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Amongst learned infidels, jihad is the most recognized and notorious of all Muslim doctrines. Literally meaning to “struggle” or “strive,” jihad can take on any form, though its most native and praiseworthy expression revolves around fighting, and killing, the infidel enemy — even if it costs the Muslim fighter (the mujahid) his life: “Let those who would exchange the life of this world for the Hereafter fight in the path of Allah; whoever fights in the path of Allah — whether he dies or triumphs — we shall richly reward him” (Koran 4:74). And “Allah has purchased from the faithful their lives and possessions, and in return has promised them the Garden. They will fight in the path of Allah, killing and being killed” (Koran 9:111).
The hadith also has its fair share of anecdotes advocating the “one-man jihad.” Zawahiri’s treatise, “Jihad, Martyrdom, and the Killing of Innocents,” (AQR p. 137-171), spends much time justifying the desperate solo jihad — otherwise known as the “martyrdom operation” — including by offering the following hadith: “A Muslim asked Muhammad, O Messenger of Allah! If I plunge myself into the ranks of the idolaters and fight till I am killed — what then, to heaven? He [Muhammad] said yes. So the man plunged himself into the ranks of the idolaters, fighting till he was slain” (AQR, p. 153).
The learned ulema agree. According to al-Qurtubi (d. 1273), “There is no wrong for a man to singlehandedly attack a mighty army — if he seeks martyrdom — provided he has the fortitude.” Others indicate that one of the reasons making the one-man jihad permissible is that it serves to “terrify the foe” (AQR, p. 155).
And there it is: When all else failed, when Hasan’s forthcoming deployment into Muslim land forced him to expose where his true loyalty (wala’) lies, pretense (taqiyya) gave way to full-blown struggle (jihad). Hasan, who sacrificed many years to become a psychiatrist and a U.S. Army major, in the clear words of the Koran “exchange[d] the life of this world for the Hereafter.” Evidence also indicates that he believed “martyrdom operations” were not only valid but laudable acts of courage, writing “YOUR INTENTION IS THE MAIN ISSUE” (capitals in original). Zawahiri puts it more articulately: “The deciding factor is … the intention.” Is the mujahid killing himself “to service Islam [laudable martyrdom], or is it out of depression and despair [forbidden suicide]?” (AQR, p. 157).
(Unfortunately and, no doubt, much to Hasan’s chagrin, infidel medics ensured his failure to achieve martyrdom.)
The greatest proof that, at least in his own mind, Hasan was waging a jihad is the fact that he utilized that immemorial jihadi war cry — Allahu Akbar! — which has served to terrify the infidel denizens of the world for centuries. Here’s an example from Muslim history (circa the early 8th century): “The [non-Muslim] inhabitants of eastern Anatolia were filled with terror the likes of which they had never experienced before. All they saw were Muslims in their midst screaming ‘Allahu Akbar!’ Allah planted terror in their hearts. … The [non-Muslim] men were crucified over the course of 24 km” (from Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk).
Indeed, while the takbir (the formal term for “Allahu Akbar”) can be used in various contexts, it is by far primarily used in a jihadi context, past and present. Nearly 1,400 years ago, Muhammad and the early Muslims cried “Allahu Akbar” immediately before attacking their infidel neighbors; eight years before the Fort Hood massacre, Mohamed Atta cried “Allahu Akbar” immediately before flying a hijacked plane into one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Even Bukhari, the most authoritative hadith compiler, has an entire chapter titled “The Recitation of Takbir [i.e., Allahu Akbar] in War.”
Yet confusion abides. An AP report writes: “As if going off to war, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan cleaned out his apartment, gave leftover frozen broccoli to one neighbor, and called another to thank him for his friendship — common courtesies and routines of the departing soldier. Instead, authorities say, he went on the killing spree that left thirteen people at Fort Hood, Texas, dead.” Contrary to the tone of this excerpt, Hasan’s actions were far from contradictory. After all, he was “going off to war.”
Wala’ wa bara,’ taqiyya, and jihad all help explain Hasan’s actions. Even so, other lesser-known aspects of Islam lend their support to the view that he was acting from an Islamic framework.