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. OyVey

    USA123, I did not see any Muslim protests in the streets against the 911 bombings. But I did see a lot of Muslim countries celebrating, shooting in the air and burning American flags. Pretty much the same thing you still see on the news today...

    April 15, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  2. OyVey

    Gangsters do wear hoodies,and islamoterrorists wear head coverings. And u wonder why people stereotype?

    April 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  3. the new muneef

    Thank you USA123

    April 15, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  4. Mei

    Hate towards anyone because of their religion is wrong. However, I will comment that Muslims need to stop pointing fingers at non-Muslims and instead, address the terrorists in their own midst and those who hate "foreigners" . When 9/11 happened, there was little outcry from Muslims in America (at least I didn't see too many in the news at all) nor do I see them speaking against the bombing on Christian churches around the world (and this is very very common occurrence right now). If Muslims want to show the world that they are peaceful and NON-hateful, they need to speak to those in their own midst who are spreading hate and killing. Most Christian organizations in the world are doing charity, helping the poor, running hospitals, spreading the message of "God's Mercy".

    April 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • USA123

      As soon as the tragic events of 9/11 unfolded, leaders of various muslim nations condemned it. Hundreds of thousands of American Muslims took to the streets to express thier outrage at such terrorism. But the problem is that the media doesn't want to highlight Muslims condeming terrorism. They would rather associate Muslims with Terrorists, as that would sell more. I don't blame you for not knowing. Not many do...

      April 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Ronin

      Lol USA123. Except that every day around the world hundreds and hundreds of Muslims are killing people solely in the name of their faith. I get where you are coming from, there are plenty of good muslims. But there are enough of them that want to see outsiders killed, that no one cares about them anymore. If they don't want to take care of their own people, God knows I won't show them any sympathy. Then again, Islam might be the biggest virus in the world right now.

      April 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • Elise

      I feel so tired of taking the blame for other people who claim to be muslims' bad deeds. If a christian does something bad, i think it's understood that they are crazy and not really following the religion. Why can't it be the same for muslims? Killing people is obviously bad and terrorists are obviously off their rocker..I try to be the best person I can be, but that's not good enough. I'm in texas and little and scared of wearing a hijab alone and getting attacked.

      April 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  5. the new muneef

    I think some commentors have to realize that the religion doesn't preach hate, the terrorists do. Would you say that christainity preaches hate just because of hitler or kkk? i don't think so.

    April 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • richard stack

      This could really be an honor killing honoring alah. So be thier beliefe it could be like a sacrament or a mitsvah. Look at the positive.

      April 15, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Mei

      I understand the comment but Hitler was NOT Christian and didn't even say he was Christian. He made up his own religion and that is something the history books state. Same as the KKK. They do not claim to be followers of Christ. Shame on those who try to compare hateful organizations/persons with Christians in general. Christianity has PROVED over and over again, the goodness it preaches. The reason we have charities today, orphanages, the Red Cross, etc has been the result of CHRISTIANITY,not Islam, not any other religion. When the nobility didn't want to help the poor, the Catholic Church (if you want to be specific) offered charity through their religious orders that fed the poor, housed the sick (most hospitals are Christian based), visit the imprisoned.

      April 15, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • Larry Moniz

      Actually, I disagree. It's just that clerics of various religions are more subtle in our politically correct society. As a child it was considered a "sin" for a Catholic to be seen entering a Jewish temple or Protestant Church. They faced potential excommunication for doing so. In the South, Black Baptists weren't even allowed into White Baptist Churches. Today, I suspect an Hasidic Jew would be denied entry into a Mosque. Am I wrong?

      April 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • BlogHaha

      My CON DOM is my Hoodie.

      Rest In Peace

      April 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  6. MSL58

    Just as soon as Blacks blow up office buildings, murder their own sisters for daring to date, and blow themselves up in order to kill those around them, then you may hear the "N word" make a come back.

    Until then, your efforts would be better put convincing your coreligionists to stop committing the afore-mentioned acts, Oh yes – the Blacks don't blame Israel for all their problems, either.

    April 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Nana

      concerning calamities. So it pains us dlepey that this is occurring -as the Muslims are as one body, when one part is hurt we all suffer- but rather than becoming worked up and over- emotional, we must reflect and return to the obedience of Allah. I personally live here in Egypt when I go to the masaajid here (not including the salafi ones, as they have understanding and ulamaa who attend, the likes of Shaykh Hasan ibn Abdil-Wahhaab Al-Banna) there are hardly any new faces in the masjid during these times, and hardly more than one row tops besides that. So then they make kunoot and many of them are upon riyaa, even major shirk of the sufiyyah etc, they do not fulfill the shuroot/arkaan/waajibaat of the salaah such that it may be excepted not only that, they may have bida' in it their earnings are unlawful, such that their clothing, food etc. is as well, which will cause Allah to not respond to their invocations .then when they make the kunoot they yell and raise their voices as if angry with Allah, and become all emotional as the imaam begins to sing the kunoot for sooo long, overburdening most of the followers etc and then they say things in the du'a that was not from the way of the salaf blanketing du'a over entire nations of Americans, Jews, Christians etc. So I ask, how is any of this going to benefit, when first and foremost(as the list of this type of stuff is to long)they don't even have firm faith, or good knowledge/thoughts of Allah. wallahul-musta'aan. I ask Allah, Al-Hayy Al-Qayyoom that he avenge those innocent lives that were taken, and that he preserve those that are left, and that he guide the Muslims to understanding their religion and thus return back to it, and that He forgive us all for our mistakes, and that He not misguide our hearts after having guided them.. Surely He is our Maulaa, He is Al-Haleem wan-Naseer wa alaa kulli shayin Qadeer. Subhaanak Allahumma wa bi hamdik ash-hadu an laa ilaaha illaa anta astughfiruka wa atoobu ilayk.

      July 30, 2012 at 5:58 am |
  7. BJust

    First of, killed mother is a tragedy. But why immediately presume that it was a hate crime? Why not "honor" killing (my money is on this, we read about that a lot). And one more question – why the laws rejecting a sharia laws are bigotry? You came to this country – the least you can do is obey our laws. When you will live here for hundred years, fight for America, spill you blood for it, love it the way we do – maybe then you could start suggesting some changing to our laws.

    April 15, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  8. JoeG

    Maybe Christians should start wearing hoodies in support of all the Christians murdered constantly by Islam. You can't cover up hate with a hoodie, the KKK already tried that...

    April 15, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  9. achepotle

    In my America, people can wear whatever they want...hoodie, hijab, assless chaps...anyone that says different is my enemy and an enemy of America.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • SCS

      That's right!

      April 15, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • beowolf

      right on, but can I request that the assless chaps stay in your bedroom?

      April 22, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  10. Larry Moniz

    The author is comparing apples to oranges. Blacks have been mistreated because of outmoded traditions including slavery. I'm not a bigot, but I do take offense when Muslims complain about being discriminated against since 9-11. It was a group of 20 Muslims who waged acts of war against the American mainland for no good reason except hatred and envy of the American way of life. I hold no animosity against those of the Muslim faith. However I'm really tired about Muslims whining about a situation their religious brethren created. I'm also wearying of the allegations by Muslim leaders that their faith is a faith of peace rather than violence. History itself puts a lie to that claim. More people have been killed throughout recorded history in the name of Allah, Yahwey, God and other religions than by all the plagues that have impacted humankind. The current strife is merely a continuation of religious feuding that goes back to the era of the Christian Crusades in which Muslim villages were eradicated "in the name of god." Muslims have repeatedly sought vengeance since then, by slaying many thousands of "infidel" often for no good reason other than a grudge dating back a thousand years.
    According to Wikipedia: "The majority of Muslim scholars hold to the traditional view that apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment until repentance, at least for adult men of sound mind." Some may call that prejudice on my part, but any religion that condones death for those who fall away from the faith can hardly claim to be non-violent. The same applies to "honor killings" for women who commit various acts that are ludicrous by American living standards. Also, even in Muslim countries, what could be more violent than stoning someone to death for various religious offenses. Many Muslims still live in the Dark Ages despite the rest of the world have progressed and become more civilized. When American Muslims relocate to this country for a better life, then defend outmoded concepts, is it any wonder they're shunned and feared by those around them. When my family and numerous others came to the United States searching for a better life, they assimilated into American society. Unless and until Muslims do the same, they will continue to be targeted by those who fear the unknown

    April 15, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Gypsarella

      Very well said. Thank You!

      April 15, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • AmericanMuslim

      i disagree with many of your arguments
      Islam is a religion of peace, you can see that by looking at any of the middle east countries where Muslims and Christians coexist.
      why when it comes to an arab commiting an act of violence it get linked right away to religion especially islam, and when it is a christian or jew it gets treated differently? (like the killing of civilian afghans by a soldier).
      My point is, we should put ourselves in their shoes and consider all the facts before judging others, and stop relying on the biased media BS

      April 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Mei

      You need to read your history on the Crusades. Please look up the facts before stating them. Actually Christianity has been a blessing to humanity. It has CREATED most of the charity orgs in the world to date, including orphanages, houses for the poor, hospitals, relief organizations, etc. If it wasn't for Christianity, the world would be a very sorry place. I agree with some of your comment, that Muslims can not blame Americans for their situation. They need, instead, to address their OWN within their midst who continue to preach hate and/or old ways that discriminate against women and non-Muslims. Until they deal with the terrorists in their own midst, they should not be pointing the finger at others.

      April 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Larry Moniz

      To AmericanMuslim. I know you're spouting the politically correct line, but many Muslim scholars disagree with you and, unfortunately, so must I. If you want to talk about true peace then I offer you the example of American citizens toward Muslims. No one here goes around setting off explosive vests or car bombs to destroy Muslims, but that happens with fearful frequency in Muslim areas inhabited by non-Muslims. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and many other Mid-East and African nations.

      April 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • OyVey

      Islam has never been, nor will ever be a religion of peace. Non-Muslims are persecuted, killed and churches burned in many Islamic nations.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  11. Bayousara

    Main problem: Religion (all religions for all people), next problem, Muslims in the US showing little outward emotion during 9/11. Next problem: wearing attire that stands out in society (nothing wrong with this but it does attract attention)– why cover your hair? A sensual thing in Islam? Hair is there to keep you warm, that's it. All religions are farces, yet more hate and killing have occurred on Earth over religion than any other reason. SARAH, our ancestors came to America for lots of reasons (economic, mostly) but in the case of religious reasons, the persecutions just continued. It is all about forcing things we believe in down other people's throats. Close all the churches, turn them into service facilities, and hold religious services in homes like it was after Jesus' time in Christianity.

    April 15, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • SCS

      Many people wear "attire that stand out in society" – a pink wig, a short tight skirt, pants dangling near knees, etc, etc. Doesn't mean that they have to be shunned or feared... It's time for people like you to try and know a proper Christian or a proper Muslim and not get sidetracked by people making negative news. Getting oneself assimilated in a new country/society doesn't mean forgetting one's roots and morals. We should celebrate both our similarities as well as differences and stand up against those who do evil things in the name of any faith.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  12. gideodog@netscape.net

    Where were the Arab Americans when they let the killer free from Lockerbie. Where were they in protest when the 50 were held for 444 days and subjected to mock firing squads. It's a tragedy that any woman was killed with a tire iron and the animal(s) that did it should be shot-but I'm all whined out. Until minority groups stand up against hate crimes against all races I have no time for it-take that to your OJ parade.

    April 15, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  13. jon

    The hijab is no hoodie its a symbol of womens lower standing in Islam

    April 15, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • SCS

      It's not. Go educate yourself, please!

      April 15, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Elise

      It's not like that. It's to show modesty. Think of it as someone who is tired of girls showing their boobies to anyone that'll look–for me, it's keeping some part of me that's ultra special only for my guy. No one makes me do anything.

      April 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • gypsarella

      If women wear a hijab to show modesty and save something sensual for their husbands, why are men not required to do the same? How does that not demonstrate the the inferiority of women? Why the freedom for men's sensual hair, right out in the open where any woman can gaze upon it with lust?

      January 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  14. ron

    let her preach in the muslim world where christians are butchered ever day! what crap!

    April 15, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  15. Texanonymouse

    "As an Arab-American Muslim mother of three, I instantly thought about myself and my family." I do hope your family does not exist with the disturbing dynamics of hers, which created additional suspects beyond hate-mongers.

    April 15, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  16. chris

    Why is it the one thing that is supposed to unite us all is the one thing that tears us apart? Coexist!

    April 15, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • SCS


      April 15, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  17. curt

    Pretty lame looking hoody.

    April 15, 2012 at 7:59 am |
  18. JerryS

    There is more reverse racism in America today than ever before. Minorities have and demand more rights than whites. Islam is the most intolerant religion. Every day churches are burned and Christians murdered by Islamic radicals, yet it rarely, if ever makes the news. Hate crimes are hate crimes, no one should get special treatment because they wear a hoodie, or a hajib...

    April 15, 2012 at 6:24 am |
  19. Corey

    bless you. the parallels you have drawn are on point. i just read about an young 19 y/o college student who read about a catholic saint on cnn while flipping channels, has a friend who is in stage iv cancer and decided to walk 70 miles from his college dorm to this shrine to pray for this friend. the guy is not catholic. i love you, God loves you best.

    April 15, 2012 at 6:19 am |
    • SCS

      Well said. Thank you and God bless you!

      April 15, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  20. Sarah

    I believe the death of another is a tragic loss. A mother was beaten to death, her skin color, and reglion matters not in this case. What matters is teaching tolerance. Something that I see alot of people do not have. I have lost a sister and a brother both were murdered due to racism and hate. It does not matter that I am not related to them by blood, they are human beings. I understand that we are fighting a war, but to breed hate and contemptment for another because of a skin color or their religion is wrong. We are all imperfect, each religion and race. She is refering to the fact that putting on her religous symbol makes her a target for hate. So yes the Hajib is in fact her hoodie because well we throw on a hoodie and people see punks, gangsters, and hoodlums. They put on the Hajib and closed minds see terrorists. All I can say is how very sad for all the negativity and hate. American Muslims came to this country for the same reasons our ancestors did. To escape pursicution.

    April 15, 2012 at 5:12 am |
    • SCS

      Thank you, Sarah! There should be more people like you around.

      April 15, 2012 at 11:51 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.