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After Orlando shooting, LGBT and Hispanic community bond with local Muslims

In Florida, groups are working together, holding vigils, giving blood, and assisting victims' families
Univision News Logo
15 Jun 2016 – 12:54 PM EDT
Orlando's LGBT community united with Muslims at a vigil the day after the Pulse nightclub massacre Crédito: David Maris/Univision

In the aftermath of the deadliest shooting ever in the United States, a bond has strengthened among Orlando groups at the center of the attack.

LGBT groups, Latinos, and the Muslim community are working together after the June 12 shooting at Orlando's Pulse, a gay nightclub, where Omar Mateen killed at least 49 people and wounded 53. Most of the victims were Latino; the shooter was Muslim.

In the Orlando area, Muslim leaders have spoken out against Mateen's beliefs and have gone a step further - by working directly with victims. The Muslim community has given blood for victims and been involved in group therapy with victims' relatives. And they've been welcomed.

Across the country, LGBT and Muslim groups also banded together to mourn the victims, from Cleveland, OH to Hartford, CT to Baltimore, MD.

In a Facebook Live video on Sunday, Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) appealed for help to raise funds for victims' families.

"It's time we valued human life above all other differences." said Shibly, 29, a bearded Muslim imam who came to the United States aged four from Damascus, Syria.

Shibly described accompanying victims' families as they received notification of those who had survived and those who had not.

"It was overwhelming ... I've never in my life seen so many different people from so many different races just break down in tears over their loved ones," he said.

"One family came up to us and said 'We know this doesn't represent your faith.' And they thanked us for being here. And we said 'It's our duty,'" he added.

"We need to stand up, stay united, not allow people to divide us, stand united as Americans regardless of our race, our religion, our ethnicity, regardless of our sexual orientation."

During the shooting Mateen called police claiming allegiance to Islamic State, (ISIL) the militant group in Iraq and Syria. CAIR has classified the Orlando attack as "a hate crime, plain and simple," calling ISIL "an aberration, an outlaw” that does not speak for true Muslims values.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, government affairs manager at LGBT rights organization Equality Florida, told Univision News about the huge outpouring of support. "The Muslim and Islamic community were one of the first to step up in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy," he said. "We're standing united against hate."

During a vigil attended by 10,000 people in Orlando on Monday, Smith read the names of 49 victims along with representatives from CAIR and a Puerto Rican community group, Misión Boricua.

"There's been so many countless acts of kindness from the Muslim and Islamic community … I can't quite keep track of them all," said Smith. "We're so grateful and we love them."

"It was a powerful message of unity," said Rasha Mubarak, CAIR's Orlando regional coordinator, who joined Smith in reading out the names of victims. "It will be engraved in my mind for the rest of my life," said Mubarak, 31, who is of Palestinian descent.

The bond between the communities comes amid heightened anti-Muslim rhetoric, including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. "What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough," he tweeted on Sunday.

Also, the Husseini Islamic Center outside of Orlando was vandalized on Monday with graffiti reading "#StoptheHate."

Bedar Bakht, one of regulars at the Fort Pierce's Islamic Center, where Mateen attended. told Univision that "three or four people cursed as they drove by the mosque" on Monday. He also called the police after spotting a suspicious man parked in his truck outside of the mosque.

The Orlando attack exposed divisions among both conservative Muslims and Christians over LGBT tolerance, with some making shocking comments in favor of the massacre. "I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight,” Sacramento Baptist preacher Roger Jimenez said in a sermon Sunday.

Local media also highlighted comments by a controversial British-educated Iranian cleric, Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar, who spoke at the Husseini Islamic Center in May. He's known for a 2013 University of Michigan sermon in which he said: “Death is the sentence," homosexuals.

This week he told Univison's sister publication Fusion that his words had been taken out of context, saying his 2013 speech was an “academic discussion” in which he was describing the “theoretical angle" of Islamic law.

He called Mateen “an ill and perverted, animalistic entity who has abused an ideology to satiate his sad, twisted desires," and offered his "sincere condolences to the friends and families of those massacred.”

Orlando area Muslim leaders are unequivocal. “Islam is a religion of peace. We have to say it again and again and again, because it is," said Syed Shafeeq Ur Rahman, an imam at Fort Pierce's Islamic Center.

"When we greet one another, we say As-Salaam-Alaikum ‘Peace be unto you,’ to kill innocent people for no reason, this is no Islam whatsoever,” he added.

With additional reporting by David Adams and Fernando Peinado

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