Living in Denial: The Tragic Murder of Marwa el-Sherbini

A rally to honor Marwa Sherbini. Image via BBC.

A rally to honor Marwa Sherbini. Image via BBC.

By now many Muslims have heard of the tragic murder of Marwa el-Sherbini, mother, daughter, wife, pharmacist, who lived in Germany while her husband completed his Ph.D. May God give her peace and grant her paradise.

According to the BBC:

Marwa Sherbini, 31, was stabbed 18 times by Axel W, who is now under arrest in Dresden for suspected murder. Husband Elwi Okaz is also in a critical condition in hospital, after being injured as he tried to save his wife. Ms Sherbini had sued her killer after he called her a “terrorist” because of her headscarf.

Sherbini, who was pregnant at the time, had sued and won the case. At this point in time they had been in the courthouse to hear Axel/Alex’s appeal.

According to CNN:

The man, identified in German media as Alex A., 28, was convicted of calling Sherbini, who wore a headscarf, “terrorist,” “bitch” and “Islamist” when she asked him him to leave a swing for her 3-year-old son Mustafa during an August 2008 visit to a children’s park.

Subsequently, Sherbini sued W. for his Islamophobic rant.

Christian Avenarius, the prosecutor in Dresden where the incident took place, described the killer as driven by a deep hatred of Muslims. “It was very clearly a xenophobic attack of a fanatical lone wolf.”

He added that the attacker was a Russian of German descent who had immigrated to Germany in 2003 and had expressed his contempt for Muslims at the start of the trial.

The Islamophobic and racist nature of the attack is clear. If one follows the events as reported by the media, it appears clear that this man was driven by a hate of Muslims. He initially referred to her in Islamophobic ways and was thus sued and lost. He then attacked her again, though the nature of the attack is unclear, which resulted in prosecutors seeking a jail term for W. He then murdered Sherbini in the courtroom, yelling “[y]ou have no right to live.”

The Hijab Martyr

Sherbini is being hailed by many Egyptians, as well as others, as the “Hijab Martyr” as she lost her life because she was Muslim, a part of her identity made obvious by her hijab.

Newspapers in Egypt have expressed outrage at the case, asking how it was allowed to happen and dubbing Ms Sherbini “the martyr of the Hijab”.

- BBC News

Anger about Sherbini’s death smoldered online, as Twitterers and bloggers pushed the cause.

“She is a victim of hatred and racism,” tweeted Ghada Essawy, among many other Arab twitters and bloggers. Essawy called Sherbini “the martyr of the veil.”


According to numerous interviews in Egyptian local papers with el-Sherbini family, the man who stabbed al-Sherbini used to accuse her of being a “terrorist,” and in one incident, he tried to take off her head scarf. Mourners at her funeral called her the “martyr of the head scarf.”

- Huffington Post

Some have stated that claiming her to be a hijab martyr is inappropriate as W. did not state that he hated her because of her hijab or that he killed her because of it. But what they forget is that the hijab is what made it obvious that she was Muslim. It is the hijab which led to the initial harassment. Had she not worn the hijab, perhaps she would not have faced Islamophobic comments. Additionally, Sherbini died defending her right to wear the hijab without fear of harassment as a result of it. Therefore, the term “hijab martyr” seems appropriate in this case. The hijab, in this case, serves to function as the proxy for being Muslim.

It’s about Egyptians, not Sherbini

As Maggie Michael of the Huffington Post mentions this story has received little attention in German and Western media. However, the attention that has been given to the case has focused on the anger Egyptians in Egypt, as well as other Muslims and Arabs, have felt over the case.

BBC News entitled their piece “Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr‘”. Additionally, they describe the murderer’s initial actions toward Sherbini as “insulting her religion” – an inaccurate statement, as W. insulted Sherbini herself, not her religion. Making such a statement skews the reality of the case and paints the story as the “Muslim angry over insult to Islam” trope. Stating this lie trivializes Sherbini’s very real experience of personal hate and Islamophobia. It diminishes W.’s hateful actions toward a Muslim woman. It ignores the fact that it was human being who was hurt, not a religion.

CNN reported “Egyptians angry over German court slaying“. The article focuses on the anger that many Egyptians are feeling as a result of the incident providing such quotes as

Many shouted hostile slogans against Germany and called for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to take a firm stand on the incident. Egypt’s grand mufti, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, demanded the severest punishment to be issued against Alex A.

Berlin witnessed angry protests on Saturday, when hundreds of Arabs and Muslims demonstrated after a funeral prayer that called her killing an outrageous racist murder against Muslims.

The Guardian entitled their piece “Outrage over Muslim woman killed in court” and continued to explain

Many in her homeland were outraged by the attack and saw the low-key response in Germany as an example of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

“There is no God but God and the Germans are the enemies of God,” chanted mourners for 32-year-old Marwa el-Sherbini in Alexandria, where her body was buried.

“We will avenge her killing,” her brother Tarek el-Sherbini told the Associated Press by telephone from the mosque where prayers were being recited in front of his sister’s coffin. “In the west, they don’t recognise us. There is racism.”

The rage that many feel over her death is not just about the loss of an innocent life. But it also reflects an anger at the hate that many Muslims are facing around the world. Sherbini’s murder, and subsequent silence on the part of Germans, appears to demonstrate a disregard for the experiences and lives of Muslims. Therefore, although many could take those statements out of context and attribute them simply to “those angry Muslims”, one must consider that such anger is not just about Sherbini’s murder. It is about the complicity of many Western nations in Islamophobic beliefs and actions, and about the frustration of Muslims regarding this lack of respect for such traumatic experiences faced by Muslims living in Muslim minority countries.

From the Huffington Post:

A German Muslim group criticized government officials and the media for not paying enough attention to the crime.

“The incident in Dresden had anti-Islamic motives. So far, the reactions from politicians and media have been incomprehensibly meager,” Aiman Mazyek, the general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily.

Egyptian commentators said the incident was an example of how hate crimes against Muslims are overlooked in comparison to those committed by Muslims against Westerners. Many commentators pointed to the uproar that followed the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Islamic fundamentalist angry over one of his films criticizing the treatment of Muslim women.

Also from the Huffington Post:

“What we demand is just some attention to be given to the killing of a young innocent mother on the hands of fanatic extremist,” he wrote in his column.

An Egyptian blogger Hicham Maged, wrote “let us play the ‘What If’ game.”

“Just imagine if the situation was reversed and the victim was a Westerner who was stabbed anywhere in the world or _ God forbid _ in any Middle Eastern country by Muslim extremists,” he said.

Yes, imagine. The news would have spread like wildfire and all Muslims would be being condemned.

From  the articles, one would assume that it is only Egyptians and/or other Arabs and/or Muslims who are the ones outraged by this Islamophobic murder. And one could assume right. No outrage has poured out from Germans. No outrage from any other Western nations either.

It is here I will ask the same question asked of Muslims every time a Muslim some place in the world commits a crime. Where are the moderate Germans I ask? Where are the moderate Westerners? Where is their outrage at the acts of hate by one of their own? Why is the burden of being outraged at the actions of “one of our own” only placed on Muslims? Why can we not expect fellow Germans as complicit in some manner as all Muslims are assumed to be complicit?

We are thought to be one monolithic entity, barbaric to the point of being complicit in all acts of violence. White Westerners on the other hand are viewed as diverse, understood to not condone violence, therefore not required to express their condemnation of violent acts committed in their name. Of course they would not condone such violence, we are expected to believe. But Muslims, and other minority groups, are not given that luxury. We must prove that we condemn violence. Such condemnation of violence cannot be assumed or expected of us. We are after all barbarians, we are expected to believe.

And this leads to my next and final point.

The Lone Wolf

In one above quote W. is described as a lone wolf. In this Racialicious post regrading the shooting at the Holocaust museum, a discussion ensued in the comments section regarding the problems with painting a white supremacist criminal as a lone, crazy killer acting on his/her own. The fact is that such white supremacist beliefs and attitudes do not exist in a vacuum. They do not occur in isolation. They require nurturing and a complicit society. W.’s use of the terms “terrorist” and “Islamist” were not creations of his own imagination. The association of Muslims with terrorism and Islamism was not his creation. His hate of Muslims and derogatory views of Muslims were not his own creation, but rather a creation of the world he lives in. His actions were not that of a lone wolf, but rather of one living in a society full of Islamophobia. This of course does not shift the blame from him, but rather places his behavior in context and demonstrates how, when one is the powerful group in society, if not the world, then that power means a greater ability to perpetuate hateful views and to cause more damage as those words and actions become just another method of oppression.

Additionally, if one views this portrayal as the one lone criminal in contrast to the ways in which people of color, including Muslims of color, are portrayed as guilty by association, one sees the ways in which people of color are viewed as violent barbarians whereas white, non-Muslims as civilized individuals who would never condone violence.


Sherbini’s tragic murder has reminded us once again of the violent nature of Islamophobia and the lack of regard for a Muslim life. From the ways in which the media reports this tragedy, one would assume that Sherbini’s murder has disturbed only those who share her religion. Not many others have expressed any outrage. Even a “German government spokesman, Thomas Steg, said that if the attack was racist, the government ‘naturally condemns this in the strongest terms’ ” (emphasis mine). Although many more should be outraged, there seems to be a denial among those who have allowed for such hateful views of Muslims to perpetuate of the severity of this case.

Let’s hope she gets justice, Insha’Allah.

  • Zubair Habib

    A response of outcry on a single incident further entrenches the image that the media has been succesful in building against Muslims. Especially at this time with the events in China where the lines will be blurred, an issue of ethnic tension may well be blown out as an issue if religious tension.
    Further, it means us doing what we revile others for doing, taking individual incidents, by individual people, and extrapolating them to entire groups.
    Her being targeted personally and not her religion is not something I agree with, she was insulted personally ON THE BASIS of her religion, as far as I read it.

  • Yocheved

    As an American Jew I am outraged at this woman’s murder and the racism and Islamophobia that was clearly behind it. May G-d’s comfort be present with her family in their time of grief, and may He guide the hands of all involved toward the enactment of swift justice. May her memory be for a blessing.

  • Yocheved

    Also, I would just like to add I really appreciate the author turning the Islamophobic question around — “where are all the moderate Muslims?” as if just being Muslim make you guilty by association and you must apologize/”speak out” to “prove” that you aren’t violent — to the face of the west. Where ARE all the “moderate” Westerners who should be so outraged at this person’s murder?

    Also, I would like to pose another question in response to the “where are all the Muslim moderates”…. when, G-d forbid, there is a violent act commited by a Muslim, and you ask “where are all the moderate Muslims,” why are we not taught instead to question OURSELVES as to why we don’t know any Muslims, or don’t know any Muslims well enough to know their opinions on the situation? Shouldn’t we be concerned that 1,000,000,000 people, one out of six people in the world, are Muslims and yet many Westerners are not good friends with a single Muslim?

    Today is a Jewish fast day, which marks the three weeks that lead up to the destruction of the ancient Temple. It is said in Jewish tradition that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. On this solemn day for traditionally religious Jews, we are reminded by this woman’s Islamophobic, racist, and misogynist (a man feeling entitled to stab a woman for no other reason than existing as she chooses surely counts as male domination) murder that we still are baselessly hating one another.

    May this hatred end soon and in our days, insha’Allah (Arabic, G-d willing) B’etzrat Hashem (Hebrew, “with G-d’s help).

  • Rochelle

    Marwa el-Sherbini’s death was tragic and she deserves the highest form of justice both under God and the law.

    But I’m a little frustrated with this post, because I think while essentialism of Muslim communities happens all the damn time, there is also essentializing of Western communities, and it’s illustrated by this post. When Aasiya Hassan died, you attributed it to her crazy-ass husband, the act of one individual removed from the mores of the community. But now when a Muslim is killed due to an obviously insane and unstable Western individual you look for the “Moderate Westerners” and say it must be a systemic problem.

    I agree that it’s hypocritical for Western media to take the murder of a Muslim woman by a Muslim man as representative of the Muslim community while attributing non-Muslim murderers as crazy individuals. But it’s also hypocritical for Muslims to do the same in reverse.

    I agree that individual acts of violence are often rooted in general social ills. But that’s true for both Muslims and non-Muslims. Its either individual insanity or systemic problems — but you can’t have one for Muslim culture and the other for Westerners.

    Even Edward Said, whom I respect very much and consider a genius, is flawed by his essentializing of Western culture, even while he speaked out again essentialism of Muslim culture.

    Just consider the quote you posted: “There is no God but God and the Germans are the enemies of God.” Why on earth do you think this kind of language is acceptable? Is this not hatred? Is this not racism? Calling a whole country the enemy of God? How is this any different from calling it ‘the axis of evil’?

  • Fatemeh

    @Rochelle: Where did Sobia say this essentialism was acceptable? Her turning around the question of “where are all the moderation Muslims” into “where are all the moderate Westerners?” is an attempt at a teachable moment, to drive home the point that Muslim communities are asked the first question whenever anything bad happens, but Western communities are not asked the latter question when the same thing happens, because the problem is thought to be with Muslims, not westerners.

  • Rochelle


    Even though Sobia did not explicitely say it, I am reading in her post something of a contradiction. She says:

    “The fact is that such white supremacist beliefs and attitudes do not exist in a vacuum. They do not occur in isolation. They require nurturing and a complicit society.”

    Okay, sure, I’m down with that. But then you must say the same thing for Violent Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and attitudes as well. And all the women out there that killed or maimed because they were not dressed properly or choose who they wanted to marry or otherwise defied narrow cultural attitudes in Muslim contexts were also victims of a society that “nutures and complies” with such attitudes.

    I’ve read many times on this blog that individual acts of violence in Muslim societies should not be taken as systemic problems. But Sobia was interpreting this murder as a systemic problem. Which one is it?

  • Yusra Tekbali

    Her husband was not “just injured” when trying to save his wife (May God rest her soul) but also “accidentally shot in the leg by court security,” who supposedly mistook him for the attacker. Why the same police couldn’t shoot the attacker is beyond me. There should be an investigation about how he got passed court security carrying a knife.
    If a Muslim fanatic shot and killed a pregnant Christian woman the media would be in a frenzy, and headlines like “Muslim man shoots Christian woman for not wearing a veil” would be commonplace instead of this bullshit about Egypt mourning. Some stories on this are ridiculous because they refuse to call racism what it is simply because it involves a Muslim. Instead they are trying to take the attention off of the fact that Muslim women are discriminated against and in this case even killed for being Muslim and wearing the hijab.

  • Yusra Tekbali

    *I say it’s bullshit because unfortunately that has been the spin on the murder and the focus of the media’s attention, not because Egyptians are mourning. In case that wasn’t clear.

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  • Sobia

    @ Rochelle:

    I understand your confusion however, the situation is different.

    First, when speaking of the complicity of white, non-Muslims in cases such as this we are speaking of a universally powerful group being complicit in oppression of minorities. They are more powerful economically, educationally, militarily,etc.

    When we speak of Muslim communities we are speaking of a universally oppressed and weaker minority, very often acting in response to oppression – economic, cultural, spiritual, etc.

    Second, there are certain attitudes that certain groups hold as the norm, and that can be fair to critique, but Muslims as a group do not hold any attitudes as a norm. There are one billion of us who come from very different cultures. How can we all hold one attittude about anything? Therefore we cannot all be complicit in any one thing – we cannot be held responsible for the actions of other Muslims.

    Accusing white, non-Muslim Germans (or Americans or Canadians) of being complicit in racist murders is different than accusing Muslims of being complicit in actions of all Muslims. Western nations are racist. Within them exist systematic as well as institutional racism. Such institutional and systematic racism breeds this kind of racist violence.

    On the other hand, when it comes to various countries, one may say that various countries are complicit in certain injustices. For instance, the patriarchy of many countries, including Western ones, makes us complicit in the mistreatment of women. But to hold ALL Muslims responsible just doesn’t make sense. That would be like saying that all Christians are complicit in this murder, not Germans.

    My problem is not with pointing out the systematic discrimination in Muslim countries. My problem is when only the systematic discrimination in Muslim countries is pointed out, as if it does not exist in any other country. Additionally, when it comes to violence in Muslim countries, it seems all that violence, whether or not because of systematic discrimination, is blamed on all Muslims. This is irrational and it is this irrationality that I object to.

  • Rochelle

    Sobia. Wow. With all due respect, this post made me really uncomfortable.

    First off: Maybe you’re confusing what “universal” means, but not ALL non-Muslim whites are more powerful economically and socially than ALL muslim minorities. Not only are you presenting a disturbing dichotomy of “Wester n= rich evil non-Muslim white” and “Muslim = poor oppressed non-white”, but this is simply not true. Muslims Americans do not have higher rates of poverty than whites in America, and I’m pretty sure the same thing is true for Canada, and UK (not sure about Germany.) Muslim communities often have higher rates of education and income than non-Muslims in many Western countries as well.

    Second: “Accusing white, non-Muslim Germans (or Americans or Canadians) of being complicit in racist murders is different than accusing Muslims of being complicit in actions of all Muslims. Western nations are racist. Within them exist systematic as well as institutional racism. Such institutional and systematic racism breeds this kind of racist violence.”

    Eeek. You’re basically saying that all Whites are racist but Muslims aren’t, so any hate crime in the West is representative of all Westerners, but not so for Muslim communities.

    This is probably the most disturbing thing I’ve ever read on this blog. So when a violent action occurs by a white guy in Germany, it’s okay to blame all Germans as complicit because all those Germans are just racist bastards? But when Muslims commit a crime its an anomaly because they’re not racist at all? What? That doesn’t make any sense.

    News flash: Some Westerns are racist. Some Muslims are racist. Institutional racism occurs in the West. Institutional racism occurs in Muslim countries. Western countries treat their minorities like shit. Muslim countries treat their minorities like shit. Tell me a Muslim, or Western, country without history of racism and I’ll buy you a cupcake.

    I understand that you must experience a lot of racism on a daily basis so it difficult to see past that as the diversity of attitudes of those in the West. But its too easy to say “Western nations are racist” and leave it at that. I sincerely hope you come to terms with these attitudes, because I see them as no different than Islamophobic fuckheads who rip off womens’ hijabs.

  • Fatemeh

    @ Rochelle: You’re making several good points (i.e., institutional racism is not a Western-only thing). But the point here isn’t that predominately-Muslim countries also have institutional racism. The point here is that Germany, and most of Europe, have actively Islamophobic atmospheres that include institutional racism and Islamophobia on top of pop culture manifestations of these things. Flipping the issue (Latoya from Racialicious pointed me to this wonderful explanation) doesn’t make the two the same. White, European Islamophobia is not directly equivalent to institutional racism in a non-white or predominately-Muslim country. There is a difference between pointing out institutional racism in a predominately white country and saying that all whites are racist–the former is what Sobia is saying, and I think the latter is what you’re understanding.

    We’re talking about Marwa Sherbini’s murder, the fact that a courtroom full of people allowed it to happen, the fact that a security guard shot her husband, and the fact that Western news outlets don’t give a fuck (and why they don’t give a fuck, i.e., because she is brown and Muslim).


    Sobia this is a wonderfully thought out post. I agree with everything you say here. Sherbini’s murder is so senseless to me especially in the WAY it happened. I mean how could the killer have attacked her in the courtroom? Weren’t there other people there like I don’t know…Security staff! And how could the security then “mistakenly” shoot her husband?!!! Was he/she not seeing a Murder taking place right there?!! This is just so disturbing and strange.

    Also I believe Sherbini was a victim of not just an Islamophobic attack but a sexist racist one too. And I’m painfully aware of how Western media quickly labels the attacker as a “lone wolf” much like the Holocaust museum attacker and the killer of Dr. Tiller. White supremacists have the privilege of being labelled “lone nutcases”. Meanwhile I remember reading a disturbing article once about how these racists are trying to band together in groups and initiate a “race war” with the military skills they’re picking up from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan:


    Just wanted to add that at least one Western government is thankfully taking White supremacist terror threats seriously:–bi-07

    Hopefully other governments will follow Britain’s example soon Insha’allah.

  • sera

    “We’re talking about Marwa Sherbini’s murder, the fact that a courtroom full of people allowed it to happen, the fact that a security guard shot her husband, and the fact that Western news outlets don’t give a fuck (and why they don’t give a fuck, i.e., because she is brown and Muslim).”

    There is not much to say about the perception of this murder. It’s tragic and awful. But the reaction of the so called “muslim community” is ridiculous. I do live in Germany and it has been on the news and not just as a site note.
    What if the victim was a black non muslim? The murderer would probably have called here a “nigger bitch” not a “hijab slut” an done the same horrible thing. Would you guys have cared? maybe it would have been on Your news as a site note and you would have thought “how awful is this!” and forgot about it.
    It’s really a shame that people like Pierre Vogel use el-sherbini for their propaganda against everything non-muslim. whatever.

    yes, it was a racist motive and yes is guy is more than insane and yes we should rise attention about what happend and set up our voice against discrimination…but i am so sick an tired of muslim people claiming to be the poor victim always and then respond in more than archaic ways….blame it on their temper?!

    …makes me think of the danish caricatures

    What can i say, i am a black muslim living in germany and i dont feel discrimintated against in any severe way. the opposite is the case, everyone is afraid that they could offend my religion or whatever and are super carefull…however, there are always idiots but humans will never get rid of them.

  • Fatemeh

    @sera: What if the victim was a black non muslim? The murderer would probably have called here a “nigger bitch” not a “hijab slut” an done the same horrible thing. Would you guys have cared? maybe it would have been on Your news as a site note and you would have thought “how awful is this!” and forgot about it.

    Because this is a Muslim site, I would not have reported on it. That doesn’t make it any less horrible or unacceptable. However, I would have sent a link to Racialicious, which is a site I write for that examines race and racism in culture and media.

    What can i say, i am a black muslim living in germany and i dont feel discrimintated against in any severe way.

    As Marwa’s case has shown, just because on person does not experience discrimination or danger does not mean that someone else doesn’t.

  • Fiqah

    Excellent post. I learned of this thru the AP and was so saddened by it. I love your site. Keep up the good work, all.

  • Sobia

    @ Rochelle:

    You’ve misunderstood what I’ve said. Unfortunately as I’m in the middle of moving I don’t have time to respond. But yes, white, Western people DO have more power than other people. It is not a coincidence that almost all “countries of colour” are on the poor side and almost all “white countries” are on the rich side. It is not simply a coincidence that white people internationally get more respect than people of colour. It is also not a coincidence that so many people of colour desire being white. This is because white, Western, non-Muslim countries hold more power economically, culturally, pop-culturally, etc.

    “Eeek. You’re basically saying that all Whites are racist but Muslims aren’t, so any hate crime in the West is representative of all Westerners, but not so for Muslim communities.”

    No. That is not what I said. Complicity and representativeness are two different concepts. Being complicit implies a lack of interest or lack of attempt to address the problem. In Canada I would say we are all complicit in our treatment of aboriginals, including ethnic minorities. Racist crimes against aboriginals does indicate a complicity on the part of all Canadians, but especially white Canadians because they have the power to change that institutional racism in meaningful ways. They’re the ones who created it. Of course, those white people who are doing their part to change the situation are doing their part to change that, but so many are not – complicity. They do not represent those who commit racist acts towards aboriginals, but they do allow it to happen.

    However, having said that, it depends on what we call a racist act. Denying reserves hand sanitizer because of fears of it being abused, when providing that sanitizer could save aboriginal lives, could be seen as a violent act of racism. That was committed by the Canadian government. And Canadians elected that government in. Complicity. And as a Canadian (though I did not vote for the Conservatives) I know I am also complicit. But being a member of a minority I also recognize that I do not have the power to change the situation as much as white majority Canadians do.

    We live in a racist world. It’s not possible to not be.

    If you see me as no different as than Islamophobic fuckhead for saying that all Westerners are racist then so be it. But you may want to look further into anti-racist work.

    [This comment has been edited to fit within moderation guidelines.]

  • Safiyyah

    tragic as her death was, I think that the fact that she took her perpetrator to court should be lauded. According to statistics, very very few Muslims report islamophobia/racism, or even know that they CAN! Hers is an example of a very courageous, pragmatic woman. In a discussion with friends on the same topic one opinion that i completely agree with is -

    “she is a beacon for every aunty in some supermarket that gets called a name. A muslimah with grit. and her husband, there supporting her, instead of telling her to shut up so he can not get fired.”

    “This is courage, we should not mourn her, we should celebrate her, Shift the focus. Give hope not only to other Muslims, but to every victim of discrimination, of any background.So that they stand up more, or at the very least feel empowered by this heroine and remember her.
    And so that more take idiots to task, to court, and so that idiots in future will be more cautious about their own idiocy.”

    “Celebrate this woman, and inshAllah she will be of those martyrs of whom the Quran speaks:
    The Qur’an says:
    “And say not of those who are slain in the Way of God: ‘They are dead.’ Nay, they are living, Though you perceive it not.” (Qur’an 2:154)”

  • Sahar

    Excellent post Sobia! Loved it.

    Interesting discussion going on. I’d like to add one thing: I think we need to understand racism as something a little more complex. Racism is a product of history, born in the colonial period. It is the production of a particular knowledge (scientific originally, social, cultural, economic, political) supported by a system of power and privilege. It legitimised colonial power and continues to do so. It is not the same as prejudice which has always existed in all communities The power relationship helps to make that distinction. So I don’t think it’s very accurate to accuse a subaltern of their criticism of the West as ‘racist’– which is what Rochelle is doing. They are the ‘minority’ Powerless. Dehumanised and made irrelevant within the hegemonic power structure. They do not speak with authority or have what they say systematically supported.

  • Rochelle

    Yo Sobia, I agree with basically everything you’re saying.

    I just think that if we want to analyse individual acts of violence in Western contexts by looking at the larger social context than you have to do it for Muslim contexts as well, you know?

  • Rochelle

    If you want to be technical about it, racism was born of the post-Enlightenment period of nationalism and nation-statism. So any national movement is in some degree racist, as the primary unit of the nation is race.

    I’m not denying there exists no power relationship between whites and people of color. Abso-fucking-lutely. But unfortunately one of the remnants of imperialism (not exactly colonialism, Sahar, as colonialism has roots all the way back to the great Empires, but imperialism was based specifically off of the nation state) was that nationalism was taken up by the world and made us all citizens of nation-states. This means that all nations are to some degree racist and minorities pose a significant problem with them.

    Back to my original point and away from this mental masturbation, I think we need to recognize our biases as well as our PRIVILEGE in every way we can. This woman was both disempowered as a minority of color as well as the recipient of some kind(s) of privilege at the same time (i.e. she had a job, did not live in a conflict zone, was not disabled, etc.) We have a bias both as Muslims, but also as Westerners ourselves. Many of those on the board grew up in the West, am I right? How have this made us biased? How has this given us privilege?

    Her death was racist and had ultimate roots in German society. Totally. But my only point is that if you blame the West for everything bad you must also give the West credit for everything good. The analysis taking place here must also apply to cases of Muslim women dying by the hand of a Muslim man.

  • Aaminah

    Rochelle, the difference is that “the West” is inherently built upon racism and the oppression of “the East”, but not the other way around. Muslims are not the majority in such a way that we control and define society. Even in Muslim-majority countries, there is a high level of modernization and with it comes many so-called Western values and methodologies. So the simple fact is that Western society is permeated with these beliefs and behaviors, it is considered acceptable to believe and behave in this way, and merely “unfortunate” when it leads to a public outcry of any sort. Whereas there are certainly faults in Muslim countries, they are not based in such a systemic privilege methodology that overrides all else.

    And why is it that anytime we criticize the ills we see, people turn it around to “but in Muslim countries…”? First of all, if, like myself, you’ve never lived in a Muslim country for an extensive period or have family or friends there, chances are you don’t really know what goes on there. i frequently hear the most ridiculous things come out of people’s mouths that they believe as fact about Muslim countries and that are simply not true. For example, a friend of mine now lives in a Muslim majority country and when her non-Muslim family visited over Christmas they were shocked to discover there were Christmas decorations up and many churches of all different persuasions for them to choose where they would want to go. The churches were also just as grand and beautiful as the masjids, not just small buildings “allowed” to be there. Second, the faults of any other society do not somehow “even out” or make acceptable the faults of another. i dislike it when discussing issues in the Muslim community if people say “but in the non-Muslim community it is so much worse because…”, and just the same i don’t care to hear how it is “just as bad” or “worse” in Muslim communities when we are discussing a specific case that occured in Germany.

    Germany, unfortunately, remains a perfect example of where “Western culture” (whatever exactly that means) IS actually permeated with privileges that allow a person to actually get into a courtroom with a knife, undetected, attack a pregnant woman and do this amount of damage, before anyone even bothers to act to subdue him or stop what is happening. Germany continues to have the highest rate of publicly Nazi and pseudo-Nazi groups in the world. It is in Germany when the World Cup games of soccer were held that German fans publicly mistreated non-European teams by taunting them with racial and animal names and throwing things at them, with very little public outcry outside of the effected countries. In fact, it was laughed off in U.S. media when it was mentioned at all. Whereas, racist as the U.S. may be, if such widespread public behavior were happening in the stands of a game, i think it would get much more coverage and much more public condemnation. In fact, i can’t imagine such a HUGE spectacle, of a purely racist nature, happening anywhere else but in Germany. And what was reported by players was that it was the NORMAL experience for them to have when playing in Germany. Am i saying ALL Germans are racist and ALL Germans are islamophobic and ALL Germans are cheering this man on? No, i’m not. Unfortunately though, i haven’t seen any Germans, and few other non-Muslims, bothering to speak up against this crime, and it’s not because they haven’t been sought out to say anything, nor because they are somehow all unaware of the matter. It’s because they attach little importance to it and therefore don’t feel the need to speak.

    Do i think all Germans and all non-Muslim Westerners have a responsibility to address every action that happens by one of “their own”, even though i do believe their society is designed to support this sort of hatred? No, i actually don’t. And i don’t think Sobia was in any way suggesting that either. What she is saying is that if so few Germans and other Westerners even consider this story in any way noteworthy, why do they then demand Muslims provide a full accounting and apology for every individual bad act by a Muslim?

  • Aaminah

    “As Marwa’s case has shown, just because on person does not experience discrimination or danger does not mean that someone else doesn’t.”

    so true! one of my closest friends is a Black woman who truly does not feel that she has ever been discriminated against or in any way a victim of racism. and you know what? her experience is totally valid! just as another friend of ours who pointed out that the people she supervises have point blank told her that she’s just a “young Black b****” and that they will not respect her authority has a valid experience of racism.

    AlhamdulAllah if someone of color has not felt that their color or hijab or any other matter like that has brought them problems. AlhamdulAllah. That doesn’t mean it’s the experience of everyone else. The overwhelming experience, unfortunately, is just the opposite.

  • Rochelle


    First off, I have lived in a Muslim majority country and have many family/friends who live in a Muslim majority country. Just wanted to get that out there.

    Second, I am in NO WAY saying that institutional racism does not exist in Germany or other Western countries! The USA was built on racism for peetssake.

    Repeat: On previous posts on Muslimahmediawatch, I have read repeatedly that so-called ‘honor killings’ etc should not be used to critique general ills of Muslim societies because these crimes are done by crazy individuals and do not represent Muslim society. I both agree and disagree with that sentiment. Here’s why:

    Violence is not a “muslim problem” because it happens in other societies, but it IS a “muslim problem” because it happens in Muslim communities. Likewise, racism and intolerance are not “Western” problems because they happen in other contexts, but they ARE “Western problems” because they do occur in these communities.

    This murder should be used as a lens by which to look at the racism in German society, as well as its intense xenophobia and Islamophobia. Likewise, murders of women in Muslim societies should be used as a lens in which to critically analyse institutional sexism and racism in Muslim contexts.

    What’s so wrong with that?

  • s.c.

    I tend to believe that racism has a much longer history than both the colonial or imperial stages. (Unless colonial includes the Islamic Gunpower Empires – but even these, especially Mughals were more like power grabs for warriors looking to take over some piece of land, not for the purposes of sending its wealth to their “home” nation. Babur didn’t go back to Uzbekistan when he founded the Mughal dynasty in India). It’s just not clear to me what the distinction between “european racism” and “all other racism” is, or even should be, and in this respect I have to agree with Rochelle. If its an issue of power, then I’d point out that all groups have had this type of power in the past, and have used it in similar ways.

    The Arab, Persian and Turkic Islamic invasions into India used an actively racialist discourse to justify the oppression of the majority Hindu Indian population. Alberuni, that oh so famous ancient Islamic scientist and scholar, went so far as to label Hindu’s as “innately perverse” and this is after years of studying their customs and religion in comparison to Islamic customs. I wouldn’t call it prejudice though, I’d call it racism because he came with and was funded and patronized by a system of political power (Mahmud of Ghazni was the “conqueror” who brought him along), I mean, if that is the distinction that makes white-on-brown racism so much worse.

  • Sahar

    s.c I disagree for two main reasons: European colonialism surpasses any other in history with its expansionist and imperialist policies. Up to 80% of the world was conquered in one way or another. An ideological machinery had to be produced in order to legitimise this expansionism.

    Secondly, prejudice in these old empires were simplistic discourses and no where near as sophisticated as what we see 1600s and after. All fields, technological, scientific, anthropological, sociological, historical etc were used to support the claims that were being made by Europeans. A whole system of ‘knowledge’ was galvanised for justification of the inferior other. This occurred simultaneously with the advent of European modernism which accentuated this further in reinforcing the ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ dichotomy. The technological opportunities it brought helped to disseminate these ideas more extensively–and most imporantly, ‘taught’ the colonised Other of its own inferiority.

    You certainly do not see anything as sophisticated as this in history. If so, i’d have pointed it out. : )

  • Birgit Brandt

    Racism is a horrible human trait. The only way to combat it is to build friendships across cultures. Toronto, where I lived for more than 20 years, is a wonderful place for doing just that. I and my fellow immigrant friends feel equals and equally protected by the law in Canada. (Much to the shame of Canada, though, I have to agree with somebody else on this forum that native peoples are discriminated against by every segment of society – I live just north of a Mohawk reserve, and I’m appalled by how their rights are trampled by the federal government and the local courts and “white” residents.)

    I could never go back to live in Germany because I know that racism does permeate the mainstream society there. I have lived in Toronto and I have friends from all over the world; and I could not have met these people on the terms of respect and freedom in the unequal and unfree atmosphere among German petty bourgeois (having been one myself).

    I am so sorry for Mrs. El Sherbini and her family. What dark days for them and for all who weep for humanity.

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  • Rochelle

    Sahar, you’re making it seem like the West and everyone in it dedicated their entire lives to racism for centuries and centuries. This essentialism is troubling.

    The discourse surrounding racism, colonialism, and imperialism did not exist in a vacuum and were not the be-all end-all in Western society. They were debated and challenged within Western contexts. Surely the Englightenment period, in which all men were said to be equal, challenges the concept of race. Similarly, the French feminists at the time of the 1789 revolution challenged colonialism. Christian groups challenged slavery. Jews challenged the concept of eugenics.

    And not to point out the obvious here, but the USA was once a colony, and we fought a bloody ass war to break off ties to our oppressor. I suggest you read Thomas Jefferson’s work if you want to hear how Westerners were challenging colonialism.

    Finally: “Secondly, prejudice in these old empires were simplistic discourses and no where near as sophisticated as what we see 1600s and after.”

    Whoa. I don’t think you’re giving medieval Islam enough due credit here Sahar. Point being, its not like the Muslim world was living in peaceful, egalitarian la-la land before the west swooped in and overtook it. Read up on your Mongol history. That shit was whack.

  • Fatemeh

    Ooooookay. Time to steer the conversation back to Marwa, okay? Everyone take note.

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  • Sahar

    Rochelle: I can’t say more seeing as this is off topic.(Sorry Fatemeh). I will say this though; you clearly don’t read enough history with a critical eye. I recommend you do.

  • Zahra

    This is a horrifying case. May she rest in peace.

    I’d like to hear more about the fact that the crime occurred in the courthouse. Such crimes are, unfortunately, more common than they should be in the US; is that not the case in Germany? What if any steps are being taken to improve security? And why more focus on the response of Egyptians than on German Muslims? I’d like to hear and see more voices representing that experience; the group the HP quoted seemed quite media-savvy, and I wonder what their specific goals around the case.

    Also want to say that it’s a pleasure to see a lively, intellectual, and cordial debate here–many levels above so much internet discourse. Both of the main points of view here are making me think hard and reconsider accepted truths.

    Very briefly–I disagree strongly that pre-modern empires weren’t using sophisticated intellectual discourse as racist propaganda (I’ve read quite a bit of it), and find that statements to the contrary come uncomfortably close to trumpetting Western exceptionalism. But you don’t need to argue that no one else has ever colonized in order to say that it’s the after- and ongoing effects of specifically Western colonialism that shape our world today (which is not to say that legacies of other empires aren’t still around).

  • Natalia Antonova

    I agree with a gist of what you’re saying, but I think you’re over-simplifying a couple of points:

    Racism is a product of history, born in the colonial period.

    You know, I understand WHY most of my friends see the world through the lens of “the West & the rest” but I can’t help but be frustrated by that. There is way more to the history of racism than the history of Western colonialism. I think that if we are going to combat racism, we need to recognize as much.

    So I don’t think it’s very accurate to accuse a subaltern of their criticism of the West as ‘racist’– which is what Rochelle is doing.

    I understand “subaltern” to be a highly specific term that does not apply here. Are you saying that Sobia is subaltern? I don’t buy that, not with the history that comes attached to the term. The whole argument that was made when the word “subaltern” came into vogue was that the subaltern *cannot* speak – and yet here is Sobia, speaking very openly about this murder, its coverage and the subsequent fall-out – about which lives matter and which lives do not. Sobia’s words may be ignored by many who are vested in varying forms of privilege, but I would hardly categorize Sobia as utterly “powerless.”

    Apologies for the nit-pick.

  • Natalia Antonova


    I respect what you’re saying here, but as someone who’s lived in several Muslim-majority countries, I simply can’t agree with this:

    Whereas there are certainly faults in Muslim countries, they are not based in such a systemic privilege methodology that overrides all else.

    Of course they are. There is systemic male privilege, systemic privilege of “natives” over “outsiders” (be they Palestinian refugees in camps, migrant labourers, foreign women bought and sold), class privilege, tribal politics, etc.

    However, like you, I don’t like “whataboutery” – you tell someone that a Muslim woman was murdered in cold blood because she didn’t like being called a “terrorist” and they’ll retort with “but the Muslim woman who stole my taxi today, what about THAT, huh?” People engage in it pretty wantonly and, by way of it, conveniently devalue the life of someone who just wanted to get basic respect from her racist thug of a neighbour.

    I’m glad she took her harasser to court. I can’t believe the price she was forced to pay for it. I don’t know what lessons we can draw about Germany as a nation – I know Germany as a comparatively tolerant place, but I stick to the north & west and rarely visit Bavaria. My aunt’s neighbours in Erfurt called her a “Russian slut” when she was teaching there, I know that much. I wonder if my experiences in other countries have beaten me down to the point of seeing Germany as some kind of beacon. I don’t know.

    I think the one lesson we can definitely take from this is that the media in certain places takes a very dim view of the value of a certain individual’s life. It reminds me of the whole “missing white girls” phenomenon in the States, to be honest.

    I wonder if this news would be making more of an impact stateside if the victim was murdered in a British or, say, Australian courtroom – in a place where folks speak English predominantly. The reason why I say that is that honour killing cases, which do get highlighted very frequently, don’t get nearly as much press when they happen in Germany. Maybe there’s a link in there somewhere, or maybe I am completely wrong.

  • Hicham Maged

    Marwa’s brutal murder should be a ‘wake-up’ call for justice, and this justice isn’t only to punish the killer according to the law but also to refine our minds from that stupid stereotype image regarding people in general and Islam/Muslims in particular because we see nothing but indentifying Muslims as terrorist since 9/11.

    Racism means you don’t want the exsistence of other people and this simply isn’t the right of anyone; we’ve been created that we may know each other and this meas at first place to understand.

    Barve Marwa, not Poor Marwa as some bloggers/twitterers/reoprters used to call her. May Allah (God) bless her soul and

  • adam

    there is a tiny thin line between law and justice, media are busy with other things,if this barbaric crime commited by a muslim a third world war will be luanched againest muslims and islam,the islamic governments are nothing but bubbles,weak empty and pethetic,if a westerner farted they put his/her fart in a bottel, but because the victim are neither westerner nor anglosaxon so “it dosen’t matter” i bit you on my life the “ill” german government will ruleout the hall crime as commited by a crazy phsyco man and on worst case he will be held in phscaitric facilty, IS THAT JUSTICE?????????, this question is to all developed democratic advanced libral free countries.

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  • Mitch Nellerson

    Sorry, I intended my post as a response to Rochelle. I scrolled a little higher by accident. I apologize for the error.

  • Mitch Nellerson

    Having said what I’ve said, I hope the killer is convicted and gets the maximum possible sentence under German law. He probably deserves more, but unlike most states in the US, Germany doesn’t offer capital punishment.

  • Safiya Outlines

    “The fact that the Muslim minority in Europe is vastly overrepresented in the crime statistics and prison populations of so many nations in Europe.”

    Prove it.

    Also, if such over representation occurs do you think it is merely down to Islam, or racism and a lack of opportunities.

  • ahmad

    Blind eyes of major western media like BBC and CNN in Marwa al-Sherbini case raised many question about their role in conducting such event. Many Muslim believe that they are main responsible for extending racism against Islam. Removing images of this anti human case from internet had a clear message for human rights fans. THERE IS NO RESPECT TO HUMAN RIGHT IN WESTERN COUNTRIES!!! The important issue which all Muslim people should concern about it is, why we should consume western countries product?!! Doesn’t consuming German product mean ignorance about denying obvious human rights?
    When BBC and CNN want to be honest to people? Why they think that others have low intelligence and can not find the truth hided behind their false broadcasting?


    I do not know what to say..
    I sincerely hope to ALLAH this sister died a shaheed as this was jihaad, FISABILILLAH
    May Allah grant this sister and her unborn jannah inshaALLAH..

  • Zaynah Al-Tayyib

    May Allah bless her both in Jannah insha’allah and be with their children. And may Allah keep the husband safe and guide him through this life and the next and reward him for his actions on this earth. And may all those who have acted injust in this situation get their just rewards for Allah sees everything. Ameen!

  • Nomir Khan

    Inshallah juistice shall be done on the day of judgement & Allah knows best!

  • mohammed

    allah blesss her soul an her husbands

  • Le-Ann LF

    It is truly a sad day to witness such an atrocious event taking place in a public gathering and not receiving the justice it so deserves. The world is witness to it yet nothing of substance is being put in place for adequate address.
    May Allah be with her and her family ameen
    Inna lilahee wa inna ilaihee raji3oon

  • Mitch Nellerson

    Thank you, Rochelle.

    This is a terrible act

    Too many Muslims continue to argue that thousands of violent acts against non-Muslims by Muslims worldwide–be they acts committed in the West by minority Muslims (like the epidemic of Muslim gang rapes against “uncovered” women in Sweden) or committed in largely Muslim countries (like violence against religious minorities in Pakistan and Indonesia)–allow us to say nothing about the attitudes of the broader Muslim community. Yet these same Muslims insist that we can determine a great deal about the attitudes of Westerners from a single incident like this. Muslims argue that they shouldn’t be blamed for the terrorist acts of their coreligionists, but that entire “kufr” nations deserve blame for atrocities like this one. The hyperbole and hypocrisy that are the common expressions of Muslim indignation are becoming tiresome.

    The fact that the Muslim minority in Europe is vastly overrepresented in the crime statistics and prison populations of so many nations in Europe certainly hasn’t aroused the rage of Muslims abroad. The crimes committed against religious minorities in Muslim lands are given even less attention from Muslims than rare atrocities like these are given in the West. Of course, violent Muslim acts are incomparable to such as evils as blasphemous cartoons, I suppose.

    “the fact that a courtroom full of people allowed it to happen”

    Standing by and doing nothing have occurred during many crimes not involving a woman with a hijab. It is unfortunate and deplorable, but hardly unknown. This is a well documented phenomenon. As I mentioned at The Black Iris, I recall a case years ago where a woman in the U.S. was thrown over a bridge to her death while dozens of people looked on and did nothing. People in groups often freeze up and wait for someone in a better position to act when they should be acting themselves.

    “Even a “German government spokesman, Thomas Steg, said that if the attack was racist, the government ‘naturally condemns this in the strongest terms’ ””

    I know that prejudicing cases to get a rhetorical flourish out there may be common in some countries that don’t have particularly high standards of justice but, in the West, government officials have to choose their words carefully so as not to interfere with upcoming criminal cases.

    They don’t want a potential killer getting off on a mistrial because the defense was able to argue that a high official poisoned the jury pool by speaking as though the motives of the killer had already been determined beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the job of the prosecutor to argue the motives of a killer to a jury, not an uninvolved official to the public prior to jury selection. Also, a high government official isn’t likely to know all the intimate details of a case and would be well advised not to make a fool out of himself if initial reports are inaccurate.