We are all Shaima Alawadi

Shaima Alawadi was murdered this past week.

The mother of five was brutally beaten with a tire-iron until unconscious, her brain swelling irreversibly. Her 17-year-old daughter discovered her mother near death with a note saying “go back to your country, you terrorist” next to her body.

Her murder hits close to home. When I think of it, I shudder. It could just as easily been my mother or aunt.
They too wear a hijab, a religious head covering, which seems to have become synonymous with “threat” in our society.

This was not an isolated incident.

The harassment and hate crimes against Muslim Americans have been on the rise in a post-9/11 world. What perpetuates this hatred and distrust of Muslim Americans? Why has a wave of Islamophobia swept the country?

The answer is that the rhetoric in the mainstream forces around us varying from media to politicians paints Muslims as foreign threats to domestic security.

Today we are escorted off airplanes because someone feels like we are “suspicious.” The NYPD spies on our communities by sending undercover cops into our mosques and businesses. They were even caught systematically spying on Muslim students on Yale, Rutgers and other college campuses even though these students were not accused of any wrongdoing; students just like you or me.

You can’t blatantly violate civil rights under the context of counter terrorism. When you single out Muslims, you create a narrative where we are the enemy. It builds a state of fear and paranoia, which then descends to the average citizen who is fed stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists.

Islam is not inherently linked with terrorism.

Juan Williams, formerly of NPR, once said, “If I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Tell me, Williams, what is Muslim garb? There are over a billion of us. We transcend across hundreds of cultures. So what exactly does Muslim garb look like? And more importantly, if we wear Muslim “garb,” are we deserving of harassment and death? Did Alawadi deserve to die because of her hijab? No.

Many people seem to forget a very important aspect of the term “Muslim American”—we may be Muslims, but we are also Americans. We are your neighbors, your classmates and your coworkers. We pay our taxes, abide by the laws and participate in our local communities. We love America because it is our home.

I am an immigrant. I moved to the United States when I was three. I could recite the Pledge of Allegiance before I ever learned Pakistan’s national anthem; I even know the Star Spangled Banner in three-part harmony. What I’m trying to say is, I love America and, I’m tired of having to defend my loyalty to this country. This country is my country. No one can tell me to go home when this is my home.

Fareed Zakeria said, “I am an American, not by accident of birth but by choice. I voted with my feet and became an American because I love this country and think it is exceptional.”

In memory of Alawadi and in solidarity with the countless victims of religiously-charged hate crimes, I will be wearing a hijab for the week of March 26-31. If you see me, stop me and ask me some questions about Islam.
Take some time to get to know a Muslim.

The Sisters of Mercy have supported building “genuine trust and understanding between faith traditions in these times of growing political posturing, fear, suspicion and dangerous stereotyping.” Isn’t it time we do the same?

Let’s promote knowledge because this country cannot afford to fall victim to fear and ignorance.
We’re all Americans. We’re in this together, sink or swim. An attack on one American is an attack on all Americans. Alawadi was an American.

Today, we are all Alawadi.