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. Rachel

    I cannot believe these comments I am reading in 2012. I feel like I've time traveled to an era when the Internet did not exist and news took weeks to reach the public. The Internet is here for you to use. It is a labyrinth of information, and a lot of it is great, accurate, and TRUE. Look for it. Stop searching for "evidence" to back up your nonsense. Be truth-seeking and open-minded and search for things that don't fit inside your narrow box of xenophobic, Islamophobic rhetoric. This is seriously depressing. I can't believe I am from the same nation as most of you. I'm so embarrassed that it's painful. You are just proving over and over again the very point of this piece. I'd be more comfortable stuck in a cage with a pack of male gorillas than I would be in a room with most of you.

    April 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Jason

      Once Islam takes over our country,you,who support Islam and this woman,will realize it is too late.there here to take over and change our way of life.,and will continue to let them come here and pretend,they are peace loving.they lie.I know yhiese people.please do not be fooled.

      April 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • sosume

      Jason – You are completely delusional. What evidence do you have that Muslims are trying to take over the country? I mean real evidence. The kind that proves facts, not hairbrained nonsense claims like "Obama is a Muslim", and those kinds of flannel brained claims. The real stuff – like evidence used in a court. You don't have any because there isn't any. right? Admit it to yourself. It is all fantasy.

      April 11, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  2. Lisa

    You know the husband killed her, or had her killed–don't you?

    April 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Akim

      WOW – court already decided . thanks..... we should close all the investigations and courts and just ask for any murder which has happened in the country...or will happen ...

      April 13, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  3. Chris

    Good for you, Take your hoodie hijab and go back to your own country. If you want to wear a hat.. .do it in the desert

    April 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  4. D.D.


    April 11, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  5. Jeff

    My take: My KKK robe is my hoodie. Let's never judge anyone by what they're wearing. If a man walks into a bank with a ski mask, who are we to judge him? It might just be cold outside.

    April 11, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Rabeca

      This is another model of terrorism which have been played when it comes to terrorist Islam or racist African American, no one told you to interfere our communities and promote your belief in public in a very provocative way, your culture is to blame. The Arab world is a model today just like Africa, where people kill each other in the name of Islam and deny other to be free in their belief. I think this author is completely wrong and does not know the deference and nature to live in a democratic society where people are equal, your provocative behave is the problem in violation to the public right, whether you are dressed a hijab or walking down the street naked, you should be arrested, because you are promoting hate indirectly to a natural way of life America known for hundreds of years. So my suggest is wear your Hijab at home and no one will say anything to you, but don't provoke us with what it hurt the most especially after September 11.

      April 11, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  6. Adam

    Although I feel very sorry and ashamed for the America's purely bigoted view against Islam, I think we're a fearful nation. America has ALWAYS been afraid of the influx of new immigrants. Please remember that it's likely that a good percentage of this country hadn't heard much about Islam or Muslim culture before 9/11. I was in middle school when it happened, and American schools (at least mine) don't cover global current affairs until at least high school. So my introduction to Islam was through crazy radicals flying planes into the symbol of all that is American. Now, I'm fortunate enough to be blessed with an education and an open mind, so I fully understand that 9/11 was and is not representative of Islam. Sadly, however, the average American cannot think for themselves, and thus we have people that are extremely prone to be afraid of what they do not know. With their awful introduction to Islam, and their closed, fearful minds, can you really blame them for seeing all Muslims as evil? I think blame is due, of course they are not the victims in Muslim American murders. But is it at least possible for an understanding? Not a justification, just at least an understanding of their fear? Not everyone is blessed with an open mind and an education. I think that until an understanding can be made on BOTH sides, we will not progress out of this cycle of hate.

    That being said, I don't believe that it's correct for Muslims to walk into this country, and expect Sharia laws. I firmly believe in the fact that this country was founded on freedom of religion, and thus it should be free FROM religion. My government should NOT follow the laws of the Koran let alone those of the Bible, the Tora or the Pastafarian Book of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So any defense against "anti-Sharia" laws? Well that you can take back to whatever your Middle Eastern country of origin may be. I, and I'm sure my fellow American brethren won't stand for it. Back to my "understanding" point, there will be no understanding on our side until Muslims stop trying to make America convert to their culture. This is the great melting pot where all assimilate. You have to assimilate to be American.

    April 11, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Rachel

      Your government does not follow Sharia law so what the hell are you babbling about?

      April 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
  7. Regina

    Sarsour....I'm sorry that this crime accured and inspired you to write this blog. I'm sorry that "my" America is this ignorant, afraid of the unknown, and this hateful of anything that is not a mirror of themselves. I totally agree with your words, 100 % and all I can say is that you must continue to write about it and let the world know the story. Trayvon died 2-2 1/2 weeks before anyone outside that Florida community knew anything about it. The world now knows due to the internet/social media and word of mouth from those disgusted by the injustice...use these tools to your best advantage. Like with the Trayvon case, the heat must be put on the authorities in hopes of getting things done the right way with regards to the investigation.
    My heart goes out to Alawadi's family...

    April 11, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  8. Robert Sutherland

    Just read the piece by Linda Sarsour. She sounds so much more intelligent and caring than those spouting off their bigotry and hatred. How sad.

    April 11, 2012 at 4:26 am |
  9. G

    Linda Sarsour and anyone else who doesn't like it can pack your bags, put on your rags, and go back to your own damn country.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Jamie

      Seems pretty ironic how many people comment on here to essentially prove the author's point about bigotry against Muslims (or anyone else that is difference). Looks like the article went right over their heads.

      April 11, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  10. Luke Weyland

    Linda Sarsour , I agree with you entirely.

    We must treat people the way we ( not only expect) but hope to be treated.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • JLasaque

      Of course Luke...I bet you truly beleive Ms. Sarsour would employ your equality aspirations, and extend public kindness/protection to an uncovered Christian woman wearing a crucifix in Mecca during the Hajh..just as she'd like to be treated...right...? Muslims are experts at "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" and "what's mine is mine, and what's yours we can negotiate" mentality...which is why I am 0% convinced she means what she says...take off the rose colored glasses as see the world for what it is...

      April 10, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Thinker

      Lasaque, the point of the golden rule is to treat others how you WANT to be treated, not how you expect to be treated.

      April 12, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  11. bhigh

    It makes me angry to see muslim families out and about where the wives and daughters are swathed head-to-toe in yards of fabric while the men and boys frolic about in shorts and polo shirts during the hot and humid Philadelphia summer. Shed the shrouds and be free !

    April 10, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  12. Claude Slagenhop

    No, you hijab is a sign of your repression and subjugation by men. You are forced to wear it by ignorant 18th century worshipers of a misogynist screwball who advocates murdering the infidels and a backward homicidal religion.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
    • JLasaque

      Perhaps repressive and subjagative...but also slimming...hoodies just don't offer the same fashion multi-purposeness...

      Same thing with turbans and indian chief headdresses....fabulous!!!

      April 10, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • G

      Nicely put. Bravo !

      April 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • Rachel

      Muslim women do not HAVE to wear hijabs. They are allowed to make the choice to do so. Many do, but many do not. I have just as many female Muslim classmates who choose to wear a hijab as those who do not. Do some research beyond your own bigotry and hearsay.

      April 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Elisa Jordana

      Seems like Rachel needs plant that fat @ss of hers back in Lebanon.

      April 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  13. Pierre

    I think it's amazing that this article is allowed to be published with references to the iraqi woman murdered in San Diego with its insinuations that it was a hate crime. Anyone following this case closely knows the police never labeled it as such, and that there is good reason to suspect that this murder was an inside job. This is why no one trusts the main stream media anymore. My Hijab is my hoodie? Fine by me, I guess, if you want to participate in your own oppression.

    April 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Carolyn

      how very open-minded of you.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  14. F. Ait

    I feel so sad reading some of the above comments. The state of mind and the critical thinking that is displayed is a testimony that we did not evolve at all as a human race.

    April 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  15. David Ellis

    Individuals who claimed to represent Islam flew planes into buildings and killed Americans. That is something which it will take a long, long time to forgive. You will say they are not true muslims, just lone fanatics, well I am going to say that the perpetrators of the 160 hate crimes in 2010 are as well, so please stop painting all Americans with the brush of Islamophobia. I am actually amazed at how few attacks there are.
    To put your number in perspective, the FBI stats show 10x more hate crimes against Jews than against Muslims. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more attacks against Jews by Muslims than against Muslims in all of America.

    April 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • duke_of_anke

      There are more reported acts against Jews. but that is because most Muslims do not recognize hate crimes and often do not to make a fuss. The Jews unfortunately have a had longer to deal with this kind of crime and have been taught to report everything, Muslims also understand that there is very little sympathy for them. Islamaphobia like anti-Semitism should have no place in modern day America, look behind the reporting and remember those who died on 9/11 were American. British, all the nations of the world as well as all the religions of the world including Muslims and Jews

      April 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Ay Caramba

      Islamophobia phewie...! These animals are intending to enslave us all specially women under Sharia Law. Nothing is anti-freedom like islam. Islaml tries to enslave the soul and the mind to a fake god of the moon. It messes with the moral compass and allows murder and killing and lies as OK for its ideology. Islam is Vile.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  16. Sandra

    The sad part is they are investigating the Iraqi woman's husband and daughter in connection with the crime, so it may not be a hate crime at all. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    April 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  17. CS

    Ms Sarsour please put your mind at ease! As it turns out you have a less than 1% chance of being victimized a hate crime according to the statistics your article cites (a .006% chance in fact given a total population of about 2.65million American Muslims). It is of course shocking & unacceptable that even one Muslim American should be so targeted but it's hardly a national disaster waiting to happen to you. The issues that many of your readers and indeed progressive Muslim writers like Irshad Manji raise about needing to get your own house in order should resonant with you and the rest of the Muslim community. After all you are at greater risk from men in your own community than you are from the larger society of Islamaphobes.

    April 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Rodeo_Joe

    American Racism is a killer. 160 lynching a year was the"norm" in America. Old habits are hard to break in the USA.

    Bigotry has a DIRECT correlation ot lower IQ ( G. Hodson et al., 2012 ). And there you have it. Lower IQ = bigotry.

    And that is why it won't go away, here, or anywhere. Embrace the Chaos.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  19. Stop Shariah

    Oh cry me a river, Linda Sarsour!! Spare me the typical cry-baby victimhood sob-story that CAIR and other Muslim groups constantly pour out every time a crime is committed against a Muslim in this great country. Where are you when the poor Muslim women are honor-killed by their own husbands and fathers? That seems to be ok in your culture and religion. You don't live in an anti-Muslim envirnoment. Take a look at your home country. How are Christians and Jews treated there? They don't have the same religious freedoms that we afford to you. I will never beat you or anyone else with a tire iron, but get the hell out of my country and quit trying to change us into the Middle East!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • woodchuck

      Not all Muslim nations are the same. Turkey and Azerbaijan are very secular compared to Saudi Arabia, for example. And honor killings don't happen in all Muslim nations. Most American Muslims don't want to impose sharia on the US. Even if your criticisms of some Muslim nations is partly true, it's frankly irrelevant to this discussion, and telling Sarsour to "get the hell out of my country and quit trying to change us into the Middle East!!!!" is racist and ignorant. Sarsour was born and raised in Brooklyn, this is her country too. Further, America is a nation of immigrants.

      April 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • smittyandme

      AMEN to THAT!!! Women are second class citizens in most of the middle east, if not all. If I were a Muslim woman in America I wouldn't wear it on my head like a flag, although it's their right to do it. I just don't understand why they WANT to do it. To me,
      it's more of a "Look at me" statement. I don't think it's a right to cover your head and face in an ID photo, tho, or in a US military uniform, etc. Those have both been issues in the past, I believe. I'm pretty tired of the whole thing. I started out being open minded about it, but not anymore. You give an inch, they take a mile.... buncha "hooey". Where has common sense gone?

      April 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Robert Sutherland

      The last time I looked it was America trying to change the Middle East. Has it occurred to you that Linda Sarsour may have been born in America. She describes herself as in Arab-American so she probably is American born. I can't believe the hatred, narrow minded bigotry I'm reading on here.

      April 11, 2012 at 6:37 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Actually there was an article right here on CNN a few months ago about honor killings in Turkey. Furthermore only an idiot thinks America is a nation of immigrants. With your (political) logic ..all nations outside of central Africa would be considered a nation of immigrants and renders your comment moot.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  20. Fern

    Hoodie, hijab, yarmulke, turban, baseball cap. People can wear what they want, this is a free country.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Absolutely right… and we are just as free to dislike what it represents. Isn’t life grand.

      April 11, 2012 at 1:28 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.