As I woke up to the horrific news of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub on Sunday morning, I was shocked. When I learned the name of the shooter, my shock turned into anger. I was appalled to find out the perpetrator was a so-called Muslim.
Several times in the past few years, I’ve had a gut reaction every time there is a another heinous crime. How could anyone in their right mind do such a thing. Days later, as I reflect upon the information disseminated, I am devastated by the numerous missed opportunities in preventing this massacre.
The big question on all our minds is how to defeat terrorism, and one thing is clear: the answer is not by blaming religion.
It’s an offense to the billion Muslims across the world to put terrorists in an Islamic context when there is nothing Islamic about them. Yet, terrorist groups across the world continue to be identified as Islamic; radical Islam, Islamic extremist, Islamic terrorists, making Islam the common thread of all their evil actions. This has been accepted as the norm for too long.
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The gross exaggeration of the relationship between Islam and terrorism has turned our lives upside down. While I don’t have a perfect answer for defeating terrorism, I do know it’s not by giving credence to the religious claims of terrorists. I can think of many words to describe the evil men and women who pledge allegiance to groups like ISIS: homicidal, suicidal, maniacs and sociopaths, but never Muslim or Islamic.
Having said that, it’s not enough for Muslims to say that terrorists don’t represent us. For years, Muslims in America and around the world have been condemning terrorism, yet most people still ask, Why don’t more Muslims condemn terrorism?
There is no doubt that this was a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, and many are looking to us to do more than condemn, share hugs and prayers.
I believe it’s time for us to get ourselves out of this reactive mode and take proactive steps in reducing fear and uncertainty around our faith and community. Which means, we need to get more involved.
Rather, as a faith community, it’s incumbent upon us to be leaders in ensuring basic human rights and human dignity for all. Advocate for solutions to barriers in accessing care for mental health. Join our hands to uphold justice, promote social change and build our community, as we are called upon to do by our faith. Take meaningful action to control the access to assault weapons. Many want us to believe that terrorism, not guns, is the problem. But one couldn’t exist without the other.
As we stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to end all forms of discrimination, we must aspire to increase our civic participation and make democracy work for the greater good of the community. Voting matters, and we should value it as an ideal. Use the knowledge of our community and collectively reflect on issues that impact us, engage in social movements that strengthen our political voice in local and national politics. Cast ballots for those who look to us as partners and not perpetrators. Now is the time to build proactive engagement — don’t be caught sitting on the side lines.
This is a divisive election year. By all accounts, the opportunistic candidates would have us believe that Islam is at war with the West or that the West is at war against Islam. It’s time for American Muslims to show the world through our actions that it ain’t so.
Ghazala Salam is president of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus, which has 11 chapters in Florida.