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. Slavadil

    Hmm.. so basically it seems the logic of the article is this:

    Some bigot assumes all Muslims are like OBL, so naturally all Americans must be like that bigot.

    The writer seems to have fallen for the very sweeping generalizations that she seeks to condemn.
    Typical hypocrisy.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  2. Stern

    America is the most racist and bigot country in the world. This is an understatement. No doubt about it! The history is a proof of that.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • foreigner

      amen.just read comments here and see the blind fury and insults of the whites who feel that their barbarism is exposed and that they are judged by others(their long time prerogative).

      April 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  3. paganguy

    A hoodie is worn to keep warm. Athletes of all colors use it after a work-out.
    A hijab is worn for religious reasons, dictated by men of cloth.
    I don't care what you wear as long as I can see your face and I can ascertain that you don't have a weapon in your garb.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  4. BigDoginTexas

    Cry me a river. Muslims will get more respect when they stop being hyphenated Americans (Muslim-American / Arab-American) and when a person of ANY religion can stand without fear in an Arab country and espouse their religion and beliefs without fear. Two wrongs to not make a right, I get it – but you reap what you have sown.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Snow

      So, in your opinion, a person born in this country, but following their native customs must pay for what some people in their native country are doing wrong? Wow! great logic, bo..

      Also, in your opinion, African-Americans deserve low respect as well because of a hyphen in the label others made for them? seriously, what is wrong with you?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  5. TDiddy

    And in muslim countries they will cut your head off for NOT wearing a "hoodie"! muslims are ALL pigs and YES we want you ALL gone! not just from our country!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Please spare me the B.S.

      Nuke em all!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Stern

      Go kill yourself racist bigot.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  6. They're the coolest

    l like turtles, but wombat are my favorite!! The wombat is covered in fur and has been discriminated against. The wombat is Teyvon & Linda. The connection is so clear!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    April 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • boocat

      Oh shuddup....

      April 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  8. barbara

    This is a totally irresponsible self serving article. And perhaps Sarsour should be up on the latest developments. It looks like this woman's husband is responsible for the beating... something that many of us suspected all along. How dare you use this faked "hate crime" to play the religious discrimination card. If anything you should be outraged that this woman's husband murdered her probably because she dared have the audacity to try to divorce. You should be outraged at how women are treated and deprived of basic liberties in Muslim countries. And there is not a rash of hate crimes against Muslims. In fact, I would dare say that the terrorist attacks abroad far outway any hate crimes. Most do not hate Muslims, but they do resent them trying to come here and change our laws to "accomodate " them. Most people do not hate Muslims, but yes, many of us are afraid of them.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Stern

      You are clueless!!! Did you even read the article? The lady was murdered LAST WEEK by racist and bigot people. Not LAST YEAR!

      The woman beaten by racist people last week has absolutely nothing to do with the other case where the husband murdered his wife, which was last year. You are dumb

      April 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • They're the coolest

      Stern – youre a moron, please google the womans name and look up the facts. Hahaha I've never seen so much stupidity in my life. Do you know what 1+1 equals?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  9. Brian

    Poor muslims – I think we should ponder how many "hate" crimes are committed in predominately muslim countries against Christians. Do not preach tolerance and cry about being victimized – you do the same at a greater scale. Besides you can leave here anytime you like. We never asked for you to be here.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • foreigner

      you are not welcome,either.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  10. Sara

    Actually, the evidence showed her murder wasn't motivated by hate. Doesn't CNN have standards before putting up articles by people who don't do their fact-checking?

    April 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  11. Stern

    America is full of fing racist and bigot people. It is not even funny.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Brian

      OMG – please user proper grammar you buffoon. It would bigoted...OK ?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Grammer

      Well, Brian,
      As you say: "useR proper grammer", and "It WOULD bigoted... OK?"
      How do you translate that into English, with CORRECT GRAMMER?
      Explain yourself per your standards, Please!

      April 11, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  12. tess

    sorry Linda, I dont really see them as the same thing. nice try, though...

    April 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  13. suckmyteabag

    Really CNN? Really Linda Sarsour? Did you really feel it necessary exploit this tragedy in order to raise awareness to the 'plight' of Muslim Americans?.... Yet another special interest group marrying themselves to this horrible situation only to forward their own agenda.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  14. Stern

    America is full of f'king racist and bigot people. It is just mind blowing.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Mike

      Not only America.....most countries populations are horribly racist and bigoted. This is not just a USA proplem. It's a humanity thing.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Grammer

      Well, Brian,
      As you say: "useR proper grammer", and "It WOULD bigoted... OK?"
      How do you translate that into English, with CORRECT GRAMMER?

      April 11, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  15. Wastrel

    Leave it to CNN to publish this drivel. This celebration of the victim mentality has nothing to do with the real world or Trayvom Martin. As for the woman k1lled in El Cajon, who provided the writer with such a wrenching and irrelevant drama with which to begin the article, the chances are that she was killed by Muslims and the note left behind is a red herring.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Snow

      "chances are.." such a lovely phrase.. it is so versatile and can be used efficiently to bring focus to a problem, or can as efficiently be used to trivialize a travesty and sidetrack the general opinion.. for eg, from your rhetoric, one can say, "Chances are that you are a moron/jackass/etc".. truth could be that you really are.. but chances are that maybe you are simply a bigot.. Still, the fact remains that till the actual truth comes out, saying such things will really make you one.. no chances there.. food for thought, eh?

      April 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  16. rita krishna

    everybody wears hoodies and scarves hijab style too its popular and fashionable the issue is not what u are wearing its who you are

    April 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • jimbo

      Everybody??? Where I live, they stand out like a KKK hoodie.

      April 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  17. Brian

    Why do some many people attempt to write comments and be combative when they have not even mastered basic English grammar ? You want to denigrate and abuse others but yet your communiques are written like a below-average child. You will never be taken seriously if you can not even construct a proper sentence in the native language.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Grammer

      And, what exactly in your native language would it mean in saying "Why do SOME MANY people"!!!!!
      I think I might never find anyone willing to take you seriously>

      April 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  18. Slavadil

    Are you kidding me? Hijacking a tragedy that had nothing to do with you, and making your self out to be the victim?

    Ms. Sansour, how self-centered are you?

    April 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Z

      first of all I do not think that tragedy of young little Martin was hijacked by this person. It was hijacked by those who did not follow standard procedures and did not charge Zimmerman with MANSLAUGHTER!!!!!! , and refused to put Zimmerman in jail, and last but not least, trying to make out the teenager to be the aggressor. The iraqi womans death was just as much of a tragedy in america as the Martin case. A racist person (probably white) killed a muslim woman IN HER HOME and left a note saying "go back to your country you terrorist". All Linda did was shine light on americas racism issues with particular attention to two racially motivated MURDERS!! its funny how a positive message can generate even more hate in america. Just look at all the negative comments on here.. such pathetic maggots. Im glad I don't live in the United States = )

      P.S:Hey white americans, you are not indigenous to this land. Go back to europe !

      April 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  19. They're the coolest

    I like turtles, but wombat are my favorite!! The wombat is covered in fur and has been discriminated against. The wombat is Teyvon & Linda. The connection is so clear!

    April 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  20. Sen

    Sorry Linda Sarsour, Your Hijab for whatever reason you are wearing it doesnt remind us Hoody. It reminds us OBL and all the bad things you guys (ara_bs) are doing to the world

    April 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Big George in Big D

      How true! She's wearing that crap on her head because she wants to but it is sooooooooo out of place here. I would be perfectly happy if there we NO muslims in this country. The are getting as bad as the illegals – they just take over!

      April 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Z

      racist comment

      April 5, 2012 at 3:39 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.