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. GS

    It is rather ironic for the author to condemn the closed minded yet to associate herself with someone in an ongoing investigation that until proven otherwise might have had a part however minor in his own demise. In other words, why ask the general public to remain vigilant about biggotry when you have already made up your mind about the Martin case without knowing all of the facts?

    April 5, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Marie

      Good point and nicely said. I couldn't agree more.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  2. Maff

    If you look at the history of terrorism, you will find that individuals from most nations across the globe have chosen this path. so to associate muslims with terrorism is pretty stupid. In american history, as far as terrorism goes, the majority of these crimes have been committed by the dominate race. forunately for them, they dont have any article of clothing to identify them as a potential threat. So I guess you never know which one to single out...right? lol.
    Are the Bigots actually thinking?

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

      american talk about muslim terrorism is just a propaganda,deminizing 1.6 billion people and making american crimes against muslims acceptable.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  3. Nick

    This article is nothing but self-serving drivel.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Akim

      This article looks like nothing but try to educate ignorant, but if someone just don't want to learn then what a normal person can do..... good luck with your self-centered life.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  4. GS

    If Arab Americans had grandstanding politicians in US office willing to incite the masses in order to promote themselves then this case would get the same attention.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • crusader

      hmm...let me see...hoodies= rare possible issues that might attack one person (isolated). Hijab= terrorists that have NOTHING but history of attacking the US (grand scale)!!!! Sorry muslim terrorists...your own people paved the way for you guys.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • westerncrusader

      muslims suck!!!! alah is a joke!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Sam

      Please don't confuse Arab Americans with Muslims. They are not necessarily the same and those of us who are Christian have suffered enough at the hands of Islam. To lump us into the same group is an insult to all of us who have died at the hands of the Muslims.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  5. KSykes

    I couldn't agree with Linda more! Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  6. Lila

    Alawadi was most likely killed by her daughter or husband. It is really in poor taste reporting her death as a hate crime.

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

      I "hope not", but if this had happened in your family, would you be having the same opinion? I guess not: what you would have done, would have gathered neighbors in front of TV cameras to cry from left to right for the next 45 days...Keep in mind she was also a human and someone's love....... but you know what, you wont understand humanity or love .......

      April 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Akim

      I "hope not", but if this had happened in your family, would you be having the same opinion? I guess not: what you would have done, would have gathered neighbors in front of TV cameras to cry from left to right for the next 45 days...Keep in mind she was also a human and someone's love....... but you know what, you wont understand humanity or love .......you might know only one love but not the "human love"

      April 5, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Lila

      Akim your response doesn't make sense. It is a tragedy but unfortunately it does appear it was a family member. I'm not hoping, the evidence like texts, fights with daughter and divorce papers seems to be pointing in that direction.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  7. The Woof

    In just about every comment all I can sense is hate and bias. There is talk about Islam being a religion of violence then why is there so much violence being perpetrated by Christians. Talk of 15 year olds being married but what about priests molesting children or Christians raping little girls and boys? As for going back to their own country, where would this country be without immigrants? Imagine if the Native Americans would have unified and drove all of your ancestors back into the sea who would then have America? All I see with Islam is te same thing I see with so call Christians, a few twisting their religion to suit their purpose, using religion to justify some misbegotten sense of honor, pride, greed & revenge. But the day is coming when all will see just where they stand in the eyes of God and His Judge.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  8. petemg

    This story should not go on the back of a murdered child. It is as bad as Obama saying Martin could have been his child. It is in bad taste in my mind just to gain attention in the news.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm |

    She tried to take the damn thing off and her husband, brothers and father did this to her.
    The note is to throw off US authorities who don't know how to mind their own business.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • GodPot

      Which still doesn't change the point of the article at all.

      "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. 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."

      Regardless of whether one of the examples she uses turns out to be a hate crime or family violence, the facts are that anti-muslim hate crimes have been on the rise.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • free man

      it was a hate crime, the hate spewed in Sharia law.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  10. mike

    ya you need to better educate yourself about this case...it was most likely not a hate crime...see story here http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/04/records-hint-iraqi-womans-death-not-a-hate-crime/

    April 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • foreigner

      american whites will find witnesses that someone born in 1990 has killed jfk or mlk.it is people who lie very easily.

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

    I don't for a second believe most Muslims are Radicals, but I do believe MOST Muslims are Fundamentalists, which can get mighty close to being radical.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • foreigner

      who cares what you believe?live your life and leave muslims alone.and pull those armed hooligans from muslim lands.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Stay in your 'Muslim lands' than and don't mess with our stuff, like our towers or you will pay the price.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      @foreigner – I'm noticing that you're not the sharpest tool in the toolshed, and your silly troll comments about the U.S. military are certainly not helping that perception.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • @ Foreigner -

      WOW!!! What a comment... Go Back to your home country......

      April 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Akim

      I think FBI should investigate you for Ms. Alawadi’s death, for asking Americans to "go Home", where? to Washington? Oh if you are talking about the people who are not from here originally, then let's from the first generation who came came first and send all of them back to Poland, Hungry, Ireland, etc. Then send back who came later.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      I would never immigrate to a place I didn't like or feel a need to change into my old homeland, if the old homeland was so grand why leave in the first place?

      April 5, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  12. Dickie

    Waaa, waaa, waaa. Then just go home.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Ameur Z

      Waaa Waaaa why not you go home to your Irland or UK, or USA owned by your NAZI grandfather??

      April 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  13. ST

    Please don't use this a a positive opportunity to compare your religious hate garment with this situation.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  14. Mike

    This writer should be ashamed. For all we know, Martin's shooting had absolutely nothing to do with race. Even if it did, to compare the struggles of Muslims in this country with what blacks have faced is ridiculous. Muslims haven't been the victims of hundreds of years of horrendous treatment, racial profiles, and hate crimes in America. This piece just comes across as "hey, look at me too!"

    April 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Ameur Z

      Martin is not your brother and the Muslim woman she is not your sister that's why you're talking like that!!

      April 5, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Qlorraine

      Ummm, Trayvon Martin wasn't about race? Give me a break. And, this article was about treatment Muslims and Muslim-Americans today. Not for the past couple hundred years. But, if you actually knew anything about history, you'd know that Muslims endured colonialism (maybe not by the U.S., but by "Western cultures") at the same time that blacks were enslaved. They've had their own history of oppression by other cultures.
      We have a large Somali (I.e. Muslim) community here and I am appalled at the comments that I hear on a regular basis. I'm proud to say that my children play with their Somali classmates on a regular basis and invited them, along with the rest of their class, to their birthday party, for example.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Zanooba

      Muslims haven't faced discrimination throughout history, are you kidding me!?

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

      Can you read? I said "in America." The point is that blacks have a very unique history of oppression in this country and that's why these issues deservedly receive the kind of publicity and outrage that they do.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  15. Jan

    Dear Linda, the actions of muslims are the source of the so-called bigotry against muslims:

    – muslim terrorists (even converts) trying to kill other people in the USA with islamic teachings as their motivation
    – honor killings that are mainly practiced in muslim communities with the founder of Bridges TV as an ironic example of someone fighting stereotypes against muslims and Islam and then beheading his wife
    – threats against muslims leaving Islam
    – muslims trying to impose their practices on others

    Dear Linda, when are you standing up against honor killings in the muslim community? Write a blog on CNN! Organise a demo! The one million hijab demo against honor killings! When are you starting programms in mosques to keep your correligionist from terrorism?

    If you do this, islamophobia and bigotry will soon disappear.

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

      why don't you mention american terrorists-usmc?

      April 5, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • Ameur Z

      from what School you learn that?? from your Nazi's brain?? or just results of the media since you borne??? visit the world and learn then write comments... you know nothing about real muslim and radical muslim! like Naziz they are Chrstians do we have to say all Christians are Hitlers???

      April 5, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Lena Simon

      Amen to that ! Stand up against your community for their actions against women !

      April 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  16. Peace

    American Muslims loves this country as much as a Christian and a Jew or Non believer and trust me there is bad in all of us and there are good and want to do the best for this great nation.

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

      not true,people are bitter.we love dollars and land,but americans themselves are garbage.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  17. foreigner

    i have a proposal,that shoul solve all this hatred:let us have all foreigners in america move back to our countries in exchange for all americans,soldiers included,move back to america.write to your congressmen and ask them to implement this.

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

      What do you mean by 'foreigner'? Isn't everyone in America a foreigner, except for the native americans?

      April 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  18. Ct

    “Go Back to your country, you terrorist.” does not sound like what a killer would write. It does sound like something written to pin it on white guys.

    In addition, you can cry all you want but nobody faces racism more than whites. NOBODY.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • MN

      I'd love to hear you cite examples for this assertion. That would be awesome.

      April 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  19. MN

    The investigation on this case seems to be trending to the possibility it was a familial homicide.

    Just like the FL case. Just wait and see what the evidence reveals.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  20. The Uncomfortable Truth

    BTW, I think that it's fair to say the vast majority of Muslim women live in a perpetual state of Stockholm Syndrome, where they deny the atrocities perpetrated by men in their midst, and exaggerate and vilify the actions taken by those on the outside. I've even seen people denigrating the police for doing their job in this case and not immediately declaring this crime a "hate crime" and dropping all leads.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:06 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.