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. San Diegan

    Linda Sarsour, instead of pushing an agenda, let the legal system work. It's horrable that this young mother lost her life, but a rush to judgment outside of the courtroom is also wrong. Please do a little research next time:


    April 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Emperor Vadik, CA

      Hey jacka$$, it is activists like Linda that have brought this country out of slavery, segregation and other "acceptable" things at those times...

      ...not courts or justice systems...

      ...courts and justice system only react after activists like Linda get involved...

      April 5, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Blame those responsible

      Emperor the fool...


      Prosecute hate crimes as hate crimes, not frame-jobs as hate crimes.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Christine

      thanks for the link- Agree that Ms.Sarsour needs to jump off the bandwagon. This is not a clear cut case of a hate crime.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • OJ

      "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."

      This is the stat of the FBI. This is not a rush to judgment. She is trying to bring awareness to the issue. It looks like she is not the one with agenda.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Funny!!!!!!!!!

      Vadik tu durnoy....

      April 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • paul

      Heelp!!! Wollllf!! XD

      April 12, 2012 at 6:10 am |
  2. George


    April 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  3. Blame those responsible

    EDIT – and all these idiots are giving a lot to "cry wolf" about. What a shame.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  4. Stephen

    Last I heard, they had not ruled out it being her husband. What will be said then? There should be proposed anti-Sharia laws, this country was not founded on their ideals. If they want to live under those laws, there are countries that will accommodate them. I think the biggest prblem is that people immediately run to a side and then refuse to listen to all of the facts. America has become polarized and will start tearing itself apart from within.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • J.W

      We have the first amendment in this country. Freedom of religion.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Blame those responsible

      We don't need "anti-Sharia" laws to prosecute murder. That's already illegal.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Shakira

      Honor killings are a cultural tradition NOT an Islamic one. Try to learn something first and know the difference between culture and religion.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  5. Blame those responsible


    Just look at the facts...the letter was a copy received by the family earlier. Hate crimes tend to occur in public, in businesses, etc. How did some bigot sneak into this woman's house in one of the largest muslim communities in America? Maybe this is a hate crime, maybe not. I want bigots punished – but not at the expense of letting someone responsible of a domestic violence related murder go free.

    People should pay attention to anti-muslim bigotry, but that's not a reason to stop paying attention to domestic violence. Articles like this actually, IMO do a disservice to the muslim community by "crying wolf."

    And I don't think people don't pay attention to anti-muslim bigotry like the article seems to indicate. People don't say the "N-word" in public because they'll get shamed. I don't know who could say a muslim slur in public and not be shamed as well. Does it happen? Sure, and it needs to be addressed. But in cases where it's a frame-job, it's counter-productive to finger in that direction.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  6. J.W

    Lol all the racist rednecks are coming out now .

    April 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      As opposed to bigots like you?

      April 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm |

      You are so stupid, you calling the race card. Look at yourself before you make a racist statement about white people. Calling white people rednecks is a racist comment, so who is the racist now. What a jerk!!! Learn something before saying something stupid. Stupid is Stupid does..

      September 20, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  7. OMG

    Did she really say "I am Trayvon Martin"? Really?

    April 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm |


    April 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • jwk

      Caps Lock!

      April 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      How is wearing a headscarf not assimilating? Does our culture dictate that wearing anything on your head is taboo? Do we demand that Jewish Americans not wear their skullcap?

      We have no "cultural" dictates for clothing. We are a country of religious freedom. If her beliefs cause her to dress moderately and cover her head, that is completely permissible.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • GodPot

      AMAZED does not represent the majority of Americans, just the minority that is still steeped in bigotry, racism and hate. If you are Christian you might try praying for him, if you are an atheist like myself, please keep pointing out that these idiots do not represent us.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Kannan

      Agreed! No body knows the word called "Change" or "Evolve" in Islam. They go by the book, love the sheria law and show the world that they are Orthodox Muslims. Ever year they seem to get more and more into their belief. No one dare questions anything written in the book. Many even want to destroy America from the inside.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • CR

      I thought THIS COUNTRY had freedom of religion and I'm pretty sure THIS COUNTRY is also a country of immigrants. I could be wrong though.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • RO

      PLEASEEEE I was born, raised in the US and am a blue eyed blonde and I wear a Hijab.. My father was at pearl harbor when bombed in the war and I belong to the American Legion Auxliary you want to tell ME to go back to my country. Their was someone killed that is what this is about. Men and women died for this country so we ALL can be here and practice any religion we want , that is how I was raised by a VETERAN not to pick and choose. Try some understanding

      April 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @ CR
      Yes you are wrong, we are not a country of immigrants. Just ask RO.

      @ RO
      Go back to your country… there I said it. Yes it makes no sense but so what.. I’m expressing my freedom of speech right? The same right your father fought to protect right? (*&^&% hypacrit.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • suckmyteabag

      Indeed, this country is a melting pot, not a salad bowl. MELT ALREADY!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Jay

      This kind of talk: defining who is "American", etc. is a form of talk that is always typical in these kinds of conversations. It really doesn't matter who is American and who is not.

      What matters is the law. The law allows the woman to legally live in this country. The law also allows the woman to don the hijab. If the law of the USA banned Muslim people, then they wouldn't be here right now.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • helpinghand


      April 5, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Sharky

      Is a regular American a salted one?
      You seem pretty salty to me.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  9. Jon

    No. If you go into a courthouse, you get to keep your hijab on because you're hiding behind the great justifier of otherwise objectionable behavior: religion. A person wearing a hoodie is never (as far as I know) trying to elevate the importance of their personal decision by standing on the rhetorical shoulders of dead prophets. I agree that people should be able to wear what they wish without fear of reprisal, but there's a lot more courage in standing by a personal decision because it's yours to make than there is in claiming some supernatural connection to your decision.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  10. gatecrasher

    I'm sorry, your people killed 3,000 of my people.

    I bet you enjoy a big halal cake every September 11th.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Where does it stop?

      Conservatively, American bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of 'collateral' damage civilians in the middle east.

      Where does it stop?

      April 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • granny25

      I hear 'ya...........and I agree

      April 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      For the whole year of 2011, the United Nations reported that the civilian death toll resulting from NATO military action in Afghanistan numbered 3,021.
      Given the fact that Afghan civilians have been killed at roughly that same rate since 2001, I'd say you're even.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • GodPot

      What about the over 9000 Americans who were killed in 2001 by drunk drivers? Wheres the outrage? Three times as many family's were mourning the loss of their loved ones that had been ripped away from them by stupid drunk Americans the very same year as 9/11 and you disgusting morons don't even notice.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      My only regret is we no longer carpet bomb.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Jay

      19 people, who claimed they were Muslim, boarded 4 planes and killed these innocent people. These people never consulted with a scholar of Islam (OBL is not a scholar) about their actions; if they had, they would have immediately been told not to commit their unjust, sinful plot but to find other less unjust means to resolve their grievances, like prayer, donations, or political lobbying. They unilaterally decided what was best for Muslims though the Koran commands consultation.

      Though the killings on that day were very grave, those people that died are no longer living on this Earth and oppressing/insulting Islam and people in hijab will do nothing to avenge for their death but just create more anger and push you farther away from trying to understand Islam. The masterminds of this horrendous event are either dead or in prison, and justice has been served.

      On the same note, no Muslim has time to celebrate the death of innocent people with a "halal cake".

      April 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Sharky

      'your people' ... Tar every muslim with the same brush why don't you.
      9/11 was over a decade ago, since then America soldiers have killed far more civilians and amongst them far more children then were killed in 9/11.

      So should I blame you for that personally? Since you're an American and were tarring everyone with the same brush?

      April 6, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • the new muneef

      i 'm sorry, your people killed way more than in some muslim countries!

      April 13, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  11. Stop playing the victim!

    What a stupid article! The author has attempting to create a connection where absolutely none exists. The Trayvon Martin case has absolutely nothing to do with Islam, yet the author is a self-appointed victim too?

    Talk about exploiting headlines for your own political agenda!

    April 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • GodPot

      "create a connection where absolutely none exists. The Trayvon Martin case has absolutely nothing to do with Islam"

      Are you so dense as to not see the obvious link between profiling here? Man see's hooded black teen and thinks "Criminal!!" and another person see's woman in Hijab or man with beard in a robe and turban and thinks "Terrorist!!"

      April 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @ GodPot
      Stop playing the victim! is absolutely correct. This is nothing more than a shameless attempt to piggy back on a story fueled by misdirected rage. What is obvious here is you are so dimwitted you fell for it.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Christine

      I see the muslim women's headgear and I think "repressed". Walking 2 steps behind your man, eyes to the ground, covered head to toe. You're in America now, you don't have to bow down to your spouse-abusing husbands anymore.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • TiredofPayn

      From above quote: 'Are you so dense as to not see the obvious link between profiling here? Man see's hooded black teen and thinks "Criminal!!" and another person see's woman in Hijab or man with beard in a robe and turban and thinks "Terrorist!!"'

      Is it profiling if its a statstical fact? Black teens in hoodies ARE responsible for over half of violent crime. 99% of the recent 'Terrorists' have been Muslim. I don't call it 'Profiling' – I call it 'Pattern Recognition.'

      April 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  12. jay

    this is how you beat a dead horse

    April 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • abaddon

      well put

      April 5, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  13. Gene

    I think its very un-appropriate to try to play the hijab muslim card in this situation. Shame on you. Your taking away focus from the main story, your dont have clear statements or proof to back anything up – I feel i have wasted my time reading this. Shame on CNN for letting you submit this kind of work for public reading. Its a crying shame.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  14. Paul

    I have to wonder how your "Hijab" would look rolled up in a tight ball and shoved up your ass. Get out of here terrorist.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Infedel


      April 5, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • granny25

      LOL......................GREAT COMEBACK!!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Ed

      This is Exactly what Linda was talking about!!! People like Paul, Ignorant and racist!! Oh Gosh... When is this going to end? I can't really understand why this does not fall into the example of Martin. I agree with Linda that Alawadi's case was give so little attention, and this goes back to the Muslims and Arabs who didn't actually protest to speed up the investigation. Good job pointing that out, Linda.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Mike

      Please slit your own throat.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Sharky

      Everything she just said in this article was justified by this single rediculous comment... So much irony it hurts.


      April 6, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  15. boocat

    This is stupid. People don't wear hoodies because of their religious beliefs. I'd ask this woman where do you stand with all of the Muslims terrorizing innocent people around the world? I don't hear any Muslims castigating these terrorists. My response to her is you reap what you sow.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      You must not be listening then. All around me I hear Muslims saying that terrorism is not right.

      But then again, I actually listen to them before judging them.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • boocat

      Yeah???? What planet do these Muslims live on that you speak of? I live in NYC and HAVE NOT HEARD ONE ISLAMIC LEADER castigating what these Islamist extremists do around the world.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      On April 9th, 2011 at the initiative of Muslim Peace Coalition USA gathered at Union Square in NYC.
      100 plus Imams called upon Muslims to oppose wars, condemn terrorism, and fight Islamophobia.

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

      Your bias must be deafening...


      April 6, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  16. What is appropriate?

    Rage against hate? I feel terrible sorrow.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • ghost


      April 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  17. free yourself

    The difference between your "hoodie", and one like Trayvon's, is choice. We can choose whether or not to wear it, but for some reason you believe your god will smite you down if you don't wear yours. Your religion treats you like a slave, but it is a little different here since you could always choose to leave your religion behind.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Garuu Popka

      Oh boy here we go. cue entrance of Prayer Changes Things

      April 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • J.W

      I do not get what you are trying to say here. So people should keep wearing hoodies but not hijabs? What if they just wear it because it is customary, or because they just like it?

      April 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Garuu Popka

      J.W. does have a point

      April 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • free yourself

      I was just pointing out that we can choose whether or not to wear a hoodie, but the author cannot. If she actually wants to wear it all the time in public, then have at it.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • ed

      Leaving islam is not allowed, it's a death sentence.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      Of course it is a choice. To wear or not to wear, whether it's a hoodie or a head scarf.

      Neither choice should single a person out to die. Or even for scorn or ridicule or hateful words.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • J.W

      It may be a death sentence in the middle east. I don't think the Americanized Muslims believe that way.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jewish "Hijabi"

      I am a Jewish woman who wears a headscarf similar to a hijab, but tied differently. While I cannot speak for anyone but myself, I am surprised "to free yourself" feels s/he can speak for the author. Many woman who cover their hair in the name of religion 'chose it', even passively. Rarely is it forced upon someone unwillingly.

      Not every religious Muslim, Jewish or Christian woman cover their hair. Many, like myself, do not cover at first, but later chose to cover. For me, this was an internal decision, not pressured by family, community or anyone else.

      Yes, many religious woman just start covering at the appointed time because it is standard in their community, without much thought. That doesnt mean it is forced. It is an article of clothing. For the most part, women who cover put as much thought into being 'forced' to cover their hair as you put into being 'forced' to wear a coat in the winter. In fact, many women use it as a chance to show style and be able to accessorize!

      Sure, there are some women that dont want to cover their hair yet are forced to by society or family, but they are a very small minority. I also know of Muslim women being asked by their husband NOT to cover her hair, since the husband was afraid of the non-Muslim communities reaction and her safety. Other woman have chosen to cover only to be discriminated against once people see they cover.

      The bottom line is that we cannot assume anything. Most hijabis, and other woman who cover their hair, do so willingly and as a matter of course. It is only when others judge them by there clothing choice that it becomes an issue. Like in the case of Trayvon Martin and his hoodie.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • mo

      Muslim women absolutely have a choice as to whether they wear a hijab, a niqab, a burqa, or none of the above!! Your comment shows not only a lack of tolerance regarding others and their choices, but an outstanding ignorance about Islam. I'd imagine you call yourself a Christian, but the Bible says "Love Thy Neighbor", not "Love They Neighbor unless they don't conform to your views".

      April 5, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Akim

      free-your-self from ignorance, can u ask a nun to take off her Hijab? why does she wear the modest clothes.....? is she also afraid of some "smite" or is it her choice?

      April 5, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  18. Garuu Popka

    It is very troubling to not see the incedent of 32-year old Iraqi Muslim mother named Shaima Alawadi in the news at ALL.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • J.W

      Yeah I know this is the first I have heard about it. I did not know there were still that many hate crimes against Muslims either.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • A

      It definitely made the nation news, but as your missing it clearly shows it didn't stay very long. It's every bit as disgusting as any other hate crime and should be treated as such.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • ed

      It was in the news. It was discovered to be an honor killing. The husband wrote the note thinking the Police would be fooled. The liberal controlled media does NOT want you knowing anything about honor killings.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Garuu Popka

      Ed, your name says it all

      April 6, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Rich

      @Garuu: and yet nevertheless, Ed's comment has merit. It is now a suspected honor killing over her attempt to divorce her husband – NOT a hate crime.

      Don't worry; bona-fide anti-Muslim hate crimes do sometimes occur, and one day there might be one heinous enough to justify the outrage, if the country isn't desensitized from hearing them cry wolf so many times.

      April 8, 2012 at 1:31 am |
  19. kafantaris2

    To get a feel of what went on the night Trayvon Martin was killed, you need to listen to that 911 call made by a neighbor. The fatal shot is heard in the background.
    Just listen to it.
    You don't need any experts.
    You don't need to know anything about the case.
    You don't even need an open mind.
    But you need to listen to that heart-wrenching call.
    Then draw your own conclusions.
    All you need are your ears and a heart not made of stone.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Garuu Popka

      Sorry to say, but the statements your telling are flawed.

      April 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • ed

      Are you talking about the 911 call that NBC admits to editting and changing?

      April 5, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Really?

      OK, well lets just get this off of our chests. Little black trayvon was a black. HE MUST have been a no good thug, or else sir Zimmerman would not have killed him, and would have also been arrested by now. Yea yea, thats how it went...

      April 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      OK, well lets just get this off of our chests. Little black trayvon was a black. HE MUST NOT have been a no good thug, or else sir Zimmerman would have killed him, and would have also been arrested by now. Yea yea, thats how it went...

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

      the problem started when his parents named him "trayvon".

      April 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  20. Pipe-Dreamer

    As Time passes on there will always be those people who are emotionally impacted to carry out inexcusable offenses upon humanity. Such people are marred and mired in emotionally conflicting indenturisms.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
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About this blog

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.