Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Rajioon.
It was seemingly within the same breath that Nabra Hassanen, 17, was pronounced dead that her religiosity was dissected and questioned. In a Washington Post article outlining the events that surrounded Nabra’s abduction and murder, Faiz Siddiqui, Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote:
“Nabra wasn’t ordinarily religiously observant — she was more excited about fashion and makeup, including recently her nose ring — but she frequented the mosque during Ramadan, when it became a social hub for teens.”
“…Nabra didn’t typically wear traditional Muslim clothes.”
These statements weigh heavily on me. All day, I’ve been gazing at the Snapchat filtered image of Nabra from the night she passed. In it, she exudes life, laughter and whimsy. Girl, I see you with your cat-eye glasses, holographic flower crown and septum piercing – you are beautiful as you are – you are #MuslimGirlFire.
I’m struck by these statements because they create a barrier between a teenage girl and the fundamental foundations of her identity and self-expression. A Black-Muslim girl was abducted and murdered outside of one of the largest mosques in the United States, why can’t she be Muslim AND:
- Love fashion
- Enjoy makeup
- Pierce her septum
- Wear whatever clothing she likes
- Choose when she goes or doesn’t go to the mosque
Part of me wants to dismiss the statements as the reporters simply trying to paint Nabra as human, but I keep going back to the casual insistence of contradiction, the insistence that a teenage girl is somehow less Muslim than others. For this reason, her death is either a more of a tragedy or less of a tragedy, depending on who is reading.
What are we perpetuating with these statements? Is her loss more profound because a non-Muslim audience can relate to her as one of the “good ones” — she wears her progressive values on her sleeves, quite literally, and therefore we mourn her murder as a loss to our liberal perception of a digestible diversity? Or is her loss less profound, as Muslims scramble to gauge others Iman, or faith, as an indicator of how much worth they hold in our communities? Neither matter. Both are dangerous.
The insistence of contradiction and attention on her forms of self-expression is rooted in the same victim-blaming narrative that perversely aims to justify the murder of Black boys like Trayvon Martin who “should not” have been wearing a hoodie, or Black women like Charleena Lyles, who was also killed yesterday at the hands of Seattle Police after calling them to her home twice this past month, first due to domestic abuse and most recently attempted burglary, or Black men like Eric Garner who *shouldn’t* have been selling cigarettes or Philando Castille who *shouldn’t* have been carrying a permitted firearm.
It is rooted in the same victim-blaming narrative faced by survivors of sexual assault that fosters hypermasculine rape culture and pervades our homes, colleges and public spaces. It is rooted in the same dynamic that emboldened the French Ambassador to the United States to question the validity of Amani al-Khatahtbeh’s illegal treatment by police when she was forced to remove her hijab at a French airport a few days ago. It is rooted in the same reality of power-play that affects hijab-wearing women every day — we just aren’t told about them at the same rate.
Nabra Hassanen was a Muslim-Black-Nubian-Egyptian-American-teen. I don’t know which order or what else she would identify with, or which of these indicators she might have removed from this sentence. But every aspect of her identity was as valuable as her life.
While the Fairfax County Police Department currently insists that their “investigation at this point in no way indicates the victim was targeted because of her race or religion,” we know that as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman of color, Nabra fell victim to intersecting vulnerabilities that others will similar identities face at heightened rates. She fell victim to an Islamophobia that has been normalized with a Presidential seal of approval. There should never have been a moment when her identity, deen (religious way of life) or experiences should have to be questioned — unfortunately, they already have.