There were signs that her traditional Muslim family may have been struggling in the U.S. even before Shaima Alawadi was murdered: Court documents say she was contemplating a divorce, and her teenage daughter was resisting an arranged marriage.
Authorities initially believed Alawadi died as part of a hate crime. Now, they say the Iraqi-American woman was killed by her husband during a domestic dispute.
The suspect, Kassim Alhimidi, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a murder charge during a brief appearance via a video monitor in Superior Court, where the couple’s teenage daughter Fatima Alhimidi cried quietly in the courtroom in El Cajon.
Kassim Alhimidi was ordered held without bail after prosecutors noted he recently traveled to Iraq and was a flight risk. If convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison.
Author Nina Burleigh, who has written extensively about the mix of Islam and Western society, said the case highlights the dangerous clash that can happen when female immigrants, particularly from Islamic countries, rebel against their cultural restrictions and exercise choices made available to them in their adopted homelands.
“These things are happening all over the place,” Burleigh said. “It’s much more openly discussed in Europe where there is more integration from these societies, where in the U.S. it’s not discussed so much partly because we have a bias toward discussing the way these cultures treat women.”
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Family friend Qasim Alasady went to the courthouse Tuesday to show his support for the father and his children. He said he had known the couple for 18 years and never noticed any trouble, although he recently heard from a friend that Alawadi wanted a divorce. He said divorce does happen in Iraq and in the immigrant community but is not common and is “shocking.”
Alasady said he does not know what happened in his friend’s household, but he knows from his own experience that keeping cultural traditions in the U.S. is not easy. “It is totally different, this place,” said Alasady, who has lived in San Diego for nearly two decades. “American women, they control everything. Back home it’s different. A lot of women they don’t understand. They try to own the man over here.”
Read more: Honor Killing in California