American Islam Must be Rooted in American Pluralism

American Islam Must be Rooted in American Pluralism

“The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community I think is also relevant,” said President Obama after the unspeakable tragedy in Orlando, when a gunman killed 49 people and injured 53, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The identity of the victim has been either dimly acknowledged or not acknowledged by two groups – Republican leaders and Muslim imams.

The pattern of many GOP politicians muting the identity of the victims is in sharp contrast to their dogged attacks on anyone, particularly President Obama, for not mentioning the “Islamic” identity of the perpetrator. By one report, not a single congressional Republican who tweeted about the Orlando shooting mentioned the obvious identity of the victims. Neither has the Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida where the shooting took place. Many, if not most, GOP leaders have spent their political careers fighting to deny LGBT people their due civil rights. Sympathizing with the people they have been bashing is a bridge too far for many.

Muslim imams and scholars, in general, have condemned the mass shootings in Orlando. But I am struggling to find even one who acknowledged the identities of the victims. Noted scholar Yasir Qadhi on Facebook talked at length about the unfair expectations levied on the Muslim community, which he defines as “the problem of being a minority under pressure.” But conspicuously missing from his post was any mention of the actual victims of this tragedy. This is especially troubling because what unfolded in Orlando serves as a potent reminder that the LGBT community is also a minority group “under pressure.” They too are imperiled by the unjust treatment of minorities that Qadhi is denouncing. In foregrounding the menace that is Islamophobia and brushing past the salient reality of homophobia, Qadhi ignores the bitter truth of why this tragedy happened in the first place. Another leader, Zaid Shakir, who just a few days ago led the memorial services for Muhammad Ali who strove mightily for the human dignity of all people, in his Facebook post failed to condemn the bigotry or spare a single sentiment of solidarity with the only subgroup in America who today suffers from legalized discrimination.

Not naming the primary identity of the victims that led to violence against them is not just an omission; it adds to the oppression. Erasing their identities from the narrative reinforces a bigoted society’s desire to erase their existence. It is as callous as saying that 9-11 is an act against all humanity while discounting the fact that Americans were targeted simply because of who they are. Or saying that the murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina was just another mass murder when it was obvious that the identity of the victims played an important role in their deaths.

Tragedies are often crossroads of choice. We can allow ourselves to retreat into the comforts of our preconceptions. Or we can question the norm and seek to carve a better path. In Orlando, the Muslim community chose the latter. They rallied not only to distance themselves from the ideology of the perpetrator but more importantly, to express solidarity with the LGBT community. Muslim groups banded together in a coalition to raise funds for the victims and have pledged to handover those funds to Equality Florida, a pro-LGBT group. Last time I checked, their efforts have raised over $44,000 from 980 supporters.

In a recent interview on CNN, a local Muslim leader Rasha Mubarak, underscored camaraderie between the Muslim and LGBT communities while sending her heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed or injured. And yet, the group she represents, CAIR, has been notably silent on the many initiatives for LGBT rights, from marriage equality nationally to civil rights protections for LGBT people in local human rights ordinances. Groups who demand equal accommodation of Muslims at workplaces do not yet have policies protecting against the discrimination of LGBT people in their own organizations, oblivious of the civil rights of LGBT Muslims.

In the face of violence in the name of Islam by deranged lone wolves and the demonization of Muslims by unhinged demagogues, American Muslims will continue to struggle against Islamophobia. In this struggle, the LGBT community will remain a valuable ally. Many LGBT leaders have courageously reminded people that in their moment of anger and anguish they should not turn against Muslims, who are, in a smaller way, also victims of this tragedy.

And yet, Muslim leaders have shown a shocking indifference to LGBT rights. LGBT Muslims are often shunned at local mosques. Pressure is put on them to “convert” away from their natural homosexuality. American Islam has to be rooted in American pluralism. American Muslim communities have to find their own voice and, as the stories surfacing from Orlando highlight, in many cases they are. I hope that the tragedy at Pulse compels the rest of the community to recognize that we must serve as partners and allies with all Americans in our common struggle for equality. We must embrace our common humanity.

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Parvez Ahmed is Director of Center for Sustainable Business Practices and Professor of Finance at the Coggin College of Business, University of North Florida (UNF). In 2009 he was named a U.S. Fulbright Scholar.

Prior to joining UNF he taught at Penn State University – Harrisburg and University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he also served as the founding Faculty Advisor for the Student Managed Investment Fund. At PSU he was also the Associate Director of the Giant Food Center for Economic Development. He has led student study abroad programs to London, Paris, Turkey and Egypt.

His research work has appeared in several major finance journals such as the Journal of Portfolio Management, Financial Management, Journal of Banking and Finance, Journal of Investing, and Financial Review. In addition his papers have been published in Applied Economic Letters, Global Business and Finance Review, International Review of Economics, Managerial Finance, Journal of Wealth Management, and Journal of Alternative Investments. He recently published a book titled, “Mutual Funds – Fifty Years of Research Findings.” The book is published by Springer. He also published an article in the Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law.

In addition Dr. Ahmed writes editorials about Islam and the American Muslim experience. His articles have been published in several leading newspapers including the Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun Tribune, Houston Chronicle, New York Newsday, Seattle Times, San Jose Mercury News,St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Florida Times Union, Charlotte Observer, Tampa Tribune and many others. He is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. In addition, he contributed to the leading English newspaper in Turkey, Today’s Zaman.

Dr. Ahmed also teaches a special 10-week course titled, “Islam-the faith, the people and their politics,” at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in UNF. Currently he is a member of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Commission. He also serves on the boards of Museum of Science and History, and the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville.

In 2010 Folio Weekly named him “Person of the Year.” In 2014 he was awarded the Silver Medallion Humanitarian Award by OneJax. In 2015 he was named Arthur Vining Davis Fellow to the Aspen Ideas Festival. In 2016 he was awarded the Desmond Tutu Peace and Reconciliation Award from UNF.

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Twitter: @parvezahmed


Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D.
Fulbright Scholar and Professor of Finance
Department of Accounting and Finance
Coggin College of Business
University of North Florida
1 UNF Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32224