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Orlando Muslims Grapple With Backlash Tied To Pulse Nightclub Gunman

A mourner at the makeshift memorial across from Orlando City Hall
A mourner at the makeshift memorial across from Orlando City Hall

The moments after Sunday’s fatal nightclub shooting have felt long and heavy forNurenHaider. The Orlando native says herhijab—a scarf and symbol of her faith—has become a marker.

“People are coming around and they’re acting different towards you and I have many friends that are part of the community and it’s unfortunate that they had to call me and ask me how I’m feeling.”

Local mosques started receiving threats after reports that the gunman behind the shooting had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State during a 911 call. As the FBI investigates that claim, imams are working closely with law enforcement to protect the area’s Muslims.

“We’ve had to try to keep the children out of the mosque just to try to be safe,” she says.

The threats are no surprise for Rasha Mubarak, a spokeswoman for central Florida’s Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). She has responded to heightened threats in the wake of domestic and foreign extremist attacks in the past year. But she says this tragedy, the loss of members of the LGBT community, feels like the loss of family.

“These are people that we go to battle together in the legislative halls against xenophobic legislation. These are people that have stood against Islamophobia, you know. The Muslim community is just mourning and grieving as Floridians.”

During Ramadan, a time of deep faith, Mubarak says the Muslim community has been as active as any other group.

“From mobilizing blood drives, GoFundMe accounts, and being there to comfort the families and the victims. We’ve had Muslims Spanish speakers that were on site. We’ve had Muslim chaplains that were there to be there for the families.”

Leaders of the Muslim community are urging people to look at the facts surrounding the gunman before rushing to judgment about who he was and to whom he attached himself. Questions are looming about his spiritual practice, his sexuality, and his mental state especially now that Pulse nightclub goers have identified him as a regular.

Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida believes the gunman may have attached himself to extremists during the shooting to gain notoriety.

“It seemed he wanted to go out as a hero and we should deny him that because it’s not really have anything to with Islam or Islamic people.”

Musri adds that the gunman may have been in a disgruntled relationship and was also dealing with some psychological issues.

With homosexuality woven into this tragedy, leaders want people to know that Islam is not much different from Christianity—some groups are more conservative, others liberal.

And that to be LGBT and to be Muslim is to be human.

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Renata Sago of WMFE
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