Why would you and like-minded islamophobes be afraid of 2% of the population supposedly trying to impose sharia law on all Americans. IT just doesn't make sense. This fear mongering is stupid and harmful to our nation.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
  12. They're the coolest

    I like turtles. Wombats are my favorite though!!!!!!

    Btw this woman is not too smart, looks like she didn't research before posting her opinions.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  13. Mark

    Few days ago CNN put an image with an arrow indicating Mecca, then on to of that a story CNN place an image of a slave women, it appears as if the they suggest to the ready that slavery is the direction to Mecca or vis-versa. Today, they put the black kid in a clear image, next to the moslum women in a shaded image. I wonder why they express their hate and reject to moslum in such implicit and expilicit fashion. I know there are islamophone and wont respond to their hate.
    I ask CNN to avoid silent islamophobia, or become FOX2

    April 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  14. foreigner

    for years i was arguing with white americans,trying to make them admit what they never will-that they are bad guys,bullies,garbage.it makes the same sense as arguing with aligators.so,i just stay away.and from time time when someone by phone asks for financial support,i explain why i don't want to help.you can be garbage,but i will not help you.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • peter martinez

      F U KUNT go sell your food stams for crack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • sam

      If I find you an alligator, will you argue with it?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • peter martinez

      F U KUNT go sell your food stams for crack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

      April 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • peter martinez

      F U KUNT go sell your food stams for crack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

      hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

      April 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • ....

      "F U KUNT go sell your food stams for crack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

      hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"

      I think you missed this lesson in grade school. Emotional maturity is defined as: the ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.

      You should seek professional help for your low self esteem issues.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • sam

      Peter...isn't it spring break in your school district? Won't they let you outside to play?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • foreigner

      peter martinez gives life to my comment.thank you peter.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Brian

      If I was you i would invest in an English grammar course first. Before you try to engage in a verbal debate at least be able to clearly communicate in the native language. Your English is reprehensible at best.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • MrId

      I met her on a Sunday and my heart stood still. A do run run run a do run run........

      April 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • nancy

      So you call White Americans garbage and you refuse to offer financial support to White Americans? How racist are you??

      April 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  15. SAM FROST

    So you people think of the hijab as a sign of oppression. You're an ignorant Idiot! Who decided that you can make a call? You have the right to believe in your religion just as much as Muslims, Jews, Hindu's, and so on do. You listen to stupid talking point of your racist politicians without taking the time find the information for yourself. Racism is at an all-time high and you racist idiots promote it. She has absolute point here, woman died because she was a Muslim. Trayvon died because he was black. You idiots say that Trayvon was born black and didn't have a choice, but you weren't born a racist yet you choose to discriminate and accept violence against minorities. Grow up! Just going down this list of comments on almost every article here on CNN, you hide behind your computer and talk stupid. STUPID! You have no intelligence to have a educated conversation with anyone outside of Idiotville, AL. This should make you mad....A Spanish Speaking, Black, Muslim Woman from China will always be better than you and your president is a black man with a Muslim name. LOL! Live with that for the next 4 years... Always! This message is only for the racist Idiots in our world. Peace, Love and Respect!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Alpa Chino

      What do you mean, 'you people'?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Graced

      How ironic if her husband killed her that she died because she was a Muslim. I'll bet you never see the irony though.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Brian

      Another one – please utilize proper grammar before trying to denigrate anyone. Your post was constructed at a 4th grade level at best.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  16. tbreeden

    Thank you, Linda. Sadly, there are many, many comments here that prove your point.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • peter martinez

      F U KUNT!!!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • peter martinez

      Go sell your food stamps for crack

      April 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • sam

      Peter's vocab seems to be caught in a loop.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Please spare me the B.S.

      Maybe...but his words speak the truth!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  17. Sumo

    Sorry, but your hijab isn't a hoodie; it's a sign of female submission and oppression. You owe your gender an apology for having ever been so subservient as to put one on in the first place.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      Could not have said it any better.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • 1234

      whats the difference between the way a nun dresses and the way a muslim woman dresses? why is it that muslim woman are said to be opressed and the nuns arent? you make no sense at all, its all about being modest !!!! people are so ignorant it makes no sense at, how about you research about islam or any religion instead of going by everything spread and said in the media!!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • emma

      Well siad.
      Trayvon Martin is African-American and so his people contiruted and helped build the US; Muslims didn't and yet they want to come to the west and simply transplant their cultural practices and be regraded as American. They aren't. If you want acceptance, then accept that you have come to another part of the world where hiding the fact that you are female is regarded as opressive and backward.
      Yes statistically, a woman killed in her own home is far more likely a victim of domestic violence than a racially/culturally motivated attack. The entire set-up is supect.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • emma

      1234: nuns are not required to wear habits, nor are they killed or stoned for not wearing it. It is not the same. No woman is born a nun; yet many young women are born muslims and are given no choice. That is the difference.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Zebula

      Bravo, Sumo! This article is a joke and embarassing.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  18. MorefromMO

    Take the Hijab, Birqa and "HOLY" Quoran and insert rectally. Then flush!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • peter martinez

      Yes! You are correct sir!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  19. Graced

    "...Given mosque vandalism..." Try having been an African American churchgoer, and having had your children blown to bits. Makes your "mosque vandalism" seem trivial, eh? Oh, and btw...black churches are still dogged by vandalism. Heck, synagogues are routinely vandalized. Gosh.

    "...and opposition..." what, opposition that a mosque – traditionally built on the ashes of a conquered site – would be built at Ground Zero? You don't say!

    "...proposed anti-Sharia laws..." the fact that you are a proponent of Sharia being practiced in the U.S. shows that you are not content to live in the U.S. as it is, with democracy and its own judicial system. You want Islamic law. Need I say more?

    "...and congressional hearings on American Islam..." See my comment on your pro-Sharia take above.

    "...the rash of anti-Muslim hate crimes is not so surprising." The woman who was cruelly slaughtered that you 'see' so much of yourself in? Looks more and more like an 'inside job' and not us crazy white bigots.

    Next.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • nancy

      well said.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  20. joesy wales

    Writer probably should've read the news before posting this seeing as how evidence has come to light that points to this being an honor killing instead of a hate crime. So sorry but no, this woman's death relates in no way to Trayvon's story.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I disagree; this article has a lot in common with the Trayvon Martin case. Its relying on an emotional stance dictated by rending judgment before hearing the facts. And an assumed series of events based on race.. because they are not white surely they are the victim.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:14 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.