Omar S. Mateen, the man who killed 49 people at a gay Orlando night club this weekend, was a devout Muslim who was apparently also homophobic.
But are the two connected?
The Quran, the primary religious text for Islam, is very explicit in its disapproval of homosexuality, but doesn’t condemn gay people to death—at least not in the moderate reading of the book. The key sections in the Quran recount the story of the people of Lut (Lot)— a reference to the prophet Lot, who preached against homosexuality in the cities of Sodom and Gomorra. He condemned their immorality.
Quran (7:80-84) – “…For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…. And the answer of his people was only that they said: “Drive them out of your town, these are indeed men who want to be pure (from sins)!… And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone)” –
The people of Lut were known for engaging in all kinds of licentious behavior, including drinking, robbing and raping strangers visiting their land. In the story, Lot is sent to Sodom and Gomorra to deliver’s God message to these people, specifically exhorting them to abandon their perversion.
“The notion of homosexuality—as it’s constructed today — is not protected by the 7th century text,” Ali Asani, Director of Islamic Studies Program at Harvard, told Heat Street.” It can’t be. We’re talking about an issue of sexuality and gender, which is a modern notion.”
“But the Quran recounts this episode as example of how not to behave in this world,” he continues “What is being condemned here is licentious behavior at large, and within that, rape.”
In other words, it’s very difficult to find loopholes within the text condoning homosexual acts in Islam. But while homosexuality is universally frowned upon in the Muslim world, there’s nothing in the text invoking a specific punishment, let alone capital punishment, for sexual transgressions. In fact, he says, in Islam issues of sexuality are generally seen as private, and homosexuality has been quietly accepted in many Muslims societies because it exists within the confines of the private space.
More extreme strands of Islamic scholarships (like the Salafi movement) and scholars of Sharia — or harsh Islamic law — have interpreted this passage as a call to “stone” (or otherwise kill) gay people. They condemn homosexuality as not merely a sin but a crime.
Seven countries currently still apply capital punishment to people who’ve been found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts — Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Sudan and parts of Nigeria. It is a crime punishable by prison, fine and whipping in many others.
The exact motives of the gunman in Sunday’s shooting remain unclear. But his father’s contradictory statements over the last 24 hours capture the confusing relationship between Islam and homosexuality. While Mir Seddique Mateen had initially told NBC News that the shooting had “nothing to do with religion,” in a video posted on Facebook on Monday he condemned his son’s actions, saying that “God will punish those involved in homosexuality.” He said it is “not an issue that humans should deal with,” CBS News reported.