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C CAIR-FL In The News

Orlando attack leaves US Muslim community shaken

By Gary Silverman, For Financial Times, On 14 June 2016, Read Original
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Flags fly at half-mast around the Washington monument at daybreak, to honour the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings

On the day of the Orlando massacre, Lea Brown presided over services at her Florida church and then called Wilfredo Ruiz. She did not want him to feel alone.

Ms Brown tends to a mostly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregation as senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Palm Beaches. Mr Ruiz, a Puerto Rico-born convert to Islam, is the Florida communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil-rights group.

Ms Brown invited Mr Ruiz to attend a prayer vigil for the 49 people killed Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by Omar Mateen, 29, a US citizen who pledged allegiance to the Islamic state before being shot dead by police. Ms Brown said she feared Muslims such as Mr Ruiz would be blamed for the slaughter and wanted to show her feelings for him.

“I love him and I really wanted him to be with us,” said Ms Brown, a 51-year-old raised as a Southern Baptist before she came out as a lesbian and joined the MCC, a Protestant denomination. “This is an act of hate . . . (that) has nothing more to do with Islam than the Ku Klux Klan has to do with Christianity.”

Mr Ruiz said the call left him in tears. He was unable to attend Ms Brown’s prayer vigil because he was already headed to another after a day spent condemning the attack. But he said he appreciated her words because she expressed solidarity with him as a person at time when many US Muslims feel isolated and under threat.

“The Muslim community is being used for political gain,” Mr Ruiz said. “I have not heard of one LGBT leader trying to demonise Islam or Muslims because of this. But on the other hand, there are the politicians and the opportunists. They are the ones who make a living out of Islamophobia.”

Mr Ruiz and Ms Brown grew close after they attended a prayer event last year held in response to a call by Donald Trump, now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the US.

Mr Ruiz said he fears US politicians such as Mr Trump are trying to prove their commitment to conservatism by attacking Muslims and other minorities. He said such rhetoric is strengthening the hand of extremists in the Islamic world and threatening the security of law-abiding Muslims in the US.

“The increase in that rhetoric has the direct result of our community suffering hate crimes in unprecedented levels here in the US,” he said. “We are already putting out alerts to our community to review their safety and security during Ramadan.”

Ms Brown said the members of her mostly LGBT congregation “know what it’s like to have violence done to us”. In particular, she recalled the fire set by an arsonist at a New Orleans gay bar called the Upstairs Lounge that left 32 people dead in 1973. The local MCC church often held services in the bar’s backroom theatre.

Ms Brown said religious leaders of all faiths needed to join together to fight fundamentalist impulses that she believes are antithetical to the purpose of religion — “to connect us to one another through the divine”.

“If we want to continue demonising each other, we can keep doing it, but it will lead to our utter destruction,” she said. “Politicians are going to do what politicians are going to do. As a religious leader, I feel it my responsibility to reach out to my brother and sister religious leaders to say let’s work together to heal our world.”

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