A resident wears an "Orlando Strong" T-shirt during a vigil at Lake Eola Park in Orlando..
(photo credit: STEVE NESIUS/REUTERS)
Was Omar Mateen’s distorted understanding of Islamic faith the motivating factor behind his horrific act of violence? Or was Mateen a deranged homophobe who only used his perverted reading of Islam as an excuse to carry out his despicable shooting against Orlando, Florida’s gay community? We may never know.
What is clear even from a cursory look around the world, however, is that too much death and suffering are caused by those who claim to be acting in the name of Islam. And while Islamic belief clearly does not make all Muslims violent, Muslim leaders have a special obligation to confront problematic aspects of Islamic texts and theology that seem to promote violence.
There are daily reminders of how Islam is used to justify the most heinous crimes against humanity. Just this weekend Islamic State – which took responsibility for the Orlando massacre – also claimed to be behind a suicide and car bomb blast in Damascus near Syria’s holiest Shi’ite shrine that killed at least 20 people. But the Orlando murders, the deadliest mass shooting in US history, will be talked about for years to come and will undoubtedly have an impact on the upcoming US presidential race. The bombing in Damascus, in contrast, will hardly register in the world’s consciousness, because tragically these sectarian massacres have become a part of the fabric of the Middle East.
From Syria and Iraq to Nigeria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a great number of fatalities in armed conflicts around the world are in wars involving Muslims. The most numerous victims of Muslim violence – including executions and lynchings – are Muslim.
Al-Qaida and Islamic State are not the only ones applying Islamic faith violently. In Pakistan, statements critical of the Prophet or Islam are labeled as blasphemy and punishable by death. In Saudi Arabia, churches and synagogues are outlawed and beheadings are a legitimate form of punishment.
In Iran stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their “crime.”
That’s why it is so crucial that moderate, peaceful Muslims speak out against the violence being carried out in the name of Islam. And many are. The Husseini Islamic Center of Florida, located near Orlando, issued a statement condemning the shooting. “Our community stands united with our fellow Americans in denouncing any action that would claim to justify such atrocious acts of violence,” said HIC media director Dr. Aunali Khaku in a statement.
The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged fellow Muslims to donate blood to those who are injured and promoted a fund-raising campaign for victims of the shooting on Facebook.
But more needs to be done. Peace-loving and law-abiding Muslims, who make up the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion believers, must confront and reinterpret the more problematic aspects of Muslim faith: texts that refer to Jews and Christians as “pigs and monkeys;” Sha’aria laws that prescribe death for the crime of apostasy, death by stoning for adultery and hanging for homosexuality.
Islam is not the only monotheistic faith that contains violent messages. Judaism has many of its own, such as the concept of a holy war that justifies genocide (wiping out Amalek) or harsh retribution for religious sins. But due to the circumstances of Judaism’s development in exile, many of its more militaristic or violent texts were spiritualized.
The struggle against Amalek became an internal battle against evil inclinations, conflict on the battlefield became a metaphor for the jousting of Torah scholars in the study hall. The return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel presents new challenges for Judaism, as some religious leaders seek to revive a more literal reading of biblical texts.
Similarly, Islam must undergo change, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali argued in her book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. Ali outlined five areas in which Islam needs to be examined critically and reformed: the literal reading of the Quran; the appeal of martyrdom; violent, intolerant or anachronistic Shariah; the right of individual Muslims to enforce Muslim law; and the imperative to wage holy war.
Islam cannot exclusively be blamed for the horrific act of pointless violence perpetrated in Orlando, just as any other religion cannot be blamed for the acts of violence and terrorism its constituents carry out against innocent people.
But this doesn’t exempt religious leaders of all faiths from taking an unequivocal stand against violence in the name of religion. In a world of growing danger and threat, that stand needs to be taken now