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OnIslam.net

Investigating a Muslim’s Murder

Islamophobia? Domestic Violence? Honor killing? The Search for Answers in the Tragic Death of Shaima Alawadi
By Karen Leslie Hernandez
Theologian- United States of America
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When I first heard of Alawadi’s death I was angry – especially because it was thought to be a hate crime.

The shocking death of Shaima Alawadi last month in El Cajon, California, sent shock waves around the United States and the world. At first thought to be a hate crime, now, it seems, as facts surface, there are many holes in this theory.

When reports first came out, the news was that Alawadi was found in a pool of blood, beaten to death with what was thought to be a tire iron of some sort, with a note beside her body that said, "Go back to your country, you terrorist.”

Weeks before, Shaima Alawadi is said to have found a similar note, but brushed it off as a hoax by children. However, investigators are now saying it does not look like a hate crime and indeed, it looks like it may be a case of domestic violence.

In my work in religious fundamentalism and extremism, the perpetrators of hate crimes don’t leave notes. They do not announce before-hand that they are hateful and threatening, and they certainly do not announce that they were there.

With reports that her seventeen year old daughter, Fatima, was being forced to marry a man she did not want to marry; to reports that over a month ago, her daughter was caught in a car in a random neighborhood having sex with a man in his 20’s; to a report that Alawadi was actually filing for a divorce, it seems many others could have had a role in her death.

When I first heard of Alawadi’s death I was angry – especially because it was thought to be a hate crime. Yet, I also felt uneasy about the hate crime theory, not because I don't believe someone could do such a thing, but because it just didn’t sound right to me.

In my work in religious fundamentalism and extremism, the perpetrators of such crimes don’t leave notes. They do not announce before-hand that they are hateful and threatening, and they certainly do not announce that they were there. Their crime is enough to make a statement; there’s no need to advertise it any more than with the act itself.

This was enough to make me wonder, and then this video of Alawadi’s daughter lamenting her mother’s death surfaced. Does this girl strike you as someone who is truly mourning? To be frank, this video illustrates to me a daughter who is faking her loss—but why, I am not sure.

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Now, Alawadi’s family has traveled back to Iraq to bury Shaima, and technically, could never return to the United States. This could be a serious problem.

Taken from One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi page on Facebook.

Flying Over the Facebook

Out of all this commotion over Alawadi’s death, came a new phenomenon. A page on Facebook was born. Called, One Million Hijabs for Shaima Alawadi, this page grew fantastically, up to a little over 17,800 in a short period of time. As it grew, women from all over the world, and from different religions, races, and ethnicities, posted photos of themselves wearing a head cover or a hijab in honor of the idea of Alawadi’s death being a hate crime.

These women, including myself, covered to express solidarity, to insist that such ignorance will not be tolerated, and to simply stand side-by-side as women against violence.

In fact, many women around the world decided to wear a hijab for the whole month of April. Again, these women were Christian, Jewish, and from other religious traditions. Wearing the hijab in honor of Alawadi enabled them bring attention to Alawadi’s death. It also helped them gain insight as to the discrimination Muslim women who wear the hijab face every day, help them understand and feel the gift of piety and that constant reminder of their Muslim sister’s religiosity, as well as of their experience as a non-Muslim dawning the hijab.

This type of movement illustrates how we as human beings can be in solidarity if we try, and how bringing attention to this tragic death is an opportunity to cross bridges and seek understanding.

As tragic as Alawadi’s death is, there’s an important conversation happening here. Was this a case of Islamophobia at its worst? Was this a case of a daughter trying to avoid marrying a man she didn’t want to marry? Was this a case of a husband who would not let his wife divorce him?

Hate Crimes in America

It is important to note that hate crimes against Muslims and other religious groups in America are not unheard of, especially post 9/11. As for hate crime statistics here in the United States, of the 6628 classified hate crimes in 2010, 20% were religiously motivated hate crimes.

What is more important to recognize is that if indeed Alawadi was murdered by a family member, her death is not necessarily an honor killing as some Islamophobes such as Pamela Geller are trying to label it. This exact same language was used after the death of Aasiya Zubair Hassan back in 2010.

As Daisy Khan, Executive Director of The American Society for Muslim Advancement wrote about Hassan’s death , nowhere in the Qur’an does it condone any kind of violence against women. Khan also reminds us that an average of three women die every day at the hands of their male partners in the United States. That is an average of twenty-one women dying every week! These are White, Black, Asian, Jewish, Christian, and even Atheist women. Domestic violence stems across all races and all religions. Labeling Alawadi’s death an honor killing before all the facts are examined and released is simply racist and ignorant.

As unfortunate as it is, honor killings are not unheard of here in the United States or in Canada—as Nina Burleigh reports in her recent Time.com piece , as more and more refugees and immigrants move here, they are influenced and attracted to Western laws and practices.

Moreover, in my opinion, women should have the right to marry whomever they would like to marry, and divorce their husband if they are unhappy wherever they live in the world. Women should not die because they make a choice to better their lives. It is their life, after all.

As tragic as Alawadi’s death is, there’s an important conversation happening here. Was this a case of Islamophobia at its worst? Was this a case of a daughter trying to avoid marrying a man she didn’t want to marry? Was this a case of a husband who would not let his wife divorce him?

We cannot forget the most important part of this matter here—Shaima Alawadi is dead.

Someone killed an innocent woman and they must be held accountable. I can only hope that justice will be brought in her honor and in her memory, and that it happens sooner, rather than later.

Related Links:
Iraqi Murder Shows US Muslim Hatred
Americans Rally for Hijab & Hoodie Victims
A Hate Crime’s Victim Embodies an Interfaith Story
Hate Crimes and Group Psychology
Tell MAMA Offers Hope for Overcoming Hate Crime
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a Theologian with a focus in Christian-Muslim Understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism. She has a Master of Sacred Theology in Philosophy, Theology and Ethics with a focus in Religion and Conflict Transformation from Boston University School of Theology, '11; a Master of Theological Research in Christian-Muslim Understanding from Andover Newton Theological School, '07; and a BA in Peace and Justice Studies with a concentration in Islam from Wellesley College, '05. Besides OnIslam, Karen has published with Feminism and Religion, the Women's United Nations Report Network, State of Formation, The American Muslim, and The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. Karen currently lives in San Francisco where she is consulting with United Religions Initiative, is an Ambassador with the Council on the Parliament of the World Religions, and is working on several projects that will take her overseas in 2015.

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