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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. Captain Morgan

    I want to hijab someone in the face

    April 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • getreal

      The story about Shaima is a total joke. Her family couldn't even muster a fake tear when telling their BS story. I would make a million dollar bet a family member (HUSBAND) killed that woman and racism was a great scapegoat. The whole thing stinks reeks of sharia justice...

      April 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  2. The Bible is a book of badly written fairy tales

    Nice try with the analogy, but hoodies aren't worn because of an obligation to religious idiocy.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  3. johnv

    A Jihah looks totally ridiculous on your head. People look at you funny when you wrap your heads. Don't you realize how funny you look to people?

    April 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Wasiu

      Putting permanent ink on your body also looks silly...what's your point??

      May 12, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  4. David

    This woman is 100% right. There is no excuse for either killing.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  5. Jack

    What a crappy view point... Where the HELL ARE THE EDITORS FOR THIS trash????

    BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR FUTURE ARTICLE ON CNN –

    (1) I am an Indian.. My turban or Chicken Tikka is my Hoodie

    (2) I am chinese... My General's Tso chicken is my hoodie

    (3) I am Korean... My dry cleaning business is my hoodie

    What total, utter nonsense.... This hoodie crap is taking away from the focus... A 15 year old boy was murdered, after the cops told this idiot Zimmerman to Stand down... He should be charged – period....some moron walks into Congress wearing a hoodie... That other idiot Jessie Jackson is telling people to wear a hoodie... Such utter crap!!! lets fight for this boy's rights instead of giving airtime to these self serving pigs!!!!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Mighty Wisdom

      Wow. You summed that up quite well.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  6. Juil

    Stern...it is looking more like a honor killing. Just go to San Diego New 10 and read the aritical. The father found out his wife wanted a divorce and he was going to make is 17 year old daughter marry her cousin. And by the way, why don't you just Google ...Islam religjon of peace and see just how many things like this happen around the world. Women killed each and every day for this religion. This site keeps reports from around the world. Girls as young as 5 being sold for marriage.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  7. Fred

    I have to agree with Tdiddy, although I would not phrase it so bluntly as he/she did but in our part of the world, you are NOT WELCOMED to wear the hijab.
    When we are within your borders and on your soil where it is law to conform to your belief and ethics then I will comply without any hesitation, however, when you arrive in North America do not scream human rights in an attempt to make us once again comply to your beliefs. You come to North America or Europe knowing our social way of life then either you intergrate into our society of get the hell out and remain on your soil

    April 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Linda

      Fred that was really hateful. I am an American Muslim, born in America. I cannot leave as you would have said. This is my country. I don't wish to push my religion on you or anyone else. Why can't I practice my religion peacefully so long as I don't hurt anyone else just as any other religion? I wear my scarf/hijab and don't bother anyone in my town. I don't get any problems from anyone here. I like my neighbors and they like me. I look or for the neighbor kids and they like me too. What is wrong with live and let live? I have Christian and Jewish friends. I don't hate anybody. This is what America should be. By the way Fred I am also a 20 year Veteran who fought for this freedom. What have you done for your country?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • disgustedNY

      Because Linda, by wearing religious clothes you are "forcing" them to recognize you religiously. It has nothing to do about hate, it's about you forcing your religion down their throats. Muslims the ultimate narcissists.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  8. barbara

    Hey Linda... how about all the Christians who are killed in Muslims countries? You even get caught with a Bible and you're killed... you have some nerve.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Wasiu

      Hey Barbara...
      There's no such thing as a "muslim country"...I'm a muslim from with ties to Nigeria which no one calls a "Muslim Country" but still there are about 70 million muslims that live there.
      Back to your point, it is true that a lot of wrong goes on in some countries that have a majority muslim population but isn't that the reason for the Arab spring which we all applauded last year??
      The fact is that leaders such as Ghadaffi and Mubarak actually engaged in a lot of activities that are clearly 'unislamic" but because they are the leaders of these countries people seem to think that their actions are the norm but actually they are not.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  9. best use for a hijab?

    Target

    April 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • The Bible is a book of badly written fairy tales

      Whoa big fella, that's a little over the line. No need to promote violence against people who wear religious clothing,

      April 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  10. kanahele

    Hijab or no Hijab, it's the weare'rs prerogative, whatever the reason may be. Killing a human for whatever reason is a crime!

    Some of my Indonesian friends, who are Muslim, found that wearing the hijab in Indonesia has many advantages, They get respect from the men of all ages around them, no more cat calls and unwanted teases/touches. It is safer to wear a hijab than not. The thought of wearinig a hijab when I traverse the most crowded and "unsafe" area have not crossed my mind. Whatever it takes to be safe. It is an irony that here in the USA it is the reverse.

    I applaud those Muslim women in the USA who continue wearing the hijab knowing the adverse risks.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • foreigner

      what can you expect from americans,who are so indoctrinated,from pledge of allegience to media?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  11. Bob

    Hoodies are worn by criminals, that's why criminals are referred to as hoods. This is NOT new, claiming your religious garb is a hoodie is foolish.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • best use for a hijab?

      Muslim is a criminal awaiting opportunity

      April 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Hercules

      Criminals are referred to as "hoods" because it's short for hoodlum and was in use long before the hoodie ever became a fashion statement.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Wrong

      You are wrong. Hood comes from "hoodlum" Which is from the 1800's, and refers to a thug or a gangster. I'm assuming the etymology is closer related to a shortening of the word "neighborHOOD" then anything related to what criminals wear.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Wrong

      You are wrong. Hood comes from "hoodlum" Which is from the 1800's and refers to a thug or a gangster. I'm assuming the etymology is closer related to a shortening of the word "neighborHOOD" then anything related to what criminals wear.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  13. david

    why would a women stand for islam? there is a book on how to beat your muslim wife with out leaving marks and we know how they have no rights in muslim counties and then she ..yah i love it when i have no rights! remember mohammed was a pedophile who married a 9 year girl. the book of sura commands jihad against Jews and CHristians. Yet I see the real God blessing Jews and Christians, look at the vast wealth of North America .

    the terrorists tried a few weeks ago to send 100 missiles from gaza strip into peaceful neighborhoods in israel and none of their missiles hurt anyone...did God help the islam terrorists or the Jews there? .....He helped the Jewish side! they do not see that God could stop blessing the Jews and Christians but He continues to bless them. they are blinded by deception , the terrorists hate people and murder using a false religion as their reason.

    bottom line ; mo was a pedophile. the quaran incites hate and violence and we see this in acts of terror. why would anyone want to follow that ? answer; there is a devil

    April 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • foreigner

      the vast wealth of america has been obtained by the vast murdering.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Linda

      David you talk about your God, Their God, His God...there is only one God and it is the same God for the Jews, Muslims, and Christians...don't you know this?

      April 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  14. Please spare me the B.S.

    Let's ship all of there asses outta here!
    Most stink and are rude...like we owe them something...

    April 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  15. Jan

    160 hate crimes in a population of 312.78 million. That is one in one-million-nine-hundred-fiftyfour-thousand-eight-hundred-eighty-one (almost 2 million). Not too significant as a statistic considering how many died on the highways.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  16. caesarbc

    Why are these people always bringing race into it? They are so racist.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  17. Truth

    I'm assuming this woman will now write an article condemning honor kiIIings since that's what appears to actually have happened??? Me thinks not, what hypocrisy. Her true colors are showing.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Linda

      Honor killings are wrong. Killing any innocent person is wrong. I am Muslim and would never kill an innocent person. I would have a very hard time killing even a killer. I don't believe in killing anyone. All Muslims are not hateful terrible people the media like to make them out to be. Islam is not about killing people, its is about worshiping God and doing what God tells you to do, which is pray, fast, give charity, be good to your neighbors, help orphans and women. This is not a violent religion. People are violent, not the religion.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  18. Andy

    No, you are not Trayvon Martin ... you are someone trying to push your article and agenda during a time in which Americans are attempting to come to terms with actual problems of racism in America. Implying that a random note left next to the body of a murder victim is cause to indict all 'Americans' as full of bigotry and racism is a sad attempt at promoting your cause during a tough period in American race relations. Your scarf and sunglasses give you NO moral authority, here or abroad – I'd suggest doing some soul searching as to why you feel stereotypes and hate are somehow justified in response to recent news.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Wake Up

      @Andy: Apparently you have not been living in reality. Yes racism against black Americans is still a relavent concern and something Americans must come to terms with, but it is not the only form of ignorant hatred running rampant in our society that needs to be addressed. Sarsour makes an excellent point that because of the sensitivity around 911 very few are speaking out about how the fear of people of Arab decent or even those who look "Middle Eastern" is turning into violent hate crimes. Some feel justified to take their anger about the terrorist attacks out on inncoent, peaceful, law abiding citizens and justify it because they are Muslims.

      Why do you think those racist morons think it is so offensive to call Obama a Muslim and the Republicans shy away from correcting them? Because they know the Ignorant fear and Racism is helping them win with the uneducated bigots.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  19. Stone

    Hey Linda,
    Apparently there is something else the Alawadi case has in common with the Martin case; that is a rush to judgement by media idiots like you, since it is becoming apparent that Alawadi was probably killed by her daughter and husband!

    Nice try you idiot (and no, calling you an "idiot" does not make me an "islamophobe".

    April 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Ameur Z

      you are the idiot that let your wife cheat on you and your daughter having fun with 100 boys before even 18 years old we saw all shows showing kind of your daughters 16 years old pregnant ... go check yourself and family before you comment to other people.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Linda

      What ever comes out of this case she is trying to make the point that the violence in America should stop. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Black, White whatever...we need to start getting along with each other. We need to love each other and take care of each other like neighbors should. God said for us to love each other, not kill each other. This is this way in all three religions...We all must stop this mess. This is not a healthy way to raise our children. We will distroy this world if it doesn't stop. More understanding of each other would be better. Don't tell me I cannot live in my own country because I wear a scarf on my head. This is my country.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  20. w camp

    What a bunch of crap this column is!! Given all the facts about the Trayvon case, the facts are the hoodie is a fabricated excuse. Zimmerman never called 911 and said he was concerned about the race or hoodie. NBC edited a 911 to make it sound that way. They were busted and exposed on this a week ago. Zimmerman answered questions asked by the 911 operator. That is 100% fact and old news. Her reason for writing this is more exploitation of Trayvon for her agenda. Trayvon and Zimmerman both need justice. Exploiting this for every odd special agenda is getting ridiculous. Did the writer not do her research or does she only watch Nancy Grace?

    April 5, 2012 at 3:40 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.