Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Orlando Killings: Muslims Need to Introspect

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
14 June 2016
Having a visceral hatred towards homosexuals and actually deciding to go ahead and kill them are two different things altogether. Both are problematic and should be condemned but executing a prejudice in the deadly fashion as we saw recently in Orlando needs some prior planning and design. Choosing the target, choosing the time and killing so many in a space of few hours, all point to the fact that this was a premeditated killing with a design to inflict maximum damage. Moreover, the choice of weapons used in this assault itself points to the careful application of mind on this planned mass murder. Finally, being a homophobic attack, this was also directed by some ideology which clearly ordained that people with alternative sexual behaviours must be killed in the most brutal fashion.
Categorising such killings as the work of a ‘lone wolf’ does not do justice to the complex motivations factors which underpin such killings. Neither does it truly capture the worldview within which such an attack takes place. It is only by bringing the role of ideology that the true import of such killings can be understood. By all accounts, Omar Mateen was driven by an Islamic ideology which preached hatred towards sexual minorities. His ‘cool and calm’ composure after the killings lends credence to the perception that he was absolutely convinced that he was doing the right thing and carrying out God’s command to punish the homosexuals.
It is all very well on the part of Muslims, especially in America, to dissociate from these killings and term it an aberration committed by a lone Muslim individual. Muslims in America are condemning this as an act of terrorism which has put a question mark on the integrating capacity of the whole Muslim community.
More such condemnations will be heard in the near future. But mere condemnation is perhaps not enough. There is a need to go beyond mere condemnations and ask what has gone wrong with the followers of this religion. The fact remains that homosexuality is condemned in almost all Semitic religions, but why is it that only Muslims react to it in a violent fashion. Does it have something to do with the way Islam is being taught in religious schools? What about the homophobic discussions which in most Muslim households would be considered normal? Are we doing something to curb the almost routine prejudice which pervades Muslim society about Jews or homosexuals?
Or is it that the problem is much bigger. Have we thought of the possibility to engage critically with those tenets of the religion which make Muslims homophobic? Condemning something when it happens is the easier part, but what is needed perhaps is a deeper reflection on Islam itself and the way it is being taught and practiced.
Every time such an incident happens, other Muslims are quick to point out that it is not about Islam. We hear the same platitudes like Islam are a religion of peace and brotherhood and that killing innocent people is not the Islamic way at all. The problem is that the majority of the killers do not just seem to be but also proclaim to be inspired by Islam. If they do not have a problem in saying that they are doing what is God’s command, then who are the others to call such an act un-Islamic?
And if at all, some Muslims are indeed saying and believing that Islam is a religion of peace, then what have they done to critically engage with those verses in the Quran which ask the believers to wage war in the name of Islam.
One is not saying that Muslims who believe in the non-violence of Islam are not serious. What one is saying is that they are not serious enough. It is time to go beyond such clich├ęs and critically engage with the whole corpus of religious texts and make it more amenable to contemporary times. Any serious engagement with the Quran or the Hadees and its many commentaries has to keep in mind the objective of diversity and pluralism and this is what is sadly lacking in such attempts. One fails to understand such a reluctance within the Muslim community in to engage in critical hermeneutics of their own religious tradition. Perhaps the fate of those who have tried to do so stops Muslims from taking such risks. But it is time that such an endeavour should be organised and Muslims themselves have to come forward for such an action. A failure to do so will only make people like Donald Trump carry on with their vitriolic campaign against Muslims.
A columnist, Arshad Alam is a Delhi-based writer.

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