New Clues in the Murder of Shaima Alawadi Highlight Tragic Prevalence of Domestic Violence and Racism In Muslim America


As police investigations into the brutal death of Iraqi-American Shaima Alawadi continue, a number of clues have surfaced that suggest that the killing may not necessarily have been a hate crime. While the daughter of Alawadi claimed to have found a handwritten note near her mother telling the family to go back to where they came from, forensic analysis is looking into the origin of the note. And some uncertainties have arisen. One family member has also suggested that Alawadi was planning to divorce her husband and other sources indicate that her daughter was stuck in a pending arranged marriage to a cousin.

With questions on the internal dynamics of the Alawadi family structure and the source of the aforementioned note, we are no longer certain of the motivations behind the crime; in light of this uncertainty, I find it important to explore both domestic violence and racism in and towards the Muslim community.   

Domestic violence is real. Just as it exists in the greater American community (up to 1 in 4 women experience or will experience domestic violence in their lifetime), domestic abuse exists in the Muslim-American community as well. Although statistics are limited on the topic, a 2009 survey found that 12-18% of Muslims in the United States experience physical abuse and about 30-40% experience emotional abuse. All communities have long shied away from discussing and actively battling domestic abuse due to its sensitivity and its perception as a “private issue”; it has only recently been publicly addressed in the Muslim community by groups like the North-American Islamic Shelter for the Abused (NISA) and Muslim Men Against Domestic Abuse (MMADA).

Domestic violence is a problem that plagues us all alike. Much like Christianity, Judaism, and other world religions, Islam calls for marriages to be based on love, equality, and compassion and in no way condones violence or abuse. But despite these teachings, abuse takes place.

But, racism is real too. Just as it exists towards a number of minority groups in the United States (with a shockingly-high documented 887 anti-Jewish hate crimes in 2010), racism has also targeted the Muslim-American community. According to FBI statistics from 2010, there were 160 documented incidents of hate crimes against Muslims, a significant spike from previous years. While the numbers are helpful to some, they do not tell the full story and are likely to be underreported. Coupled with these officially-recorded incidents are anecdotes of children who have been bullied and called “ragheads,” women who have been told to “go back to where you came from,” calls to ban Sharia law in Oklahoma (side note: Who told you that we wanted to implement it there in the first place?) and Republican nominees who compete in the “Islam-bashing” game.

I’m uncertain whether Alawadi’s death was the product of domestic abuse, a racist hate crime, or even a third motivation that has yet to surface. I’m uncertain where investigations will take us and whether we will ever uncover the brutal murderer behind this incident.

What I am certain of, however, is that the five Alawadi children lost their mother in a brutal beating last month and that the El Cajon community lost a dear neighbor and friend. I am also certain of the sanctity of human life, and I will continue to mourn, commemorate and call to justice for victims of domestic violence, racism, and murder alike. My religion teaches me this and my humanity confirms it.