As an ex-Muslim who loves America and my Muslim family, my heart is hurting beyond expression.
Today we witnessed the worst mass shooting in American history: 50 tragically killed in a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. The authorities announced the details just a few minutes ago: it was Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, a devout American-born Muslim who had pledged his allegiance to ISIL.
Mateen’s father has said the shooting had “nothing to do with religion,” and that his son may have committed this crime because he saw “two men kissing in Downtown Miami a couple months ago.” But no one goes on a killing rampage for seeing two men kiss. Clearly there’s more to this than his father doesn’t see. I do not blame him, though. His son has just died, and he’s not in a state to think clearly. We ought to be praying for him.
Caught Between Extremes
None of us can think entirely objectively, especially at the heels of a terrorist attack charged with so many political controversies. The rhetoric and agendas are flying, even though the dust has not yet settled. Gun control? Homophobia? Islamophobia?
As we are clouded by agendas and struggling to react, two opposing positions are coming to the fore: “Islam is a religion of peace and Mateen’s actions therefore have nothing to do with Islam,” or “Islam is inherently violent therefore we must see all Muslims as latent threats.”
As an American and a former Muslim, my heart is torn by these two poles of rhetoric. Those who take the first position are endangering my country by overlooking the very real cause of Jihad, which are the teachings and history of Islam. (See my article “How Does Jihad Compare with Old Testament Warfare?”) Those who take the latter position are endangering my Muslim family and friends, loving and patriotic Muslims that are as innocent and American as the rest of us.
The fact is, the vast majority of Muslims are loving, peaceful people who would never want to hurt any American or homosexual. I know this because I was deeply rooted in the Muslim community, and not a single Muslim out of the thousands I knew were violent or harbored violent tendencies. (The community I am referring to is in Norfolk, Virginia, with Sunnis, Shias, and others attending the same mosque. It was an open-armed and diverse Muslim community.)
Regardless, Islam itself has always taught that gays should be executed. Muhammad commanded: “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done” (Sunan Abu Daud 4447). Imams who have been trained in these Islamic teachings are teaching in our communities. Just three months ago, an imam who is well known for proclaiming Muhammad’s teachings on homosexuality spoke in Orlando. In a prior speech about homosexuals he was noted to have said, “Let’s get rid of them now” (video and news article). The imam spoke at an Islamic center that is less than 20 miles from the site of today’s atrocities. Some American-born Muslims, such as Omar, are taking teachings like these at face value, listening to their imams and following Muhammad.
Embracing Truth and Love
How can we understand this dilemma? How do we not react against all Muslims despite the fact that Islam has always taught such violence? My answer is simple: truth and love. This may sound trite or fanciful, but I am not advocating a whimsical or baseless love, which would never stand in the face of Jihad. I think we must respond with a love grounded in truth and self-sacrifice, reflecting the person and heart of Jesus Christ. After all, he died not slaughtering his enemies, but forgiving them. And Christians are to follow in our Savior’s steps:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet. 2:21–24)
We need to acknowledge the truth about Islam while holding that in tension with a grace-fueled respect and love for Muslims. (For more on this difficult topic, I wrote the book Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward following the San Bernardino attack.)
Orlando marks the beginning of a new phase in our nation’s history: The worst mass-shooting on American soil is now an Islamist terror attack. Our country has to respond, and it will respond. I pray that those of you who have taken the time to read this will be a voice for responding to this tragedy with truth and love.
Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at RZIM.