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Category: International, Religion, Violence against Women

Fort Hood Tragedy: What Muslim Women Really Think

| December 3, 2009

With the murders at Fort Hood, New York’s Muslim community, however unjustly, was on the defensive. The author explains how Muslim women are reacting.

The New York premiere of Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think—a documentary based on the world’s first major opinion poll of Muslims around the world—began on a somber note: the condolatory silence in memory of 13 victims who died in the shooting rampage at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009. The film, taking off from the Gallup survey of some 50,000 Muslims in more than 35 countries, expressed sentiments on a variety of issues, including terrorism—a vehicle for enhancing the voice of an entire Muslim community that had felt constrained, particularly in New York, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack.

“It was a double tragedy for me as a Muslim,” said Ambreen Qureshi, the program director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) at the American Society for Muslim Advancement. “I immediately felt that same dreaded feeling I felt on September 11, that my religion as a whole was going to be blamed for this senseless and un-Islamic act and that there could be a backlash against Muslim Americans.” Now, a day before Veterans’ Day and a week after Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting spree, the mostly Muslim audience attending the premiere mourned his victims while fearing their faith was once again under attack.

“But, he is not and cannot be one of us,” said Lena Al-Husseini, the executive director of Brooklyn’s Arab-American Family Support Center. “One man cannot define our entire [Muslim] community.”

All Muslim organizations in the United States have condemned Hasan’s actions. However, a Yemen-based American Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki—whose sermons are said to have been attended by Hasan—appears on the Internet praising him as a hero” and “man of conscience.”

“The world is full of macho idiots—you don't need to be a Muslim for that. Anyone can shoot off his mouth, and nearly anyone can call himself an imam,” said Rabia Harris, the founder and coordinator of the Muslim Peace Fellowship, in response to Anwar’s statement. “People need to understand that this is the world’s most disorganized major religion.”

Islam follows a decentralized structure, enhancing an individual’s relationship with the Creator. Such a personal relationship, Islam teaches, removes any lingering doubt of lack of culpability for one’s own actions. Thus, the religion eschews the need for institutional forms.

“There is no 'one' formal voice for the entire Muslim world—as there is one for the Catholic community in the form of the Pope, for example,” said Azza Karam, writer and editor of several books includingTransnational Political Islam. “This lack of a unified hierarchy to speak in the name of the entire Muslim community complicates the representation of that community, especially in times of crisis when there are so many voices competing to speak in the name of the faith.”

Speaking to an issue raised by reports that Hasan was resisting deployment so as not to be forced to kill other Muslims, Karam said, “There is no religious war being fought here. … Your religious identity should not clash with your nation-state identity because you cannot create a homogeneous entity that serves a nation of such diversity.”

Poll Results Unity Productions Foundation'sInside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Thinkis based on the Gallup Poll Report, a study that took six years of research. The documentary will air on PBS in February 2010. Key findings of the report: More than 90 percent Muslims condemn the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. Muslims admire technological advancement and democratic ideals of the West.  Even in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, Muslims echoed similar sentiments. When asked about their dreams for future, Muslims say they want better jobs and security, not conflict and violence. Muslims say the most important thing Westerners can do to improve relations with their societies is to change their negative views toward Muslims and respect Islam.

Rabia Harris has a different take. “I don't believe any member of the military should be obliged to engage in any conflict that he or she sincerely holds to be unjust. I believe in a universal and continuous right to conscientious objection without loss of honor,” she said. “I believe that fundamental to democracy is the principle of loyal opposition, and that this principle needs to be extended into the armed forces. If we allowed for conscientious alternative service within the military, we would strengthen ourselves enormously.”

Hasan, a licensed U.S. Army psychiatrist, consulted Islamic leader and Gulf War veteran Osman Danquah on what he should tell soldiers who expressed misgivings about fighting fellow Muslims. Danquah told The Associated Press that he reminded Hasan that these soldiers had volunteered to fight, and that Muslims were fighting each other in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.

In addition to these conflicts, Muslims in Darfur are killing each other over land and grazing rights; in Algeria, the government and various Islamist rebel groups are involved in a civil war; in Yemen, Shia tribesmen are fighting Yemeni armed forces.

“All these countries have Muslim majorities. When you are in the majority,” said Rabia Harris, “your identity is not under stress. In this country, Muslims are not only a minority, but an embattled one, and our identity is under stress.” As a result,” she continued, “some of us long toward the Islam of other places with a sort of romantic yearning. What lover wants to destroy the idealized beloved? But truly, we should not be destroying anyone at all.”

Nidal Hasan “was mortified by the idea of having to deploy” to Iraq, said his cousin, Nader Hasan, to The New York Times. “He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there.”

Islam, like all religions, values human life and considers murder sinful. Brad Garrett, former FBI agent and ABC News consultant, suggested that Hasan found a way to justify a mass murder spree and his own suicide by convincing himself that he was saving lives. “As illogical as that sounds, in his mind, that would be quite logical.”

Rather than being a distorted expression of Islam, “this case has a more realistic link to mental health and secondary trauma across the military,” said Nurah W. Ammat'ullah, the founder of Muslim Women's Institute for Research and Development in the Caribbean and the Diaspora and a Muslim chaplain certified in disaster response. “It is also about the bigger issue of justifying state-sponsored violence of war and Muslims in the military committing to taking lives when there is Islamic guidance which equate taking one life to killing all of humanity.”

Tags: Politics