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Orlando massacre: Attacking Islam isn't the answer, understanding it is

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 15 June 2016, 20:53 IST
QUICK PILL
The perpetrator
  • Afghan-American Omar Mateen killed 53 people in a shootout in an Orlando gay pub last week
  • His ex-wife later said he was mentally ill, while others have claimed he was himself homosexual
The fallout
  • The incident has added fuel to the Islamophobic fire in the United States
  • A right-wing journalist has even called for \'Quran control\', instead of gun control
More in the story
  • Extremism and Islam - how the Prophet himself had predicted its rise
  • The solution to problems like extremism and ISIS

When 29-year-old Omar Mateen shot down 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 1.6 billion Muslims would have been observing the holy month of Ramzan by praying, fasting or ending their fast, depending on the time zone they were in.

Must read- Pulse massacre: With 50 dead, #Orlando is deadliest mass shooting in US history

It is a month in which any form of violence is prohibited, an injunction that was clearly lost on Mateen.

Today, these 1.6 billion Muslims are being collectively held responsible for the murders committed by Mateen.

Any form of violence is forbidden during the month of Ramzan. This was clearly lost on Mateen

A right-wing US journalist, known for her rants against President Barack Obama, said: "If terrorists are fighting in the name of Islam, perhaps it's time to face the problem, to name the problem. At the core, it is Islam". She has even gone to the extent of calling for "Quran control" in response to the calls for "gun control".

There are many who are echoing similar views in the US and outside, even in India. Islamophobia has become shriller than ever before, particularly after it gained a voluble spokesperson in US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump.

Following the Orlando attack, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee renewed his demand for a ban on Muslim migrants to the US.

So is Islam really to blame for the Orlando shooting?

Decoding Omar Mateen

Omar Mateen, the man behind the massacre, was a US citizen of Afghan origin. He called 911 while holding hostages inside the nightclub and proclaimed his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). According to some reports, he shouted "Allahu Akbar" during the attack. These two aspects are being used to incriminate Islam for the massacre.

Now, according to Mateen's first wife Sitora Yusify, he was "mentally unstable and mentally ill". She said he was bipolar and had a history with steroids.

There are now reports which say that Mateen might have been secretly gay. He is known to have used gay dating apps and frequented gay bars and restaurants. He was a frequent visitor at the Pulse nightclub, where he eventually carried out the attack.

Mateen was mentally ill and possibly gay. Could his rage have stemmed from self-hatred?

"Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk that he became loud and belligerent," Ty Smith, a patron, told the Orlando Sentinel. A former classmate has also claimed that Mateen was indeed gay.

Could Mateen's rage have stemmed from self-hatred and an inability to deal with his sexuality?

Mateen's father, Seddique Mateen, is reported to have said after the attack that "it is up to God to punish gay people". Seddique Mateen is also reported to be a self-styled Afghan revolutionary running a government in exile from the US.

It is possible that his hyper-masculine father's views on homosexuality could have contributed to Mateen's self-hatred.

In March this year, a British Islamic preacher, Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar, gave a speech just outside Orlando, in which he called for the death of all homosexuals. One doesn't know if Mateen attended the function or not. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Perhaps he didn't attend but saw it on YouTube or heard about it through a third person.

If he somehow did hear the sermon, consider what impact it would have had on a person with an unstable mind and afflicted with self-hatred for supposedly being homosexual.

Limited prism of good vs evil

The problem, therefore, doesn't lie with Islam. The problem lies in the effect Manichean ideologies - which view the world through the limited prism of 'good versus evil' - have on a deranged mind. Underlying such ideologies is a violent self-righteousness, which can wreak havoc on an unstable individual's mind.

If this seems like an elaborate Muslim apologist argument, then cut to 2011 Norway. Anders Behring Breivik, a paranoid schizophrenic, killed 77 people in Oslo.

On the day of the attack Breivik distributed literature laying down his militant ideology, which saw Islam and "cultural Marxism" as enemies.

Manichean ideologies give deranged individuals like Mateen and Breivik imagined enemies and a sense of grandiosity about themselves. These ideologies could be based on religion, race, nationalism or any form of real or imagined identity and morality.

So does Islam have nothing to do with it?

Islam doesn't. Radical Islamism does. One must admit that radical Islamism does provide a Manichean blueprint that can potentially drive deranged individuals like Mateen or destructive organisations like ISIS to go on an all-out battle against what they see as "evil".

Also read- Guns, Islamophobia, gay pride: the talking points after Orlando

Such strands have existed from the very early years of Islam. Soon after the death of the holy Prophet Muhammad, a group emerged known as the Khawarij, which refused to recognise the authority of the Khalifa (Caliphs).

Soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad, the Khawarij emerged and refused to recognise the Khalifa

They believed in the concept of Hakimiyyah li Allah (Absolute Sovereignty of God) and asserted that the existence of any form of human authority goes against God's sovereignty. Another key element to the Khawarij's ideology is Takfir, the practice of excommunicating or charging with apostasy. This involved excommunicating or even assassinating not just blasphemers and non-believers, but even Muslims who have sinned.

Modern radical Islamists have borrowed both these concepts from the Khawarij. There are very close parallels between the Khawarij and the ISIS. If Hakimiyyah li Allah enables radical Islamists to denounce existing state structures and nations, Takfir is used to justify attacks on anyone who doesn't adhere to their ideology.

According to political scientist Nazih Ayubi, "like the Khawarij, militant Islamists tend to come from a relatively harsher ecological-social background. Like them, they were lured to, but then not effectively absorbed by, the city. Failing to win the game, they condemned its rules altogether".

This holds completely true in the case of the ISIS, which emerged from the debris of the US war in Iraq.

Interestingly, the Saudi Arabia-sponsored Wahhabism has made Takfir into an industry, by constantly laying the boundaries between faith and unfaith. Of course, Saudi Arabia remains silent on Hakimiyyah li Allah, as the sovereignty of God isn't possible in a hereditary monarchy!

Saudi Arabia remains silent, as the sovereignty of God isn't possible in a hereditary monarchy

Coming back to the Khawarij, they are condemned by every sect of Islam. They assassinated Ali ibn Abu Talib, a highly respected figure for all Muslims. He was the fourth Khalifa for Sunnis and the first Imam for Shias.

According to a Hadith attributed to Abu Dharr, Prophet Muhammad is learnt to have predicted the emergence of the Khawarij: "Verily, there would arise from my Ummah after me a group (of people) who would recite the Quran, but it would not go beyond their throats, and they would pass clean through their religion just as the arrow passes through the prey, and they would never come back to it. They would be the worst among the creation and the creatures."

Another source states that the Prophet was pointing towards Iraq while making this statement. This prediction could be as true for the Khawarij as for the ISIS.

Extremism the origin of Shaytan

Islamic tradition carries an even older warning against extremism, one that goes back to the very origin of mankind.

The jinn Iblis became Shaytan because he disobeyed Allah's command to bow before Adam. The reason for his disobedience wasn't just plain mischief. It stemmed from Iblis's belief that he was a far more strong believer of Allah, and that he would not bow before a human who was bound to sin.

It was arrogant self-righteousness and extremism that made Iblis into Shaytan.

Therefore, Islam at its very core warns against extremism.

Debate is the solution

The solution to ISIS and individuals like Omar Mateen isn't banning Muslims or 'Quran control'. Rather, it lies in having more debates about Islam, within the community and outside as well. It lies in having a free exchange of views on all aspects of the faith, including those that are used by terrorists to justify violence.

The discussion should highlight the atrocities committed on Muslims across the world, but also the oppression of minorities by so-called Islamic regimes. Let each of these 1.6 billion Muslims have their voices.

Islamophobia would only end up strangling this debate and creating the space for more violence.

The writer is a practising Muslim. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 15 June 2016, 20:53 IST
 
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