(RNS) On Friday, the United States celebrated the passing of Muhammad Ali, an American Muslim who stood for America’s highest ideals. On Sunday, it condemned a savage gunman as an Islamist radical before his motivations had been confirmed.
Omar Mateen opened fire in a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando shortly after 2 a.m. June 12. With 50 people dead and 53 wounded, it is the largest shooting rampage in modern America.
Law enforcement officials speculate that it was an act of terrorism. There are indications, though, that it may be a hate crime.
Seddique Mir Mateen, the suspect’s father, told NBC News that he was “in shock,” but acknowledged his son had recently expressed anti-gay sentiments. He also said the attack “had nothing to do with religion.”
According to his father, Mateen had recently seen two men kissing and touching each other in public. Mateen had expressed outrage, livid that his toddler son had to witness it.
After the incident, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation tweeted, “Our hearts break for the victims and families of this horrific act of violence. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in #Orlando.”
Despite evidence that this might have been a hate crime, law enforcement is already pointing fingers at Mateen’s religion as a source of motivation. After the tragedy, an assistant agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Division, Ronald Hopper, speculated Mateen was an Islamist radical.
Law enforcement officials reported that they were investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism and a possible hate crime.
“We do have suggestions that that individual may have leanings towards that, that particular ideology,” Hopper said at a news conference.
About 20 minutes into the attack, Mateen called 911, pledged allegiance to ISIS, or the so-called Islamic State group, and mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers. Mateen had also been the subject of two separate FBI investigations — both spurred on by suspicions of terrorism.
But neither investigation yielded any evidence of terrorism connections, and there were no open investigations of Mateen at the time of the shooting.
The tragedy comes on the heels of a worldwide celebration for the life and achievements of Ali, an American sports hero and civil rights leader whose influence shaped America’s future forever. Ali was eulogized as a unifying symbol — a man who bestowed upon himself the title of “The Greatest” and lived up to it.
Inspired by his Muslim faith, Ali fought for equality and justice and practiced the type of compassion he read about in the Quran. Throughout his life, he unabashedly and publicly brought up his faith and the overarching role of God.
With memories of Ali’s greatness, side by side with memories of his deep religious devotion, Americans were able to grasp how one can be both fully Muslim and fully American.
Yet after Sunday’s violent incident, many have again reverted to the familiar but false dichotomy regarding Muslims in America: that because a gunman is Muslim, he must be a radical, bent on destroying America.
What do we know? Fifty people are dead, 53 people are wounded, friends and families are mourning the loss of their loved ones. What we don’t know is why Mateen murdered so many innocent people. Instead of speculating, the American public — all of us — has a responsibility to obtain the facts.
(Asma Uddin is the founding editor-in-chief of altMuslimah.com. Kaitlin Montgomery, altMuslimah’s news editor, contributed to this piece)