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. Jesus is Lord

    Praise God

    April 6, 2012 at 7:36 am |
    • doughnuts

      Jesus is the gardener. Manuel is the roofer.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Westie

      CNN needs to update this Hate Crime Hoax immediately. The murder is very likely to be another Islam inspired Honor Killing.

      April 6, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  2. Prayer changes things

    Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things. Islam is not good for people either.

    April 6, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  3. This is the most important story that was ever stolen from a real story.

    My hoodie is my hoodie.

    I am Trayvon Martin. I am Lady Gaga.

    Tie a yellow cliche round the ole oak tree

    April 6, 2012 at 6:39 am |
  4. Peter

    My niceness and willingness to help others is my hoodie

    April 6, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  5. Kafir4Life

    I bet C N N would never give the same exposure to the latest development that this now heading towards a MURDER and an HONOR Killing which is rampant against M U S L I M women..very sad and sickening practice that goes "veiled" by leftist dupes since it goes against their DNA

    April 6, 2012 at 5:21 am |
  6. ruemorgue

    Islam and democracy do *not* mix: witness the so-call Arab Spring.

    April 5, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • dieshard

      The death of the woman in California>>>is NOW being considered A MURDER, NOT a hate crime !!! This woman was planning on divorcing her husband !!!!! OOOPPSSS That will get any muslim woman MURDERED!!!! I REPEAT>>>THIS WAS NOT< NOT A HATE CRIME !!!! Whoever killed her is already out of the country, and her husband HAS another wife in Iraq!!!!!

      April 6, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  7. 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 11:27 pm |
  8. Salero21

    There is and has been for more than a century such thing as Domestic Terrorism. The Federal and States Governments are very well aware of it. So Investigations are ongoing.

    I for my part, think that the hijab, shoal or whatever is called is a very Elegant piece of clothing. Such was worn by christian women in the first century. And as a matter of Fact, when they Pray or Preach, christian women are to cover their heads in a similar manner thought not necessarily in exactly the same fashion (1st Co. 11:5-13).

    April 5, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Eli

      1 Corinthians 11:15 states that a woman's hair is her "head covering", actually. It doesn't refer to a piece of cloth.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • geoffp1972

      I'm certain they are very elegant. They are not elegant when the alternative is a knife to the throat.

      April 8, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  9. The Afterlife

    Nice try Ms. Sarsour, but new information discovered by San Diego's Union Tribune suggests that Shaima Alawadi's killing may have been for reasons other than a hate crime. She was filing for divorce from her husband, and she had just had a spout with her daughter over her forced marriage to her cousin...

    yep, she probably was killed because she was Muslim... by another Muslim.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  10. Eli

    Also, I take objection to your comparing "bigotry against African-Americans" to "bigotry against Muslims". Islam is a belief system, a rather idiotic one at that, and as such it can and should be mocked and questioned, like all religions. Being black is an inborn trait. It is not something you can disown by just not "believing" in it. And I had to guffaw at the assertion that "racism against African-Americans is publicly acknowledged as unacceptable". You've never spent any time south of the Mason-Dixon line, I take it.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  11. Eli

    This is a rather embarrasing article. There is no suspect in the killing of Shaima–the police aren't even convinced that it was a hate crime (the note may have been a plant to make it LOOK like one). And even if it was in fact a hate crime, there is nothing to suggest that this woman was targeted for wearing a hijab (many women in that community do). The other case you mention, the one about the Sikhs? No killer was ever found, no motive was ever uncovered. They didn't "look Muslim"–they were just wearing the standard Sikh turbans. To assume that they were killed because their headcoverings made them "look Muslim" without any evidence is moronic.

    As for the difference between Martin and this woman, in Martin's case we know who killed him. There is no doubt about the situation. Only the motive (if any) is unknown.

    "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?"

    No, actually, it isn't. A man in New Jersey got a hitman to shoot his wife last year and said that the guy shot her because she was Muslim. And that is not an isolated incident.

    By the way, ma'am, take a look at those FBI statistics you posted.

    "Religious bias

    Hate crimes motivated by religious bias accounted for 1,409 offenses reported by law enforcement. A breakdown of the bias motivation of religious-bias offenses showed:

    65.4 percent were anti-Jewish.
    13.2 percent were anti-Islamic."

    It's funny. Jews are targeted for their religions far more often than Muslims but I rarely see self-pitying articles on CNN about how people just don't understand Judaism. I wonder why?

    April 5, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
    • BG

      Prince Waleed bought a big chunk of Time-Warner stock. He bought up a bunch of Fox Entertainment Group's as well.

      Next question?

      April 6, 2012 at 2:21 am |
  12. advocatusdiaboli

    The Hijab is definitely not a hoodie. A hoodie not only keeps the head warm but also server to hide the face or perpetrators of crimes. So it gas mixed uses. Just like a ski mask. The Hijab, however, is worse than that. It is a symbol of the suppression of women by a male-dominated church. OF men who throw acid in school girls's faces, who don't allow women to drive or talk to a non-realtive in public or sit at the same restaurant table as them. It is more. It is a symbol of ignorance and suppression of woman's rights as human beings.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • m assaf

      REALITY CHECK, you're NOT a MUSLIM, so you cant be the 1 to say that us muslim women are oppressed... I'm a muslim girl, and proud to say it, and i wont be the 1 to hear you say that we are secluded from the world. However, this HIJAB that you happen to know so much about, is not oppression... ITS a form of Modesty. We prefer to COVER up, our beauty, rather than to be the 1 that basically goes out naked. Instead of looking on the web to find any little thing that some muslim Extremists do, look at the ones we see from day-to-day... They are no different than you, or any other americans, other than the fact that we are not as IGNORANT as you.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • whatever

      "They are no different than you, or any other americans, other than the fact that we are not as IGNORANT as you".

      That's cute – but before you said "We prefer to COVER up, our beauty, rather than to be the 1 that basically goes out naked."

      So not wearing a head covering is naked. Which implies you think you're better. That's pretty IGNORANT.

      April 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  13. Nick

    May I add something. If you have to say something, might as well email me.


    April 5, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  14. Nick

    I have to disagree. I am not a muslum, ALTHOUGH I have worked with them and I must say they are by far the most peacful and caring people we have on this earth. Many,people try to disagree and search for the shortcomings if muslums yet in their hearts they know they are amazing people, they just dont want to admit it. Many people cry about crimes, terrorist acts, and Violence they beleive muslums were after, and continue to violently fight the entire islamic faith. Although that is competely contradictory, you CANNOT fight violence with violence! Enough said. Fear god people and stop worrying yourselves about others' faiths and beleifs and races! We are all equal and nothing can change that. White black, muslum non muslum, Understand noone is better than the other and we ALL deserve the LIBERTIES and RIGHTS and FREEDOMS our forefathers faught for with blood ,hard work, and sweat!!! Please stop these hatecrimes and violent killings! NOONE of the face of this earth deserves such violence! Peace!

    April 5, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • BG

      " you CANNOT fight violence with violence!..."


      April 6, 2012 at 2:16 am |
  15. ladycentsamile

    I am truly amazed that you people are getting so upset about a PIECE OF FABRIC ! A human being was brutally murdered. That is whats important. I for one hope they can make it a HATE CRIME, only because sentencing tends to be harsher. Which is well deserved. I've read some of the posts that were trying to explain why a woman would cover...and no one mentioned that it is actually quite comfortable. Yes I cover. Full on burqa (with screening over my eyes ) whenever I go out. And to really scare you...I'M NOT MUSLIM. There are OTHER reasons a person would choose this , not just terrorism.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
    • Nick

      May I ask why is it you wear a head scarf if your not muslum?

      April 5, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Miss Clairol

      Bad hair day?

      April 6, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • geoffp1972

      They certainly might make it a hate crime...but would that charge then be leveled against her male relatives? It has all the marks of an honour killing. That would be a hate crime too.

      April 8, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  16. geoffp1972

    BTW, Sarsour: you're not Shaima Alawadi unless your husband stabbed you to death because of ancient reactionary religious insecurities which translate into modern, unrepentant misogyny. Try writing about that.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  17. bubba

    CNN should retract this column. This wasn't a hate crime of non-muslims on a muslim. It was muslim on muslim violence. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/04/records-hint-iraqi-womans-death-not-a-hate-crime/

    April 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Felsen Stark

      Yes they should, but is good that they do not. It exposes their own duplicity. This author is in a sad situation really. A more honest expose would detail truthfully what would happen to her in regards to her family and co-ideologist if she were discard or change her hijab and beliefs.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  19. Lol

    Most Americans are stupid bigots lol just lol.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • wri7913

      Most people that LOL more than once in the same sentence are pretty idiotic.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  20. Jordan

    Okay, the murders of Martin and Alawadi weren't hate crimes. (I might point out that there is no official conclusion in either case. So, those of you who are so "sure" Alawadi was killed by her family could still be very wrong. I digress.) So, what? It doesn't change the facts of our society. This article highlights a problem that is very real in America. People are unjustly tried, judged, and convicted based on how they look. Martin wasn't killed because he was black? That doesn't take away from the hundreds of black men who were. Alawadi wasn't killed because she was Muslim? There are dozens if not hundreds of other people who were. People are missing the point of this article. We have to fight hatred, prejudice, and ignorance––not spread it.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • BS

      Where are the facts to support your claim that "dozens" or "hundreds" of Muslims have been murdered in the US for being Muslim? Not even phony civil rights organizations such as CAIR have made that claim. In fact, Muslims are far less likely to be the victims of hate crimes than most other groups, according to the most reliable statistics. Muslims are also more likely to commit a hate crime than to be a victim of one. Please check your facts before spouting such fallacious blather.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • Gwen

      I was Hijabi for 7 years and was only confronted as a terrorist once. I was faithful in Hijab and was always respectful. Yet, I had much pain and abuse from other Muslims. And I sometimes think that some Muslims have problems because they do not try to adapt to American social standards even when living in America. I often walked into a store and someone would give me dirty look, but almost always a smile and a soft Hello would turn them around. I well know that most Muslims are peaceful and loving, but it was men who "said" they were Muslim who did 9/11. No Catholic, Baptist, Buddist, or Athiest did this 9/11, so as Muslims there is a hole not of our creation to dig ourselves out of.

      April 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Jordan

      Uh Huh, and where are your facts. Whether one Muslim or hundreds of Muslims have been murdered, it doesn't take away the importance of fighting stereotypes and prejudice. It doesn't make the hateful attacks posted on this sight okay. It's not okay.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • geoffp1972

      What "dozens and hundreds"? Instead of throwing around specious assertions, how about making a supported argument? Instead of being a symbol for religious hate, it seems Alawadi is actually an example of another, conservative religious brand of hate.

      Have a look around. There are other memes out there.

      My honour murder is my hoodie.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Felsen Stark

      See this is what this is about. Lies. Lies like yours. Rightly criticizing islam will continue, killing dozens and hundreds has not happened as people are more concerned about showing people the true nature of islam: fear.. We are not illiterate, we can read the terrible history, the news from other countries, the Koran and Haddiths.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • Luke

      The nazi party has now defined the swastika as a symbol of hatred. They didn't invent it, its been around for thousands of years and can be found in ancient artifacts. But the actions of nazi germany have caused this symbol to be one pf evil.

      Many Americans still remember the images of islamic radicals with covered faces, executing U.S. citizens and soldiers. It is unfortunate that many people will associate those actions with certain types of head dress.

      Other types of clothing are also associated with hate and evil. The white hood cannot be used for any purpose because it too has been defined by the actions of hateful groups of people. So its not an unusual phenomenon.

      April 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Salero21

      I wholeheartedly agree with you in that we all ought to "fight" hatred and prejudice. But when it comes to Ignorance, well I think that in the least of cases you're spreading missinformation.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • wri7913

      So we should honor the spirit of the article rather than whether it is based in facts?

      Um.... no. Making a problem out of nothing and then claiming people are bigoted, racists and Muslimphobic when that wasn't even the case is called a "moot point". We should honor the spirit of bigotry against Jews more than Muslims because FBI statistics show HARD evidence that there has been a rise in crime against them.

      But you nary hear a peep from those who want to brainwash you.

      April 6, 2012 at 12:12 am |
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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.