It seems like every week we in the U.S. have another mass shooting to decipher and process. So, the June 12 shooting in Orlando was not the first time I posted a call to action on Facebook, contacted my elected representatives about gun control, or held my breath and hoped the shooter wasn’t Muslim. But, this was the first time I cried. Alone in my car, I listened to Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s poem, where she imagines the connections she could have made with those lost at Pulse, “Pulse” and I cried.
Orlando isn’t my tragedy – I’m not queer, I’m not Latina, I’m not Floridian. And as Muslims so often reiterate, we should not be expected to feel a collective guilt because a shooter identified with our religion. But, these identities and affiliations alone cannot make sense of what happened in Orlando.
In the wake of Orlando, an event which could ask us to pit Muslim against queer or Muslim against American, we must consider the kinds of Muslim communities we want to cultivate.
I attended a panel some time ago where a few Muslims sat in front of a primarily non-Muslim audience prepared to answer questions about Islam (a la Ask A Muslim). “How does Islam actually view gender roles? Why do women wear the hijab? Is Islam homophobic?” The overwhelming response from the panelists was corrective. “No! Islam is peace. Islam encourages equality. No! Most Muslim women wear hijab because they choose to.” And the homophobic question was summarily ignored.
I understand the impulse to carve out a Muslim American identity by turning stereotypes on their heads. But we cannot simply place sexism and homophobia on the bad Muslims over there, or over here. We can’t just note that we American Muslims are working hard to “stop this madness from coming on our shores.” We cannot rely on those Muslims using violence to prove our progressiveness simply because we aren’t “violent.”
When we define our Islam as if problematic aspects like sexism and homophobia are irrelevant, we negate the gendered oppression and homophobia that does take place in our Muslim communities. Sexism and homophobia continue to exist in Muslim communities. But rather than truly engage with these issues, we attempt to conceal them by declaring our nonviolence, juxtaposing our “good,” peace-loving communities against “terrorist fundamentalists.”
When my friends tell me that what happened at Pulse is a gun control issue, or when tweeting presidential candidates pat themselves on the back for having demonized a whole religion, or when politicians quibble about whether or not to call this “radical Islamist violence,” they all seek to divide and blame the unspeakable tragedy on the NRA, Muslims, or political-correctness. They seek to define the cause as outside of themselves – to not own the violence for what it is: an American citizen, a Muslim man, an ISIS supporter with no foreign help, with legally bought guns killing other Americans of color because he was so disturbed by men kissing other men. Mass shootings are our violence. So is religious extremism. So is chauvinism. So is homophobia. Whoever “we” are.
In this moment, as Muslims we must ask ourselves: What would it look like if we tried to understand that “violence” goes beyond mass shootings while also declaring that this violence is #NotInMyName? Sexism is violence. Homophobia is violence. And we’re kidding ourselves if we think these smaller violences don’t lead to the palpable shootings we are so quick to condemn. 52% of Muslim Americans are against same-sex marriage. But 42% support it. Why aren’t we having these discussions in our masajid? What would it look like if we held onto our Muslim identities and communities while also acknowledging that it is necessary to criticize and change them?
In arguing against our own culpability in tragedies like the shooting in Orlando, we cannot simply state they are #NotInMyName. As Muslims we are responsible for Islam (in the same way as Americans we are responsible for the violence caused by the lack of American gun control). We must be able to call out sexism and homophobia without being considered traitors to the faith confirming stereotypes. We must begin to build communities where we can substantively engage with these issues instead of fostering ignorance and silence.
Taneem Husain is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies. Her research focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and Muslim American identity.