By Parvin Sultana, New Age Islam
08 July 2016
The Orlando shooting left close to 50 people dead and another 50 injured in the worst mass shooting that US has ever seen. The assailant Omar Mateen, an Afghan American walks into a gay bar in Florida and opens fire. Many reports state that Mateen claimed his allegiance to ISIS before opening fire on the people who were visiting the bar for celebrating Pride month. The aftermath of the massacre saw myriad of statements and commentary on the incident. For many Mateen was a trained militant financed by the deadly ISIS to carry on organized acts of terror, for others he was a radicalized individual or a lone wolf psychopath with a gun license which is rather easy to acquire in US.
While the world was struggling to overcome from this ghastly shooting, some other attacks followed. An attack at the airport in Istanbul, in a posh eatery in Dhaka and in places in Baghdad rocked the whole world. It was further followed by bomb blasts in the holy city of Madina and bomb blasts in Bangladesh on the day of eid. It has been a busy month both for the ISIS and also for the Muslims condemning these ghastly murders. While in case of the Orlando shooting, loose gun laws were also to be blamed, Istanbul and Baghdad might have been to many, collateral damage in the war against ISIS. But it is the Dhaka attack which left many with no good enough explanation.
One is left wondering what made five young men from upper middle class undergo such radicalization and decide to take such an extreme step. These are not people who have been educated in madrasas, who have faced socio-economic deprivation on a personal level, or have been directly affected by persecution. Initial reports show that they followed controversial Islamic tele-evangelist Zakir Naik and one of them took to his call a year ago that every Muslim should be a terrorist. Considering the popularity of this figure many would try to claim that his context was different. But Naik who often indulges in demeaning other religions does not mince his words while saying that Osama is not a terrorist to him because he was fighting a ‘bigger terror’ – the United States of America. This also points to the fact that these youths were exposed to such material for quite some time. And it presents a very tricky situation to Muslims in how to counter such kind of subtle radicalization which might lead to extreme fatalities.
Both the Orlando shooting and the Dhaka killings demand the community to be more vocal not only after such events but even otherwise against inculcation of such extreme ideas. There are instances when some extreme Muslim group would demand death to atheists, to homosexuals or try to impose an archaic idea of Islam on people. But the conspicuous silence on the inherent homophobia and the self loathing of a gay Muslim in the Orlando episode is disturbing.
On the question of LGBT rights, ‘progressive liberal’ Muslims are at best ambivalent and alliance with queer community for civil rights is often superficial. No religion has a monopoly on homophobia and queer individuals across the religions are excluded. But queer Muslims are either marginalized or left invisible. Almost all the 10 countries that allow death penalty for same sex sexual behaviour are Muslim majority countries. The President of one such nation Iran denies that gay people even exist in his country. But after the Orlando shooting should such attitude continue? This silence is also used to stop any questioning of rampant sexual abuse of young boys that happens in countries like Afghanistan.
Muslims and Islamic scholars from different corners have spoken against homophobia and the need for Muslims to defend the rights of the queer community. When same sex marriage was legalized in US, the author Reza Aslan and the comedian Hasan Minhaz penned an open letter to the Muslims urging them to support LGBT rights. The letter very aptly puts that a democracy is an ‘all or nothing’ business. You fight for everyone’s rights or you get nothing for yourself. Democracy isn’t a buffet. You can’t pick and choose which civil liberties apply to which people.
The traditional mainstream Islamic view on homosexuality produces intolerance in liberal democracies which may not have anti-gay rights and create starker problems in countries which apply Shariah. This was the reason why last year after the gay pride parade in Turkey; posters appeared demanding the killing of homosexuals. There is a need to revisit what exactly is the basis of homophobia which finds a subtle support from Muslims all over.
At the heart of homophobia in Islam lies the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The city of Prophet Lot saw much debauchery including sexual abuse of the prophet’s heavenly guests and hence was destroyed for such behaviour. Mainstream Islamic interpretation says it was to stigmatize homosexuality. But a pertinent question here is that, was it to punish homosexuality or to punish the attack on Lot and his heavenly guests. The punishment in itself was a divine intervention and the Quran is silent on any earthly punishment.
Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi school of thought said that a homosexual relationship cannot be considered adultery as they don’t lead to child birth. The main basis of punishment is Hadiths which were written down two centuries after the Prophet and are not above questioning. Islamic scholars like Ziauddin Sardar, Amina Wadud, Asghar Ali Engineer etc point out that the episode of Lot is about sexual aggression and not sexual orientation. Liberal Muslim scholars like Ihsan Eliacik further points out that Islam being the religion in support of the downtrodden, Muslims must speak against the persecution of gays.
The aftermath of Orlando shooting has finally given space to the gay Muslim community to voice their opinions, concerns and stakes. People who continue to be within the fold of the religion talk of an inherent conflict in their identity that they suffer from. While a tension between observant faith and sexual orientation is not unique to Muslims, the Orlando shooting has further marginalized an already marginalized group – that of gay Muslims. However it has also emboldened to speak out and carve their own space. The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity formed in 2013 was one such initiative.
Similarly the subtle radicalization that is happening across the world needs to be talked about. Here one must bring forth the role of funds being channelled by Saudi Arabia and some other countries in promoting a very harsh and intolerant version of Islam and a radical interpretation of the Holy Quran. Radicalisation starts subtly, in case of one of the young militants in Bangladesh it was with giving up playing guitar, in case of many others like Omar Mateen – it begins with homosexuals being outside the natural order of justice.
However the initiatives to counter such radicalization must also come from within the community. Moderate voices are often silenced by massive funds backing extremist ideologies. There is a need to question those who contribute such funds and those preachers like Zakir Naik who smoothens the path for many to take extreme steps. Moderate Muslims must constantly engage to put in place an alternative discourse to bring forth a moderate and liberal aspect of the religion. Muslims must work to inculcate in the younger generation values of humanity and peaceful co-existence whereby even the internal diversity within the Muslim world is to be celebrated rather than annihilated. But all this is possible only when Muslims acknowledge that radicalization is a reality and not live in denial by saying ‘ISIS is not Islamic and terrorists are not Muslims.’
Parvin Sultana is an Assistant Professor in Pramathesh Barua College,Assam.
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