The recent killing of 17 year old Nabra Hassanen is on my mind. Not only was she killed—brutally beaten with a baseball bat—but it is thought that she was raped, too. Twice. During Ramadan. By an undocumented Latino from El Salvador.
It is said to be a case of “road rage.” I am having a difficult time believing this. Maybe this man was drunk. Maybe he was angry at his partner. Maybe it was a hate crime. Maybe we’ll never know the whole truth.
What matters, however, is that Nabra—a young woman, black, and a Muslim—was killed. Do not tell me, or anyone, that these three aspects were not factors in her death. That her death had nothing to do with her being a person of color. Or that her death had nothing to do with her wearing an identifying, religious headscarf. Or that her death had nothing to do with misogyny. Because it did. All of it did.
I have been struggling to articulate Nabra’s death.
Where is this type of hate born? If we begin with Darwin Torres, we find an undocumented man from El Salvador who works in construction, lives with his girlfriend, and has a 4 year-old son. After I read this about him, especially that he is a father, I realized I was demonizing him—making up a story in my head about him—thinking he was out stalking women, or black people, or Muslims. But in reality, it is said he was with his grandmother until around midnight. Then something went terribly wrong.
Nabra was a young, beautiful, exuberant teenager. A sophomore in high school, she had a job at McDonald’s and three younger siblings. She had plans. She posted selfies. She was an American teenage girl that hoped for a bright future, as a faithful young woman of color.
This same evening, Muslims were targeted outside a mosque and run over by a man in a van in London. Not even a month ago, Portland witnessed the death of two men who were defending a Muslim girl on the train. We need not look too far back to be reminded of the hate, and reminded that our world is on fire right now.
We are fractured.
I strive in my work to teach theological coexistence, not just between Christians and Muslims, but between all religions and cultures. I am consistently told that I am never going to achieve this goal. Or I am threatened, literally at times with my life, by fellow Christians. I often get a sarcastic, “Good luck!” when I tell people what I do. I am the only Latina theologian in the United States doing this type of interfaith work. I am proud of this and of my heritage. It has been disheartening to see the racism toward Latinos since Nabra’s death. Someone must pay, so all Muslims and, now, all Latinos are bad. This is understandable, as someone must be the scapegoat. Someone must be demonized. This is how humans work. Long before Nabra’s death, I found out that I have family members who call me a “Latina Muslim” and that my idea of “…helping the poor and spreading my understanding of love and God” is “not good.”
I have reflected a lot on the “Latina Muslim” sentiment, especially since Nabra. Meant to be a smear to my character and what I do, I have found it to be more of a compliment and comforting, especially now. Because, really, would it matter if I were Muslim? To me, no, it wouldn’t. I have amazing Muslim women in my life that are doing phenomenal work in the world as advocates, lawyers, doctors, mothers, and exemplary human beings. And I have several Latina sisters in my life—many of whom work endlessly to be better humans than these bigoted family members will ever be.
The sad reality of these comments and, more, the death of Nabra and the racism that surrounds undocumented Latinos, isn’t about me. It’s about so much more. It’s about all of us. These comments encompass all that is wrong in this messed up, ignorant world right now. They illustrate a fear that stems from small-mindedness, a lack of education, and curiosity of what is different and, ultimately, beautiful. These comments stem from misogyny, stunted intellectual growth, and the notion of “making America great again,” which, in essence, means America is great, but only as a white, “Christian” nation. Last, this name calling—this is where it starts. Behind closed doors. Then it spreads to face-to-face contact. Then to strangers. Then to more emboldened racism on trains and while driving vans.
I don’t know what to do right now. I don’t know what to say about Nabra’s death. How can I teach tolerance, when so many are not interested in learning? How can I talk coexistence, when so many have never listened to someone other than those similar to them? How can I pass on experience, knowledge and insight, outside someone’s small world, when they truly believe they are “right?”
Is this argument worth it?
Is it winnable?
Is this what God wants?
I have to believe that God wants us to love each other. And more, to simply coexist. I highly doubt that God approves of misogyny, rape, religious bigotry, hate crimes, name calling, or killing with bats, vans, or bombs. If God wanted us all to be the same religion, skin color, gender, and come from the same culture and speak the same language, then we would.
This is so obvious to me. Is it not to you?
My prayer is that there be no more Nabras. No more people killed on trains defending the defenseless. No more vans driving into crowds of people. No more bombs. No more shootings. No more labels. No more name calling. No more rape. No more misogyny. No more hate.
I will gladly remain a “Latina Muslim” and continue to strive for coexistence that eradicates hatred. Even if that means that my work is unaccepted and I am labeled by so many, including my family members. Because as long as I stand up for what is good and just, I am not the bigot. I am not the racist. I will not lend strength to the ignorant by allowing hate to win. I will love this fractured world, while others strive to tear it down with their anger. Because that is what we are all supposed to do. It is a choice. I choose God. I choose tolerance. I choose humanity.
And you? What will you choose?
Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. With a focus in Christian-Muslim understanding, as well as religious fundamentalism and extremism, Karen is the only theologian who is a Latina and a United Methodist doing this type of theological work in the US. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to publish an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. As an instructor, Karen designed and taught an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, and she teaches workshops throughout the Bay Area. Karen currently lives in San Francisco, is consulting with the United Religions Initiative, is an Ambassador with Parliament of the World’s Religions, is pursuing her Doctor of Ministry at Claremont School of Theology, and she is also a domestic violence advocate.
Categories: abuse, Activism, Belief, Christianity, Death, General, Interreligious dialogue, Islam, Jesus, Peacemaking, Race and Ethnicity, Ramadan, Rape, Rape Culture, religion, Sexual Violence, Social Justice, trauma, Violence, Violence Against Women, White Privilege, women of color