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. jimmy

    Do you know how I know the Pope is gay? His deek tastes like sheet

    April 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • jimmy

      I giggle

      April 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • johny

      And I thought it would be his breath and ass that smelled like deek...

      April 5, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  2. t-bone

    A hoodie is a choice.
    Your headwear isnt.
    Being a woman, you will wear it or someone in your family would kill you for dishonoring them.
    You live a lie, you are not free.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      The Cake is a lie...

      April 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  3. just sayin

    Snuff out one candle there are millions more. God bless

    April 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  4. J-Pap

    F religion. Ban it. It's the biggest crock.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • jimmy

      God told me to ban religion. Now what?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  5. Geoff

    Hijacking a child's unrelated tragic death to further your own personal religous cause. Nice way to stay classy.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      If you are too stupid to see the connections, then that is *your* failing, not the author's.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  6. Miranda

    I'm very sorry for your loss, and am amazed that this has not received more coverage. It is amazing to me that people still do not realize that there are good and bad white, brown, and black people. It has nothing to do with ethnicity, skin color, or home country, but that person's character. I do feel like the economic problems our country is facing amplyfies racism exponentially because people look for others to blame for their lack of success. Let's be a bit deeper than judging people by what they have or don't have on their head, and then tell obvious bald face lies about shooting or poor helpless little boy who was probably terrified about being chased by a large full grown man with a gun. Sorry to go back to Trayvon. Sorry for your loss again,

    April 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • t-bone

      Youre dumb.
      Poor little boy being chased....
      Still sticking with that story even after all the evidence that Trayvon met zimmerman at the car and assaulted him?
      Take off your blinders, its just another black thug attacking a person, this time however he picked the wrong guy.
      Maybe that will serve as a reminder to all the other thugs out there,

      April 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • t-bone's mom

      Zimmerman should have stayed in the car where his dumb thug as was safe. What now, bitch?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  7. GodPot

    She uses three examples of unwarrented violence towards muslims to prove her point of discrimination and profiling here in America and one of those examples looks like it won't end up having anything to do with discrimination. That does not lessen her point, that discrimination and profiling of blacks and muslims is still a regular part of American life. However, with the case of Alawadi, she might want to look at her own religion and culture and ask why there is still so much discrimination and violence against women in the muslim faith, which would seem to put her own religion on the same level as those she is accusing of violence and bigotry.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  8. Dr. Loomis

    Not cool to bash on other people, cultures, ethnicities, religions, etc., just because they're different. Islam, however, isn't just different, too many basic human rights that are well-established and respected in the West are thrown to the wayside in Islamic culture. Islam needs a serious facelift; if Muslims want to migrate to the Western world and want to be treated with dignity and respect then they're going to have to drag themselves out of the 7th century.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • jimmy

      It is cool

      April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Dr. Loomis

      Jimmy – Ok, maybe just a little but that's only because I'm fully prepared to take as much as I dish out.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • jimmy


      April 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  9. MidwestGirl

    We should have anti-Sharia laws. Sharia has no place here. We have the national, state, and local laws. We can't have a separate set of laws that apply to Muslims.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • jimmy

      Who is asking for that?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • RG

      @Jimmy- Oklahoma is one.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • GodPot

      Thats good because we don't. We do however, allow religious freedom which means people can practice their faith any way they choose as long as it does not harm or interfere with another citizens freedoms. That is why you likely have bought many "Kosher" foods in your lifetime without even knowing it. The FDA doesn't make the factories abide by Kosher food laws, the companies who want a certain populace to buy their food products do. Our banks are not converting the banking system to one that meets sharia banking laws against interest to apply to everyone, they just set up a sharia alternative for those practltioners because they want their business and are willing to call something on paper a "fee" instead of "interest".

      I'm an atheist but I don't care how any religion wants to prepare their food whether kosher, halal, haraam, fried, boiled or baked, I know I will only put in my mouth what I want so no one is forcing me to eat by their religious standards. Now when any religion, Christians, Muslim or Jew, attempts to pass legislation forcing me to abide by their so called "moral" laws(gambling, contraceptives, abortion, drug bans) , thats when I feel like taking a shlt in their boots.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  10. xab

    I could not care less. A comparison can be made between a raisin and Jupiter if one wordsmiths enough.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • jimmy

      Thats crazy...a raisin is much tastier than Jupiter.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  11. 123

    "Hijab" does not equal "Hoodie".

    April 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • jimmy

      Or does it?

      April 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  12. Hey You

    I am waiting for some whipped up outrage over all the other african-american youths who have been killed since Trayvon. Oh wait, almost all of those were by other african-american youths, so I guess they don't count.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  13. Kingofthenet

    If you listen to a average Muslim talking about an Apostate (Someone who left the religion) you will see the problem, they honestly believe the person to be mad or insane, and harbor great anger towards the person.This does not happen in any other religion.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • jimmy

      Actually this happens in every religion, among the orthodox. Jews tear their clothes to show that the child who gave up Judaism is "dead to them", and I have seen more than once what happens in a serious Catholic household should a member declare themselves to be Atheists. Complete chaos.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Funny you should mention the Orthodox Jews, they are closest to Muslims you can get Special Dietary Laws, Clothes, closed society.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • jimmy

      Well not really surprising considering that both Christianity and Islam are off-shoots of Judaism.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  14. Akim

    An academic article, if it can get through some ignorance's brain.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • jimmy

      Brain on ignorance(s)

      April 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  15. Andrew

    Muslims are paying price for 9/11, rightly or wrongly

    April 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Akim


      April 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • jimmy


      April 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • t-bone

      They pay the price for not being more vocal and denouncing it.
      Silence is acceptance.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  16. AnAmericanGirl

    Hoodies have no common ground with hijab. Hoodies are an article of clothing worn by choice. You can't say that about an archaic hijab. This article is about as stupid as the President saying "if I had a son he'd look like Trayvon". About as stupid as the thug style of wearing no belt and having your buttocks showing in boxer shorts (not allowed in Islam BTW) and about as stupid as a Muslimah identifying with anything related to the Zimmerman/Martin shooting. Get your taquiyya out of the media and take your stupid hijab make a bikini out of it, K?

    April 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • jimmy


      April 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • TravelSheryl

      I think you have a very good point but I still empathize with the journalist.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  17. CW

    Maybe this author could start identifying herself as American without any other qualifiers. No one cares that your Muslim. Have a nice life.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • jimmy


      April 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  18. jimmy

    My ski mask and gun are my hoodie

    April 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • seyedibar

      yes, it changes a person's ability to rationalize and think matters through using logic and problem-solving formulae.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      The only rational people are people of prayer
      A good man prays
      A great man acts on prayer

      April 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • jimmy

      I been praying for you to go away

      April 5, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Prayer changes things

      not gonna happen jimmy

      April 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • J-Pap

      Give me a break. Go to talk to yourself and wish all you want. It ain't gonna change a thing.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • just sayin

      Not until I find my pants

      April 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • just sayin

      We are all here due to prayer. God bless

      April 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • just sayin

      I pray for my pants.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  20. Lila

    I live in a city and see women in hijabs, I don't think anything about it. A Burqa however would bother me. I was in a Muslim country surrounded by women in Burqas with their male escort. All I can say is that I hated the way it looked. I could never cover my face for any religion or custom.

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

      I agree. The hijab is a non-issue but the burka turns a person into an inanimate faceless object,. Once when deployed in Kabul, I walked down a office hallway without noticing a woman in a burka sitting on a sofa. It was like she was a piece of the furniture.

      April 5, 2012 at 5:29 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.