Dialect Magazine

Who murdered Shaima Alawadi?

“New evidence suggests that female freedom and not anti-Muslim sentiment may be at the heart of the crime, but bigotry is still bigotry no matter the source.”- Nina Burleigh, The New York Times

With her daughter sleeping nearby, a California woman was brutally clubbed inside the family home. She subsequently died. At first police thought it was a hate crime. The latest speculation seems to indicate otherwise.

In search of something better

Like other Iraqis, Shaima Alawadi and her family grew weary after the first Gulf War. With a country in retreat and racked by violent political turmoil, the married mother of five, along with her husband, Kassim, left their native soil seeking a better life in America.  They arrived in El Cajon, California in 1995, where other Iraqi refugees also landed. Not until recently did the family seem to have any major problems.

 A tragic find

On the morning of March 21, 2012, after an unremarkable night, Shaima Alawadi’s daughter, Fatima, 17, made her way downstairs to the kitchen, only to find her mother lying in a pool of blood near the door. Still breathing, she had been struck in the head several times with something resembling a tire iron. Alawadi later died at the hospital.

According to CBS News, “Police found a handwritten note at the scene reading ‘Go back to your country, you terrorist.’” A similar note was left the week before but it was ignored.

At the time Alawadi was discovered, her husband Kassim was at school, dropping off one of their children. Fatima told investigators that she didn’t hear anything and there was no one else home at the time.

A strange turn

Though Shaima Alawadi’s death appeared to be a potential hate crime, authorities soon started seeing things differently.

In an article published April 5, 2012, “Family of Iraqi Woman Killed in California Was in Crisis, Records Show,” The New York Times reports, “But court documents made public this week instead reveal details of a family in crisis, with talk of divorce and a daughter resisting an arranged marriage, and of Ms. Alawadi’s survivors themselves coming under scrutiny from investigators.” Adding to the mystery, Fatima received a text following the mother’s homicide from an as-yet unidentified person stating, “The detective will find out tell them cnt talk.”

One more point of view

News reports say Fatima was recently treated at a local emergency room for minor injuries sustained when she jumped out of a car driven by her mother. Rumor has it the teenager was being forced into an unwanted marriage, just one gender related question when it comes to Shaima Alawadi’s relatives. They say she was in the process of moving forward with a divorce from her husband Kassim when foul play happened. In a patriarchal culture such as Alawadi’s, this kind of break-up is often seen as being dishonorable. 

There are two theories currently at work regarding the killing of Shaima Alawadi. She was either done in by rabid anti-Muslim hate mongers or the victim of domestic violence. Though many acknowledge there are those in the El Cajon community who dislike Muslims, the circumstances surrounding the note left by Alawadi’s body are said to be problematic. Quite simply, why leave a message?

Alawadi’s daughter and husband travelled to Najaf, Iraq for her burial. Meanwhile, the victim’s sister, Esmah, has denied allegations of her sister’s divorce as well as Fatima’s forced marriage. Call it what you will, Shaima Alawadi didn’t deserve to die.   


As a dedicated writer, storyteller, journalist, interviewer and biographer, Paul Wolfle, B.A. ARM, contributes original material to a number of social media sites, online magazines and a popular digital news reporting services. Paul is also the author of eBooks and frequently offers commentary about contemporary music topics.

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