When Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi-American, hijab wearing mother of five, was found brutally beaten to death in her El Cajon home near San Diego, it appeared that she had been singled out for the attack. A threatening letter calling her a terrorist and to return to her own country was found next to her lifeless body, according to the daughter who discovered the grisly scene.
According to the family, a similar note had been left at the Alawadi home earlier that month, and though her husband wanted to contact the local authorities, Alawadi shrugged it off as a hateful prank and chose to ignore it.
“Our community does face a lot of discriminatory, hate incidents and don’t always report them,” said CAIR San Diego’s Executive Director Hanif Mohebi. “They should take these threats seriously and definitely call local law enforcement.”
Discrimination against the American-Muslim community often goes unreported, according to CAIR San Diego’s Executive Director Hanif Mohebi, though that number has been increasing in recent months.
“In the past two to three months we have had some level of increase in at least reporting of hate crimes or discrimination and hate incidents within the San Diego County. We’re still trying to figure out the reason why that may be,” said Mohebi in the days following the violent killing.
Residents of El Cajon, one of the largest Iraqi-American communities in the United States, have been left in a state of shock in the aftermath of the fatal attack. Since the killing, at least two members of the American-Muslim community have reported receiving disturbing and threatening phone calls to CAIR’s San Diego chapter.
While the circumstances surrounding the incident remain unclear, and police, as well as Muslim organizations that have been assisting the family, have been careful not to label the case as a hate crime, the fact remains that a young Muslim woman in the prime of her life has been murdered under the pretense of hate, no matter what the motivation might be behind the killing.
The murder of hijab wearing Alawadi immediately drew comparison to the killing of Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager who was shot dead last month by a Neighborhood Watch volunteer who claimed Martin looked “suspicious” as he walked home wearing a hooded sweatshirt from a nearby convenience store. Martin was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles and iced tea when his life was cut short.
Both innocent victims of violent crimes fueled by suspicion and stereotypes, Americans across the country have organized rallies, protests, and demonstrations to show solidarity for Martin, Alawadi, and the countless other victims of hate.
“Hoodies and Hijabs” rallies have taken place around the country, where participants wear hooded sweatshirts and hijabs to raise awareness about the damaging effects of stereotypes, and sending the message that a person’s appearance should never be a factor in violent crimes.
And since it began almost two weeks ago, the Facebook page “One Million Hijabs For Shaima Alawadi” has pulled in over 12,000 followers. The page advocates the wearing of hijab by Muslim and non-Muslim women alike to show support for Alawadi and the American-Muslim community. People identifying themselves as Catholics, Quakers, Jews and atheists, to name a few, have posted on the page, and there are hundreds of photos showing women from all different backgrounds wearing hijab in solidarity.
Recently new evidence has come to light that suggests the Alawadi household may have been in a state of turmoil – with the discovery of paperwork for divorce, and a teenage daughter distraught over her pending arranged marriage, it seems what was initially viewed as a possible hate crime is now being portrayed as a case of domestic violence.
Regardless of whether the brutal attack on Alawadi was fueled by anti-Muslim sentiment or triggered by domestic disputes within the family, the case has brought significant attention to the inequality that prevails in American culture. It has highlighted the dangers of allowing hateful rhetoric and bigotry to go unpunished, and the fatal consequences that can result. No doubt those who would like to deny the prevalence of hate crimes, racism, and bigotry in the United States will use the new information in the Alawadi case to further damaging stereotypes, such as the oppression of women in Islamic communities, and detract from the xenophobic sentiment that exists in this country. This is what makes movements such as “Hoodies and Hijabs” and “One Million Hijabs For Shaima Alawadi” so important – these movements have proven that, no matter the discrepancies that have surfaced in recent days, an overwhelming percent of the American public is willing to take a stand and act as a loud voice for minority communities that are faced so often with injustice in the name of hate.