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Islam and the Orlando Shootings: A Humanistic Look

7 min read

by Sarah Yusuf
For the longest time, I thought the worlds I existed in constantly collided. East vs. West, conservative Islam vs. the mainstream, liberal Islam, white-washed or bona fide fresh off the boat (FOB). For the majority of my life as a Muslim, Bengali, queer, immigrant woman, I’ve felt like I’m trying to reconcile these two very opposite, but important parts of my life.

There’s the person I want to be, the person who’s been raised in the States under the tutelage of a liberal, logical, thoughtful education both inside and outside the classroom. Then, there’s the person who my parents, my extended family back home, my conservative, southern Muslim community wants me to be. It’s as if I live double lives.

I feel that this is how many first and second generation immigrants feel: too Westernized to be from their native countries and too much like their Eastern counterparts to be a part of the Western narrative. Maybe that’s how Omar Mateen felt as the child of immigrants, as a person with all these personal issues that were bubbling inside of him, as a person who probably couldn’t reconcile his Western side with his Eastern self.

There are all these allegations, all these voices offering sympathy, hate, understanding, condemnation, from all sides, to Mateen. There are some who said that he was probably gay himself and his actions were a crime of passion. Others said he was just one of the many disillusioned Westerners who join ISIS for a myriad of reasons. The more I read, the more confused I get with Mateen and his motives.

Yet, the aftermath of his actions didn’t make me want to read about him or learn more about him from the constant news reports. I wanted to remember the names of the victims. In the days after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, I heard those 49 names repeated so many times, on CNN, Snapchat or VlogBrothers, that I could’ve memorized them.

The events that unfolded in Orlando that Sunday morning still haunt me today. It darkened my Ramadan to deep depths and it was hard to think about clearly. I wanted to spend some time thinking about what it all meant to me, as a person who existed in the LGBT+ and Muslim community.

It’s been three weeks and I finally found the words to go with my thoughts. I’m not as a pundit, or as someone who thinks he/she knows it all. I’m talking about this multifaceted issue for all it is and not just generalize one sub-issue to fit the full brunt of what happened that Sunday night. This is more than just selling madness in the form of clickbait and YouTube views. This is real people who carry the consequences of this hydra issue.

First, let’s not forget the rampant white-washing of the victims and the actual shooting that happened. Mateen had a shootout during Pulse’s Latin Night, an event designed to celebrate Latinx solidarity in the LGBT+ community. I could write a whole piece on the lack of dignified POC visibility, specifically with Latinx people, but I feel that as a non-Latinx person, I can’t really say much.

However, a quick read, like this PBS interview, can help you get a general idea. It’s crucial that we hear the concerns of the Latinx LGBT+ community through their voices and their points of view, as opposed to a white, cisgender gay man on CNN talking about their issues for them. As allies, it’s our duty to listen and to mobilize behind our friends in the Latinx LGBT+ community to best serve them. We can’t take the dialogue from the real victims.

Second, something that most of the media seems to pimp out to satiate the xenophobic urge of our country is the silent but very present homophobia that exists within Islamic communities. As a person who’s afraid to come out to my own family and my community for fear that I’ll be rejected, or worse, attacked, this narrative is all too familiar to me. Other Muslims, both self-identifying as queer or straight, have expressed this same sentiment.

It’s even more distressing to hear LGBT+ activists–mainly white, cisgender ones—talk about the issue of homophobia and Islam as if they’re two separate worlds. Some people just can’t fathom you can be queer and Muslim. Some people just can’t see that I, and most other queer Muslims, don’t feel the need to completely hate Islam in order to feel happy with our sexualities and gender identities.

I understand radical groups like ISIS and many conservative Muslims have a penchant for being homophobic. They would rather see people like me die or stifle who we are to the world. Yet, I’m not willing to cut back on my faith in Islam just because I don’t agree with other people’s interpretation of it. Aaminah Khan from Harlot Magazine talked about this more with more depth and eloquence than my small rambling. Her piece is a must read.

For me, I don’t care that ISIS and conservative Muslims want me dead and so-called progressive LGBT+ activists don’t think I exist, I’d rather be happy with my future partner, regardless of his/her gender, and pray Taraweeh at the mosque during Ramadan than worry about what they think of me. Granted, I live in the U.S., where gay marriage is relatively more progressive than in Eastern countries. This is a privilege of living here that many queer people may never be able to feel in other parts of the world.

Next, there’s the issue of gun control. Mateen was a person on the FBI’s terrorist watch list who was able to purchase a gun because he had security and firearm licenses. It’s not an anti-gun rights stance to keep suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons. It’s just common sense.

Living in the South, I know that gun ownership is just as much for survival for some people as it is for its cultural significance. Yet, are we willing to let suspected and known criminals purchase weapons that they can then use to commit more acts of violence and destruction? Are we willing to group the killers with the innocent, sensible gun owners? Are we willing to skew the argument to make it seem like all gun ownership will be removed from our country if our government issues just one bill for stricter background checks? We as a nation need to take the time to answer this question and act upon our intentions.

Within two weeks of the Orlando massacre, almost every single gun control legislation on the dockets of Congress have been rejected. The same politicians who say give their prayers and condolences to the mostly Latinx LGBT+ victims have rarely acted upon their intentions. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has put so much money into these politicians’ pockets that the hypocrisy and corruption can’t even be hidden anymore.

It baffles me that people who have pasts of abuse, mental illness and crime, like that of Mateen can get a hold of military style weapons with the same ease like we do in purchasing groceries. When politicians are willing to uphold the masculinist attitudes of military-style weapon ownership over the rights of women to their bodies, of transgender people to bathrooms, of LGBT+ couples to the same marriage rights as their straight counterparts, we’ve definitely lost it as a nation.

Lastly, there’s the issue of racism that keeps popping up over and over again in the discussion of the Orlando massacre. Like I’ve mentioned before, there’s this whitewashing of the predominantly Latinx and LGBT+ victims. Yet, there’s this antagonism toward Mateen simply for his ethnicity and religious affiliations.

I was surprised when homophobic and transphobic politicians were sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims. I clearly remembered these same politicians doing everything they can to keep transgender people out of the bathrooms of their preferred gender. I remembered the fight these politicians put up against the legalization of gay marriage all over the U.S. Why were they so inclined to give their condolences?

Then I remembered, there was an agenda, there was a new enemy to point the finger. Mateen was an Afghan-American who identified as Muslim. The media could point their finger to terrorism as the main reason behind the Orlando massacre. The various news networks that pervade our media outlets can’t see nuance.

Thus, if there was some way to garner clicks and advertising revenue by painting this whole massacre under the mask of simple terrorism, then that would’ve been it. We could just ignore the inner homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, and lack of gun control that underlies what happened that Sunday morning. But I refuse.

I’m not going to sit here and paint this massacre with just facts on terrorism and ISIS. The tragedy in Orlando affected huge segments of the American population. It affected Muslims, the Latin community, LGBT+ people, other POC, and the various people who fell into more than one of these groups. This is so much more than a simple argument between six different people on a CNN screen. As I’ve mentioned before, this deals with real people.

So we have to approach the many sub-problems that arose from the Orlando massacre through human eyes. We have to see that the solutions come to the benefit of those who were the most affected, not just the pundits on screen. It’s time to pull the plug on the people who think they know and put our ears to those who’ve lived through these harsh issues.

We talk about activism on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, but we don’t do anything. We just sit and watch and listen, waiting for others to take charge, but I’m tired of that. I’m tired of not speaking or doing anything. I’m tired of enjoying Pride parades and activities when times are easy, but running away when things get hard.

Thus, it’s time for us to do something, as allies, as fellow humans. First and foremost, donate to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). They probably do the most in terms of lobbying for LGBT+ rights and actually getting stuff done than any other group in the U.S. I donate to them every month and am so happy I get to actually help HRC pay for their lobbyists and activists in Congress and in other areas.

Next, donate to the GoFundMe for the Pulse Nightclub victims that’s been set up by Equality Florida. Every penny that’s donated goes to help the victims, their families, and the survivors.

Also, there’s a LaunchGood that the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of Florida set up to help fund the victims and their families. You don’t have to be Muslim to donate; it’s open to everyone.

Finally, as an ally, you can help the oppressed voices in your community by listening to their issues, sympathizing with their plight, and fighting for their rights with them. We can be oppressors in one situation and be the oppressed in the next. Thus, if we want to be treated fairly, then we must treat others with dignity and respect. It’s a simple rule that we’ve heard since we’re little, but it’s the one that humanity needs to work on the most.

I hope I was able to shed some light, maybe even hope to those who can’t seem to piece together their feelings. Maybe we can move past this and finally find some sort of peace. Maybe these 49 victims will finally convince our consciousness to do something.


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Sarah Yusuf is a student, writer, artist, and dreamer.

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