RELIGION

American Muslims Send A Powerful Message Of Solidarity To Orlando Victims

The tragedy in Orlando has prompted both compassion and debate within the Muslim community.
A vigil is seen near the site of the shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, Florida, June 13, 2016.
A vigil is seen near the site of the shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, Florida, June 13, 2016.

The American Muslim community reacted with an outpouring of love and support in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The support came in the form of fundraisers, blood donations, and public statements that firmly condemned the violence that claimed the lives of 49 victims at Orlando's Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning, and left dozens more injured.

At the same time, the violence sparked a debate within the community about whether Muslim leaders need to speak out more forcefully against homophobic ideologies.

The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, reportedly called police about 20 minutes into the shooting and pledged his allegiance to ISIS. His father, Seddique Mateen, has claimed that his son became upset after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami a few months ago. Pulse was a haven for Orlando's LGBTQ community.  

Muslim organizations and activists across the country have spoken out against the shooting, explicitly calling it a hate crime.

Rasha Mubarak, regional coordinator for Orlando's branch of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy organization, said in a statement

“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of CAIR-Florida, called for unity in a Facebook video, saying that it was important not to allow politicians to use this attack to "promote fear, division and hate" within America. 

"America is one of the best places in the world to be a practicing Muslim -- to be Jewish, to be Christian, to be atheist, to be whoever you want to be, it offers us more freedom to practice our religion than almost anywhere else," Shibly said. "And whoever betrays that trust and that freedom that God offers us in this country and commits such horrific crimes against humanity will have to answer to God for his horrific crimes."

Other leaders in the community encouraged Muslims in the Orlando area to donate blood -- even though it is Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for Muslims. The Red Cross recommends drinking water and after before donating blood, but during Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to refrain from both eating and drinking while the sun is out. 

Mahmoud ElAwadi, a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, posted a photo to his Facebook page after donating blood at a bank in Orlando and called on other Muslims to donate.

 "Our blood all look the same so get out there and donate blood cause our fellow American citizens are injured and need our blood," ElAwadi wrote on Facebook. "Our community in central Florida is heart broken but let's put our colors, religions, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political views all aside so we can UNITE against those who are trying to hurt us." 

Others responded with financial donations. Muslim Americans in Central Florida have been fundraising for the victims' families online. As of Tuesday afternoon, they've raised more than $60,000.

Laila Abdelaziz, a staff member at CAIR Florida, told The Huffington Post that her community started the fundraise because it was "the right thing to do."

"Our faith is our guidance to be the best human beings we can possibly be, and in a moment like this, our faith calls on us to support and mourn with the families of the victims, to act in whatever way we can to manifest the light and togetherness of community, rather than division and hate," she told HuffPost.

Ebtesam Mohammed, middle, and other young women listen and reflect during a press conference at the Colorado Muslim Society i
Ebtesam Mohammed, middle, and other young women listen and reflect during a press conference at the Colorado Muslim Society in response to the Orlando nightclub shooting massacre on June 12, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.

While condemnation of the attack has been unequivocal across the board, some activists hoped that American Muslims would go one step further and speak out against interpretations of Islam that are opposed to same-sex relationships. 

Like the Bible, the Quran contains verses that condemn homosexuality. LGBT Muslims have reported that it is hard for them to find queer-friendly prayer spaces and mosques. Some report feeling marginalized and even invisible. 

Imam Daayiee Abdullah, a gay imam based in Washington, D.C., told The Daily Beast that some Muslims prefer to "put their heads in the sand or be silent" about LGBT issues. He hoped more Muslims worldwide will speak out against such interpretations of Islam. 

"We need more Muslims worldwide to speak out to counter the hate so that those who harbor such horrible views realize their views are not consistent with our faith," Abdullah said. 

LGBT-friendly Muslim organizations do indeed exist and Muslim advocacy groups have been promoting an understanding of Islam that is inclusive of LGBT people. Queer Muslims have also been vocal in the aftermath of the attacks. 

One of these organizations is the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD). On Sunday, leaders within that community reiterated that the Orlando shooting can't be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community. 

"As LGBTQ Muslims, we know that there are many of us who are living at the intersections of LGBTQ identities and Islam. At moments like this, we are doubly affected. We reject attempts to perpetuate hatred against our LGBTQ communities as well as our Muslim communities. We ask all Americans to resist the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against homophobia as well as against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry." 

In the wake of this morning's shooting in Orlando, Farhat Naeem, left, attends an Ahmadiyya Muslim Community prayer vigil for
In the wake of this morning's shooting in Orlando, Farhat Naeem, left, attends an Ahmadiyya Muslim Community prayer vigil for the victims, at Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, CA June 12, 2016.

Wahajat Ali, a Muslim American writer, expressed hope online that his community would use this moment to uplift LGBT Muslims who "often suffer in silence and have been ostracized and demonized by multiple communities in America for their sexuality, religion and ethnicity." He encouraged Muslims to denounce anti-LGBT legislation that has been introduced in states across the country.

"I believe this is a moment for us straight Muslims to aggressively and sincerely assert our solidarity with the LGBT community, not for sake of politics, talking points and expedient alliances, but around shared values and visions of creating an America where no one is hazed, victimized, brutalized or murdered simply for 'being,'" Ali wrote on Facebook. "Their struggle for freedoms and equality is our struggle and is the American struggle. Period." 

This article has been updated to include comment from Laila Abdelaziz. 

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