Rights Activists, Muslims Hold Vigil for Slain Muslim Teen

Young Muslim women joined with women’s rights advocates in Washington, D.C. Tuesday evening to mourn a 17-year-old killed in nearby Sterling, Virginia over the weekend.

As traffic swirled around DuPont Circle, a small circular park nestled in the center of one of Washington’s major boulevards, the diverse crowd listened to activists, poets, and an imam honor Nabra Hassanen and denounce violence toward women, Muslims, and African-Americans. 

Authorities say Hassanen died of blunt force trauma to her upper body after 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres attacked her and her friends with a baseball bat. She and a group of teenagers had left their Sterling-area mosque between Ramadan prayers to get food.

Hassanen’s killing sparked outrage and solidarity on social media, with many activists calling on police to investigate it as a hate crime. Family members say Hassanen and other girls in her group were wearing hijab, Muslim head scarves, when the attack occurred. But police and some witnesses said Torres appeared to be agitated by a traffic argument, not religious hatred.

Some speakers at the vigil and within the larger Muslim community compared the attack to those that sparked the Blacks Lives Matter movement.

“It’s important to realize that she was a black Muslim woman,” Maryland resident Dina Al-Rifai told VOA. “That intersectionality is already present. Solidarity is our only hope.”

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), of which Hassanen and her family were members, has asked the community not to speculate on the motives for the attack.

But not all of those calling for a better explanation than “road rage” are necessarily calling for hate crime charges. Instead, they’re stressing the need to discuss violence against women – particularly women of color.

“Violence against women is a national epidemic, violence against the Muslim community is also on the rise, it’s very disturbing,” Representative Keith Ellison, the only Muslim member of the U.S. Congress, told VOA.

“That this lovely young woman, 17 years old, could be killed by someone hitting her with a bat… it’s just hard to get my mind around that. So I just had to come,” said Ellison, who quietly attended the vigil and thanked attendees for their show of solidarity.

The Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment (WISE), one of the organizers of  the vigil, works with Muslim women in the U.S. to teach them self-defense.

WISE activist Rana Abdelhamid spoke at the vigil about the importance of elevating women’s voices, and how Hassanen’s death resonates throughout the female Muslim community.

“We see ourselves in Nabra,” she told VOA, saying this vigil was “to commemorate a sister that we feel like we lost.”


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