A Washington, D.C., memorial for those killed Sunday in Orlando. (Victoria Pickering / CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the day since a deadly attack at the Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub Pulse left 49 people dead and many wounded, horrified Americans have been trying to make sense of the shooter’s motives.

Was it an act of terrorism, or was it a hate crime?

As Truthdig’s Juan Cole wrote Monday, killer Omar Mateen was ultimately an “unbalanced and extremely prejudiced individual who bought two semi-automatic weapons only last week and then committed a mass shooting against a group against which he was bigoted.”

But many want to know whether his faith affected his beliefs about the LGBT community. Seddique Mateen has said that his son’s actions were not motivated by religion, but by prejudice. He explains that a few months before the shooting, his son got angry when he saw two men kissing on the street. Omar Mateen’s friends and religious leaders give conflicting reports on his zealotry.

Many American Muslims (and Mateen was an American) are supportive of LGBT rights. In fact, a 2015 Pew poll found that American Muslims are nearly as likely to support gay marriage as American Christians (42 percent to 44 percent respectively).

Of course, there are always outliers. Take, for example, Muslim scholar Farrokh Sekaleshfar, who was invited to speak at the Husseini Islamic Center near Orlando just weeks before the deadliest shooting in recent American history.

Although Sekaleshfar’s March 29 speech was given behind closed doors, there is earlier evidence of his feelings toward LGBT people. Sarah McClure at Fusion reports:

Only three years before, in another U.S. speaking engagement, the scholar and sheikh had described in characteristically sotto voce what it meant to do the compassionate thing for gay people:

“Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence.”

He continued: “We have to have that compassion for people. With homosexuals, it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.”

Since the Orlando shooting, he has backtracked on these statements. “I am totally against the barbaric act of violence that has happened,” he told Fusion. “In no way at all can such a killing be justified Islamically.” Fusion then asked about his comments regarding gays and lesbians:

Sekaleshfar called his approach an “academic discussion” in which he was describing the “theoretical angle as to what Islam says.”

“I never gave the call to a death sentence,” he said, adding that lines of his 2013 speech had been taken out of context. “I was explaining what Islamic law—in a country whose people democratically desired Islamic law to be exercised—states in relation to NOT homosexuals, but rather in relation to when the act of anal copulation is executed in such an aforementioned public,” he said.

The Husseini Islamic Center, which condemned the Orlando shooting, told Fusion that “the singular views of guest speakers do not represent those” of the center. It added that “nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify yesterday’s atrocious actions.”

If anything, Sekaleshfar’s statements reflect the changing nature and contradictions inherent in many religions. One can also point out, for example, how many violent acts are committed by white males; or, as The New York Times reported last year, “[s]ince Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims.” And yet you don’t hear a certain presidential candidate arguing for the deportation of KKK members.

So while Sekaleshfar, and perhaps Mateen, may represent a tiny portion of bigoted Islamic beliefs, it’s important to remember that the Muslim community as a whole is vast and complicated, and it cannot be summed up by the views of a handful of men. Read, for example, the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity’s statement, released just hours after the shooting:

This tragedy cannot be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community. As LGBTQ Muslims, we know that there are many of us who are living at the intersections of different communities and identities, and we recognize the complexity of these experiences. No community is a monolith …

We reject attempts to perpetuate hatred against our LGBTQ communities as well as our Muslim communities. We ask all people to resist forces of division and hatred, and to stand against homophobia and transphobia, as well as against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.

Many in the media want to make this issue about radical religion and ties to Islamic State, but such headlines mask the true complexities (and contradictions) of religion and homophobia. Homophobia is rampant in other religions, as The Intercept explains:

It’s also true that parts of Islamic doctrine contain all sorts of horrible views on LGBTs, women, and other issues. But exactly the same is true of both the Christian Bible and Jewish Talmud. When it comes to Jews and Christians, people instinctively understand how bigoted and deceitful it is to cherry-pick particularly offensive excerpts from their holy books and use them to demonize all contemporary Christians and Jews.

The mainstream media’s devotion to finding Mateen’s religious and terrorist motivations overlooks what is really to blame in a country with over 100 mass shootings in 2016 alone: easy access to extremely lethal firearms. Until and unless this country can stop focusing on racially charged stereotypes and fear of religious minorities, the true root of America’s mass gun violence will never be exposed.

—Posted by Emma Niles

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