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. jackvigdor

    There is nothing enjoiining the wearing of the hijab in the Koran. The wearing of the hijab is a combination of Syrian And Persian per-Islamic customs and a misunderstanding of Surah 35:53. It is wonderful that this author identifies with Trayvon, the problem is she is reinforcing the worst parts of how the original message of Mohamed got perverted after his death by some of his followers.

    Yes, Trayvon's shooting is a tragedy and the killing of that Iraqi woman in California is a tragedy. Ms. sarsour should also not ignore the tragedy of when young black men kill each other in America, and when Muslims kill each other all over the world. Her essay makes it seem as if she is some great strong voice for religious freedom and human rights. In fact, she is just glorifying a device used for enslaving women.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  2. suckmyteabag

    Tweet Linda Sarsour @lsarsour.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  3. AntiViral

    Any woman who feels she must wear a Hijab is brainwashed, pure & simple. Do you really buy into the fact that women's skin must be covered at all times so that men do not get "evil urges"???

    The burqua and the hijab come from the same school of thought. "cover them completely because the sight of a woman drives men to do evil things". BS!

    April 5, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  4. disgustedNY

    Oh look another CNN piece about Muslims imagine that

    April 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  5. Saeed Ali

    Al Hamdulilah may Allah reward you for bringing this information forward in this manner you are absolutely correct JAZAKALAH KHAIR.

    Saeed Ali

    April 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  6. John

    I AM

    I am John, I am not a racist...

    I am my daughter and I am my two sons. I am my mom, and I am my sisters.

    I am John, I am not a racist.

    I am my Grandma, and I am my aunt. I am my uncle, and I am my cousins.

    I am John, I am not a racist.

    I am the guy that smiles at you in passing, I am the guy that helps change your flat tire, I am the guy that holds the door for you at the store.

    I am John, I am not a racist.

    I am a friend, I am a neighbor.

    I am John, I am not a racist.

    I am a mailman, I am a police officer, and I am a garbage man.

    I am John… I AM AMERICA!

    Signed : John Doe

    April 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Buliwyf

      'Lo, there do I see my father. 'Lo, there do I see...

      My mother, and my sisters, and my brothers.

      'Lo, there do I see...

      The line of my people...

      Back to the beginning.

      'Lo, they do call to me.

      They bid me take my place among them.

      In the halls of Valhalla...

      Where the brave...

      May live...


      April 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  7. Ann2323

    It is truely absolutely disgusting the discrimination that many Muslim Americans face; however, those Muslim Americans should probably try a bit harder to distance themselves from such radical "terrorists". If you think anti- Sharia law initiatives are an example of discrimination than you clearly don't have a solid grasp on the separation of church and state, which applies to every religion. Furthermore, that a woman who lives in a free country would support such a blatantly misogynistic thing as Sharia Law blows my mind. This is a free country and there's no reason you should be discriminated against but then have some respect for the country's laws that you live in and don't think that you should be afforded special treatment above anyone else. Furthermore, where did the money for that mosque in NY come from?? Not too savory of characters to align oneself with. Perhaps it is time for the good lawabiding American Muslims to stand up and say enough is enough to the radicals.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      I agree with the Sharia Law issue, not so much on 'where the money for NY Mosque' came from, that is not anyone's business.

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

      what about the muslims who discriminate against non-muslims in countries like pakistan, iraq, egypt, etc.? coptic christians are attacked, harassed, etc. by muslims on a daily basis, but do the muslims get in trouble for it? highly unlikely. muslims seem to have the idea that being muslim allows them to do whatever they want and treat others however they want. recently, a dhimmi judge in the U.S. dismissed a case against 4 muslim football players from Dearborn, who assaulted a christian football player. but, you're worried about muslims being discriminated against? you'll feel different after a muslim does something to you and then gets off scott-free

      April 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  8. James

    Muslims are enemies of all other people's and all other religions. They should be treated exactly the same as we treat Nazis. Their hijabs and other garb is no different than swastikas.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  9. Sad

    If there is a devil, he is sitting back laughing at how stupid humans really are. He doesn't even have to work that hard. We do this to ourselves.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  10. kristophobic

    Islamic countries are the modern Rome, when chris tians are persecuted.
    big otry galore. hypo crisy

    April 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • You got to be kidding me

      That's why we are the ones killing millions overseas! you guys are blinded by the media! open up your brains and get out of that brainwashed state for christ sake!

      April 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  11. Lauren

    evidence has surface suggesting that the iraqi woman was the victim of an honor killing and not a hate crime. apparently the second not found was a photocopy of the first. also, this woman was planning to divorce her husband and then move to texas and her daughter (worst actress ever) was upset over an impending arranged marriage to a cousin. so, the husband likely killed his wife for wanting a divorce and then made a threat to his daughter if she refused the marriage

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

      Yeah, I read about this murder. The victim, a Muslim woman, wanted to divorce her husband! It definitely raises a red flag.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  12. david

    We are not prejudice, we are just cautious. cautious just like you would be of a rabid dog if that dog kept on continuing to attack you. Truth will come out in Trayvon's case. Stop comparing apples and oranges. It might just come out that Zimmerman was indeed defending himself . What would you say than? You sure you'd want to be associated with the rabid attacker ?
    I guess we both know the answer.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  13. AL

    This is one of the biggest joke of a article that I have ever seen, to compair this women who was targeted in her own home with a hate crime note . To a teenager who is killed to things we totally have no idea about because they still have not concluded there investigation is nuts. I am not saying I dont care about what happened in Florida I am saying what happened in California is cut and dry no where near the same . My Hijab is my hoodie is wrong 100% I am a muslim and have sisters who are covered I also served in the Marine Corp and one is definitly diffrent then the other I really hope you as members of the press dont buy into the hype of the masses !!!!!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  14. The Uncomfortable Truth

    Called it. CAIR needs to quit putting its foot into its mouth by jumping the gun on these things. Are these clowns really so naive that they don't think an opportunistic murderer would exploit sociopolitical tensions as smokescreen for a crime? Then again, the murderers were apparently naive enough not to think the text messages would bite them on the ***.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  15. Reality

    The author should criticize her own religion before "teeing off" on a crime that may have been committed by the woman's husband or maybe the victim wanted to leave Islam and she was killed by some imam's good squad leaving the note to hide their act of horror.

    Then there is this

    Islam gives women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species as so bluntly noted by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her autobiography, In-fidel.

    "Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, circu-mcised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hi-rsi Ali escaped – and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women."

    ref: Washington Post book review.

    some excerpts:

    "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly be-aten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their scre-ams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

    "The Pakistanis were Muslims but they too had cas-tes. The Untou-chable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker skin. The others would not play with them because they were unt-ouchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were tou-chable: we to-uched them see? but also hor-rifying to think of yourself as un-touchable, des-picable to the human race."

    "Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were ki-lled by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exa-ggerating."

    "The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Som-alia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypro-cricy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam".

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

      So true. Muslims openly teach misogyny, intolerance and hatred of all others and fund terrorist activities all over the world. Then they come here and pass on their hateful ideology to another generation, and cry about discrimination because Americans don't think women should be treated like animals and shouldn't be ruled by a medieval theocracy. And don't even get me started on the rampant antisemitism. What makes it all the worse is that American Muslims practically deny that radical terrorist even exist or have anything at all to do with their faith. Like its all some tiny minority responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and terrible injustices all over the world. Americans that are afraid of Islam don't misunderstand it; they're just using common sense.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Reality

      Make that "killed by some imam's goon squad".

      April 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • shayhere

      Dear Reality,

      Before quoting books and attacking the religion of about 23% of the world's population, I suggest you take the qu'ran in your hands and read it. from the first page to the last. I am a muslim and I am not going to be stupid and pretend muslims are angels on earth and have never done anything wrong. They did, but I'll put the blame on muslims, not Islam.


      -"Islam gives women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species [..]"

      “Women are the twin halves of men.” – Prophet Muhammad
      Islam gives more rights to women then christianity and judaism.

      I hope you learn about islam in the right books, books that actually tell you about the religion and not about what poeple do.

      "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people" -Eleanor Roosevelt

      Let's be from the first category 😉 ,


      April 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Reality


      From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi-

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      The First Five of the 77 Branches:

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

      Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

      April 5, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  16. asdf

    It's your choice if you want to wear a hijab, however don't expect people to respect it who associate islam and hijab with misogyny. People will respect fashion as a personal choice not some dumb belief that god wanted women to wear hijabs. Once you realize that Quran is the alter-ego of Muhammed, things will become clear for u.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  17. Get your facts straight

    Before you start comparing this to Trayvon and calling it a hate crime and getting Jesse and Al involved for the three ring circus, it looks like the daughter did it


    April 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  18. Sen

    Okay Linda, When reading this article the following things came up to my mind.

    1. How are other religions treated in countries where you are majority?

    2. Why people from other religions can not even eat in public your country when you are fasting?

    3. What kind of freedom you give when you are in majority?

    4. Whenever there is violence why at least one or both parties of the conflict is always your religion?

    April 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  19. MastiffMommie

    As an American Muslim woman I am ashamed, appalled, and saddened at Linda Sarsour for trying to tie the tragedy of Trayvon Martin to our CHOICE to wear hijab and any prejudices we deal with. Everyone has someone who does not like how they look, what they believe, etc but in NO WAY is the murder of Trayvon related to hers/mine/ours or anyone's issues and she should apologize to his family, us in the the Muslim community, and the readers of her opinion piece for using the loss of this poor young mans life to further her "journalistic" career.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Wow...

      A little strongly-worded, don't you think Mastiff? Really not necessary to use such sharp language to make your point.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  20. carol

    Do not be sad about the comments of these white idiots. It is a good article. Those American blame everying on others and they never see that they are the cause of all the hate in this world. They killed millions of Arabs and Muslims and drove them from their land, and they still say OBL. Who created OBL, you idiots? You idiot Americans. They brough the Africans as slaves and when they want a job, they are hot hired. When they seek food stamp or meidcare, they say find a job. Idiot Americans!

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

      Um, just so you know, my grandparents came over from eastern Europe after the fall of the Russian czar in the early 1900's. My grandfather's parents owned a farm on the Russian/Polish border and did not have slaves on his farm in Europe....STOP BLAMING ME FOR SLAVERY!!!! And stop playing the g*ddamn victim. I'm sick of you whining crybabies blaming the white man for your problems.....screw you and have a nice day.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Slavadil

      Your post is incredibly racist. I'm sure African Americans would be equally appalled that this women is trying to twist the Martin tragedy into something about her and her CHOICE to wear a hijab.
      Martin didn't chose to be Black, you can take off your Hijab whenever you want.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:14 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.