As the facts about the Shaima Alawadi murder case continue to trickle in, it appears more and more that she was the victim of family violence, rather than a hate crime. As somebody who works to prevent family violence at Project Sakinah, this does not come as a surprise to me—nor was it an unexpected turn of events to many of us in the domestic violence/family violence community. Of all the women killed in America in 2007, 64% of them died at the hands of a family member or an intimate partner. While it is possible that this might be matricide, which is exceedingly rare (85% of children who murder one or more of their parents are male), family violence is not.
Although I would rather the Muslim community had been a bit more cautious before rushing to judge the Alawadi case as a hate crime, the reason so many Muslims and non-Muslims hastily attributed the murder to Islamophobia is that we all recognize that anti-Islamic rhetoric in America today is vociferous enough to lead to this kind of tragedy. Alawaidy’s murder followed at the heels of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, and we began to question whether racial and religious stereotyping had gone too far.
Fear, suspicion and hatred are not the American values that I, nor anybody else I know, was brought up with. These sorts of irrational and poisonous emotions have no place in a country that was pieced together by immigrants—each one adding yet another ethnicity, religion and color to the mix. In fact, our diversity both sets us apart from the largely homogenous nations of world and gives us an edge—more innovative ideas, more creativity, more tolerance. Yet, we seem to have forgotten that; many even call into question the religion of our President, implying allegiance to Islam would compromise his loyalty to the United States. This slipping away of our core values is why I believe so many Americans—Muslims and non-Muslims– rallied first around the death of Trayvon Martin and then Shaima Alawaidy.
If the facts do prove that Shaima Alawaidy was the victim of family violence, then this is a problem that reaches far beyond the Muslim community. Statistically speaking, family violence is affecting an American you personally know. Guaranteed. It does not matter if you’re in the top socio-economic percentile, or the bottom. It does not matter if you identify yourself as a Muslim or a Christian. It does not matter if you’re Iraqi-American or Irish-American.
One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
One in four college women have been the victim of rape or attempted rape.
More than five children die in the US every day from child abuse.
A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.
And between one and two million elderly Americans have been the victims of elder abuse—(and this is a conservative estimate).
We at Project Sakinah are mobilizing the Muslim American community to stop family violence in its tracks. We believe that domestic violence is not sanctioned in Islam and we ask that whether Shaima Alawaidy was bludgeoned to death by a family member or by a hateful stranger, you will contact your senators and congress people and ask them to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Donning a hijab is one means to remember Alawaidy’s death and condemn her killer, but directly speaking with or writing to your state’s representatives is an even more effective one.
Karla Kellam is a competitive intelligence and marketing consultant who works for Project Sakinah in social media. She reverted to Islam 15 years ago. Project Sakinah is a national initiative of Dar al Islam to stop family violence. We provide videos, workshops and training materials for both individuals and communities in order to helps them organize their own family violence action teams. In 2011, Project Sakinah spearheaded a national campaign “Gathering Community to Stop Domestic Violence” and reached thousands of Muslims all over the country. They also urged Imams to give sermons on domestic violence.