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One Million Hijabs for Shaima

At the end of last month, a young Muslim mother was found beaten to death at her home in San Diego:

On March 21, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi Muslim and mother of five, was found brutally beaten at her home in El Cajon, a community just east of San Diego that is home to more than 50,000 Iraqi immigrants. A note left next to her read, “go back to your country you terrorist.”

Alawadi, who died at a local hospital three days later, was found by her 17-year-old daughter, who told reporters last week that her mother had been beaten on the head repeatedly with a tire iron. She also said her mother had dismissed a previous threatening note found outside the house, thinking it was a child’s prank. According to Alawadi’s family, the first note read, “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist.”

The murder of Shaima Alawadi triggered world-wide sympathy and anger at the apparent racist motive of the killer. One of the most imaginative responses is an initiative that involves women from around the world, from all religious and cultural backgrounds, photographing themselves wearing a hijab in solidarity with Shaima Alawadi: symbolically standing firm against Islamophobia.

The Daily Mail has written a supportive article praising the campaign, on which you can see some of the photographs of the participants.

The investigation to find Shaima Alawadi’s murderer has taken a new twist, today. The police investigators have filed documents which disclose the following information.

First, Shaima Alawadi had taken steps to divorce her husband:

Alawadi was also planning to divorce her husband, according to a search warrant in the case. Divorce papers were found in Alawadi’s car, and a relative told police Alawadi was planning to divorce husband Kassim Alhimidi and move to join her mother and siblings in Texas.

Secondly, there had been problems in the Alwadi household, involving her daughter Fatima, her boyfriend and an arranged marriage:

In November, police had contacted Alawadi after finding Fatima having sex with a 21-year-old man in a parked car. Alawadi had picked her daughter up from the scene, but Fatima then jumped out of her mother’s car going 35 mph, the documents state.

Fatima was also distraught over her pending arranged marriage to a cousin, according to the documents.

The investigation into Alawadi’s death revealed that a neighbor reported seeing a dark-skinned teenager or 20-something man running away from Alawadi’s house around the time of her death, carrying a donut-shaped cardboard box. Police searched the home of the man Fatima was found having sex with months earlier, and took items from his home as part of the investigation, according to the U-T San Diego newspaper.

Finally, there is the matter of the “cryptic text”:

According to court documents obtained by ABC News affiliate KGTV, the daughter received a text message while she was being interviewed by investigators that read “The detective will find out tell them cnt (can’t) talk.”

Fatima … was reportedly the only one home with her mother when the attack happened

One interpretation of the text is that the person who sent it is concerned that the police will find something important out by interviewing Fatima Alawadi, and that she therefore shouldn’t talk to them. The report doesn’t say who that text message was from.

It is possible that Shaima Alawadi was murdered by Islamophobes. The Daily Beast story, which linked the murder to incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred in San Diego, demonstrates that anti-Muslim bigotry is real. However, the offences which are chronicled in that article take the form of hateful shouts and requests to remove hijabs in public facilities: not savage attacks. We know, from Toulouse, and indeed from the murdered Marwa Sherbini, that religious hatred does fuel murder. We just don’t know, yet, if this was why Shaima Alawadi was killed.

The Facebook campaign, One Million Hijabs, has posted the following message:

We ask you to remain respectful towards the family, the local community and also towards each other. This online community comes from all walks of life and we were all touched by this horrific crime.

Hate crime or not, we are yet to know WHY Shaima Alawadi was killed.

This page started as a memorial page and a reaction to discrimination and xenophobia.

The page evolved into a movement and became a safe haven for people to show their support to the Muslim community in the United States and to bring awareness to the fact that many immigrants hear the words “go back to your country” and many Muslims (Caucasian or not) have been called “terrorists” before.

There is no doubt there. There is no need for investigation there.

If, ultimately, investigations prove that this was not a hate crime and Ms. Alawadi was not targeted for her veil, this page will leave behind a beautiful testimony of human solidarity, compassion, empathy and acceptance towards the Muslim community, the women that chose to wear hijabs around the world, and to all the Shaimas who feel any less than welcomed in this country.

Let’s keep this page beautiful.

That is why we are here.