PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - When Mohammad Khan learned of the massacre at Pulse nightclub he immediately started to pray for the victims.
Then a familiar question crept into Khan's head as news trickled about the attack being linked to terrorism: Was the shooter a Muslim?
Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old gunman, did identify as a Muslim. He also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call during the attack.
While Muslims are often called to apologize when members of their faith commit violent acts, Khan and other Muslims have refused to apologize for Mateen's actions.
"We've gone through the cycle of feeling ashamed and embarrassed and apologetic," Khan said. "Now we've come to a point where we feel like this doesn't add up. I don't need to apologize for events that happen due to a crazy individual, who isn't truly a Muslim in my eyes. "
In the aftermath of the Pulse shooting, Muslims have stood in solidarity with the victims in Orlando. They donated blood, attended vigils and stood side by side with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community to condemn Mateen for killing 49 people and injuring 53 others.
"Muslims don't have to carry the guilt," Shabbir Motorwala, of the Coalition of South Florida Organizations, said. "I don't have to apologize for anybody but myself. If I apologize, I am admitting he is a Muslim, and (killing people) is not what a Muslim does."
WHAT IS ENOUGH?
Ever since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim-Americans have feared backlash when an incident is linked to someone who identifies as Muslim.
Last year, in the aftermath of terror attacks in San Bernardino, California , and Paris some mosques, including some in South Florida, experienced incidents of vandalism and violence.
"It made me nervous," Hamza Billoo said, referring to the Pulse shooting. "These terrorist attacks, they always have a negative effect on our community. There is a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment already."
This backlash left Yasir Billoo, Hamaz's uncle, asking the question, "What more can we do?"
"It's always 'Muslims haven't done enough,'" he said. "That's one of the first things they say. One thing Donald Trump said was that Muslims could have stopped this person. I don't live in Port St. Lucie, so I couldn't have stopped this guy."
Aisha Subhani, of Davie, said after these types of attacks she sees a shift in behaviors in the Muslim community because of the backlash. Security becomes a top concern.
"There is an increase in security and when people coming for night prayers at mosques, there is apprehension," she said.
Subhani was quick to add that she and others refuse to live in fear, and still frequent houses of worship.
"We’re part of an amazing society," Subhani said. "We have our work to do, but a majority of American people support the Muslim community and that’s really nice to see."
Motorwala takes pride in the fact that COSMOS has been working closely with the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office, local police and other law enforcement agencies for years.
Imams at mosques in South Florida consistently tell people to say something if they notice anything suspicious.
Members of South Florida's interfaith community often meet at the houses of worship, and members of various faiths always get an invitation to holidays and open house events.
UNITY BETWEEN LGBT, MUSLIMS
Wilfredo Ruiz, a spokesman for the Florida chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, says his phone has been ringing nonstop since the attack.
He spent much of June 12 answering calls from reporters all over the world, asking for a response from the Muslim community.
Then a call came in from his friend, the Rev. Dr. Lea Brown of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Palm Beaches, which primarily serves the LGBT community.
"I said, 'Hello' and he busted into tears," Brown said. "He was so sweet."
Brown invited Ruiz to church.
Ruiz said his emotions were raw and he didn't expect the call. Brown told him that her church and the LGBT community didn't hold any ill feelings toward Muslims.
"That really moved me," Ruiz said.
On Sunday, Ruiz attended an interfaith service at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Palm Beaches along with other Muslims and members of the Jewish faith.
Brown said the event was possible because of a strong relationship her congregation already had with the Muslim community.
"Because we have this relationship, we were able to come together," Brown said. "It's important to build relationships outside of crisis."
Ruiz, whose wife sang during the service, said the Muslim community and LGBT community have a lot in common as they both find themselves fighting for civil rights and know what it's like to be the "other."
"There was something different this time around," Khan said. "The LGBT community saw things more objectively. They didn’t say 'All Muslims are bad.'"
SOLIDARITY IN ORLANDO
Zaineb Saied, an Orlando resident, attended a vigil on the lawn of the Dr. Philips Center the day after the massacre.
The 18-year-old attended the event other Muslim women, some of whom wore the hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
At one point they were approached by people holding white carnations.
"They were part of the LGBT community in Orlando and they were giving flowers to any Muslim they saw in the crowd," Saied said. "They said, 'Thank you for your support and we hope you stay safe in this time.'"
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