Marwa El Sherbini Did Not Die For Her Hijab, So Please Stop Saying That She Did

Marwa El Sherbini is in the ground away from those who love her most.

She did not want to die, she did not choose to die.

She was murdered.

In Germany the Muslim community is ethnically homogeneous, with the vast majority being of Turkish ethnicity. Even without her headscarf, her coloring and ethnicity means that Marwa would have still looked like an ‘Auslander‘ and a Muslim one at that.

Yet, all over the media she is dubbed as the Headscarf Martyr or the Hijab Martyr, meaning that the focus is once again on Muslim women’s clothing and whether they should wear certain items or not. The case is even being conflated with Sarkosy’s proposal to ban the burqa.

Again, Muslim women’s bodies are being discussed only in terms of the clothes they wear and again the world offers its opinion without listening to Muslim women.

The problem with this talk of martyrdom and clothing, both in the Muslim and non-Muslim press, is that it allows focus to slip away from the true actor of the piece: Alex W., the murderer.

What is known about Alex W. is that he is a Russian immigrant with “a deep hatred of foreigners and  Muslims”.

So surely the next steps should be to examine the cause of such hatred, look into any groups he  associated with or extremist media sources he used.

Instead, the prosecutor of the original court case has swiftly categorized Alex W. as “a fanatical lone wolf”, pushing the focus back onto Muslim clothing once again.

With attacks against Muslims and building used by Muslims rising and this rise occurring alongside a increased popularity of the far right, now is the time to examine violent Islamophobia and racism, before more people are murdered or injured.  The recent conviction of a white British man for planning racists bombings went virtually unreported as the mainstream media “wasn’t interested”. One wonders how many more lone wolves there needs to be before the media notices a pack mentality.

By having the same tired clothing discussions, this opportunity to address Islamophobic and racist violence is being lost in the spin of the “Hijab Martyr”. The truth is buried as deeply as Marwa’s body.

The truth being: Marwa did not die because she was wearing a hijab, she died because a racist murderer killed her.

Muslimah Media Watch thanks Yusuf Smith for the tip.

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  • Rochelle

    Thanks for this, very true and well put.

  • stumblingmystic


  • Amo

    Why is the Muslim community just as obsessed with Marwa El Sherbini clothing?


    Very nice article and I agree well put.

  • M. Landers

    She died because a racist murderer killed her … because his racism caused him to single her out for harassment due to her visibility as a Muslim woman, and her successfully standing up for herself against that harassment enraged him to the point of becoming a murderer. You’re correct that focusing on the victim to the exclusion of the perpetrator does not do the victim justice. However, neither does focusing so much on the broader racism that the specificity of the victim is lost.

  • Zahra

    Well-said. All this talk of martyrdom, shifting the focus to El Sherbini and away from her murderer, seems like victim-blaming to me. She wasn’t trying to end to her life in the service of a cause; she was only trying to see justice done.

    May we find it even without her guiding light.

  • Krista

    This is a great post, Safiya. I knew I was uncomfortable with some of the reactions to her death, and you’ve articulated it really well here.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    There can be no denying that the racism of the perpetrator was the catalyst and that racism is still going unexamined

    Marwa’s death is the tragic tip of a much larger iceberg of racist attacks and intimidation.

    Marwa reported the abuse given out to her. but how many feel too afraid (both of reprisals and an unsympathetic justice system) to do so?

    I do feel that the hijab is being overstated as a mark of visibility, because as I said in the piece, Germany’s Muslim community is very homogenous. Even without her headscarf, Marwa would have certainly been read as Turkish and therefore Muslim.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Why indeed?

    As covered previously on MMW, there is a prominent pro-hijab campaign in Egypt and I do feel that Marwa has been co-opted as “The Brave Hijabi” by this cause or sentiment.

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  • Ayza Gursoy

    Agreed with you Safiya – well explained. Thanks for sharing it with us.