On being a patriotic and faithful Muslim American

17 Nov

By Hadia Mubarak

Q: The Fort Hood shootings have raised questions again about how the military should handle the personal religious beliefs of its soldiers, whether they are evangelical Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, and so on. What is the proper role of religion — and personal religious belief — in the U.S. armed forces? Should a particular religious affiliation disqualify someone from active military service? How far should the military go to accommodate personal religious beliefs and practices?”

As we get more information about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and the Fort Hood shootings, I and many other Muslim Americans find ourselves in deep, agonizing pain and horror. For the first time in my life, I believe that the Muslim American community faces a serious crisis of religious authority. Notwithstanding Major Hasan’s clear mental delusions, it has become clear that he was also influenced by his extreme religious beliefs.

Hasan’s 2007 presentation at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and his statements to fellow classmates reflect that Hasan was torn between his service in the U.S. military and his political views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is probably not the only American soldier to face such internal conflicts of conscience. There is nothing exclusively “Muslim” about feeling conflicted about serving in a war that one does not believe is morally justified. The U.S. armed forces have a long-established practice of conscientious objector (CO) discharge. According to the Center on Conscience and War, there were an estimated 200,000 COs in the Vietnam War, 4,300 in the Korean War, 37,000 in World War II and 3,500 in World War I.

However, what is most disturbing to me about Major Hasan’s views is his skewed interpretation of Quranic scripture. In his 2007 presentation to senior military physicians at Walter Reed, he references two verses, 4:93 and 17:33, to demonstrate why a Muslim American soldier might feel conflicted about serving in wars against other Muslims. There is nothing untrue about that statement. The Qur’an clearly denounces killing other Muslims, just as it condemns the murder of any innocent human being (see verse 5:32, among many others). If a Muslim believes that a war is morally unjustified, he or she could object to fighting that war not only on religious grounds, but on moral grounds.

What is absolutely preposterous and horrific about Major Hasan’s views (if he was, in fact, motivated by his skewed interpretation of Islam) is his interpretation of the Qur’an’s prohibition against “murdering fellow Muslims” as a license to go and kill fellow soldiers. How, in the name of humanity, can someone interpret a verse against killing believers as a license to kill someone else? There is absolutely no religious justification in Islam for the murder committed by Major Hasan or for acts of violence that unjustly take away life.

God breathes life into us and God takes away life. No human being has the right to take away the life of another human being. This is why I am absolutely horrified that a fellow Muslim could commit such a sinister act. This is also why I object to the methods of modern warfare – because “civilian casualties” are an inevitable consequence of aerial bombardments – and therefore, are also a violation of God’s commandment “Thou shall not kill.”

Hasan’s alleged actions have made it loud and clear to me that the Muslim American community needs to stand up and take responsibility for extremist views within its midst. Even if individuals like Hasan represent a fringe minority, we need credible religious scholars to unequivocally denounce such acts and demonstrate how and why such acts are a violation of God’s law.

The vacuum of religious authority facing the international Muslim community today has led to a cacophony of religious voices calling for divergent and often contradictory positions. Amid the wars, fear and political instability facing Muslims across the world, there is a lack of religious clarity on critical issues from suicide bombings to women’s legal rights. Religion is too often used to serve political ends. This ambiguity and skewed religious interpretations have even affected Muslims in the West, as we saw with the 7/7 London attacks and the recent Fort Hood attack. There is a vacuum of credible voices across the Muslim world that can shed light on such violence.

Now is the time for the Muslim American community to frankly and candidly come to terms with the crisis that confronts us. One specific solution is the production of indigenous religious scholarship – the aim of institutions like the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) and the Zaytuna Institute, which is aspiring to become the first Muslim college in the U.S. We need credible religious scholars, like those at Zaytuna and ALIM, who can reconcile the ‘conflicts’ that people like Hasan feel within them. We need scholars who will demonstrate the religious consistency of being a patriotic American and a God-loving, practicing Muslim. Our internal crisis can only be reconciled with the production of authentic and indigenous Muslim scholarship – one that understands and appreciates the American system of life and one that is authentically grounded in Islamic law. By supporting and strengthening the voices of indigenous Muslim scholars, we fill the vacuum of religious authority within our community and help avoid tragedies like Fort Hood from occurring ever again.

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