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Nidal Hasan and Fort Hood: A Study in Muslim Doctrine (Part 1)

One of the difficulties in discussing Islam’s more troubling doctrines is that they have an anachronistic, even otherworldly, feel to them; that is, unless actively and openly upheld by Muslims, non-Muslims, particularly of the Western variety, tend to see them as abstract theory, not standard practice for today. In fact, some Westerners have difficulties acknowledging even those problematic doctrines that are openly upheld by Muslims -- such as jihad. How much more when the doctrines in question are subtle, or stealthy, in nature?

Enter Nidal Malik Hasan, the psychiatrist, U.S. Army major, and “observant Muslim who prayed daily,” who recently went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, killing thirteen Americans (including a pregnant woman). While the media wonders in exasperation why he did it, offering the same old tired and trite reasons -- he was “picked on,” he was “mentally unbalanced” -- the fact is his behavior comports well with certain Islamic doctrines. As such, it behooves Americans to take a moment and familiarize themselves with the esotericisms of Islam.

Note: Any number of ulema (Muslim scholars) have expounded the following doctrines. However, since jihadi icon and theoretician Ayman Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two, has also addressed many of these doctrines in his treatises, including by quoting several authoritative ulema, I will primarily rely on excerpts from The Al Qaeda Reader (AQR), for those readers who wish to source, and read in context, the following quotes in one volume.

Wala’ wa Bara’

Perhaps best translated as “loyalty and enmity,” this doctrine requires Muslims to maintain absolute loyalty to Islam and one another, while disavowing, even hating (e.g., Koran 60:4), all things un-Islamic -- including persons (a.k.a. “infidels”). This theme has ample support in the Koran, hadith, and rulings of the ulema, that is, usul al-fiqh (roots of Muslim jurisprudence). In fact, Zawahiri has written a fifty-page treatise entitled “Loyalty and Enmity” (AQR, p. 63-115).

One of the many Koranic verses on which he relies warns Muslims against “taking the Jews and Christians as friends and allies … whoever among you takes them for friends and allies, he is surely one of them” (Koran 5:51), i.e., he becomes an infidel. The plain meaning of this verse alone -- other verses, such as 3:28, 4:144, and 6:40 follow this theme -- and its implications for today can hardly be clearer. According to one of the most authoritative Muslim exegetes, al-Tabari (838-923), Koran 5:51 means that the Muslim who “allies with them [non-Muslims] and enables them against the believers, that same one is a member of their faith and community” (AQR, p. 71).

Sheikh al-Islam, Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), takes the concept of loyalty one step further when he tells Muslims that they are “obligated to befriend a believer -- even if he is oppressive and violent towards you and must be hostile to the infidel, even if he is liberal and kind to you” (AQR, p. 84).

In ways, Hasan’s life was a testimony to loyalty and enmity. According to his colleague, Dr. Finnell, Hasan “was very vocal about the war, very upfront about being a Muslim first and an American second.” If his being “vocal about the war” is not enough to demonstrate unwavering loyalty to Islam, his insistence that he is first and foremost a Muslim is. Other evidence indicates that the primary factor that threw him “over the edge” was that he was being deployed to a Muslim country (Afghanistan) -- his “worst nightmare.”

According to a fellow Muslim convenience store owner who often spoke with Hasan, the thought that he might injure or kill Muslims “weighed heavily on him.” Hasan also counseled a fellow Muslim not to join the U.S. Army, since “Muslims shouldn’t kill Muslims,” again, showing where his loyalty lies. Tabari’s exegesis comes to mind: the Muslim who “allies with them [non-Muslims] and enables them against the believers, that same one is a member of their faith and community,” i.e., he too becomes an infidel (AQR, p. 71).

Another source who spoke with Hasan notes that “in the Koran, you’re not supposed to have alliances with Jews or Christian or others, and if you are killed in the military fighting against Muslims, you will go to hell.”

At any rate, surely none of this should come as a surprise. In April 2005, another Muslim serving in the U.S. Army, Hasan Akbar, was convicted of murder for killing two American soldiers and wounding fourteen in a grenade attack in Kuwait. According to the AP, “he launched the attack because he was concerned U.S. troops would kill fellow Muslims in Iraq.”


This doctrine, which revolves around deceiving the infidel, is pivotal to upholding loyalty and enmity wherever and whenever Muslim minorities live among non-Muslim majorities. In fact, the Koran’s primary justification for deception is in the context of loyalty: “Let believers [Muslims] not take for friends and allies infidels [non-Muslims] instead of believers. Whoever does this shall have no relationship left with God -- unless you but guard yourselves against them, taking precautions” (Koran 3:28). In other words, when necessary, Muslims are permitted to feign friendship and loyalty to non-Muslims, or, in the words of Abu Darda, a pious companion of Muhammad, “We grin to the faces of some peoples, while our hearts curse them” (AQR, p. 73). Taqiyya’s importance for upholding loyalty and enmity is evidenced by the fact that, just three pages into his treatise, Zawahiri has an entire section called “The Difference Between Befriending and Dissembling.” There he shows that, while sincere friendship with non-Muslims is forbidden, insincere friendship -- whenever beneficial to Muslims -- is not.

Again, Zawahiri quotes that standard reference, Tabari, who explains Koran 3:28 as follows: “Only when you are in their [non-Muslims’] power, fearing for yourselves, are you to demonstrate friendship for them with your tongues, while harboring hostility toward them. But do not join them in the particulars of their infidelities, and do not aid them through any action against a Muslim” (AQR, p. 74).

And therein lies the limit of taqiyya: when the deceit, the charade begins to endanger the lives of fellow Muslims -- whom, as we have seen, deserve first loyalty -- it is forbidden. As Zawahiri concludes, the Muslim may pretend, so long as he does “not undertake any initiative to support them [non-Muslims], commit sin, or enable [them] through any deed or killing or fighting against Muslims” (AQR, p. 75).

Again, we are reminded that the “moment of truth” for Hasan, who seems to have led something of a double life -- American major and psychiatrist by day, financial supporter of jihadi groups and associate of terrorists by night -- is the fact that he was being deployed to Afghanistan, i.e., he would have been aiding non-Muslim Americans against fellow Muslims (remember, he was “a Muslim first and an American second”). He tried to prevent this, getting a lawyer, to no avail. Thus, since he had taken deceit to its doctrinal limit and was now being placed in a position where he would have to actually demonstrate his loyalty to Americans against Muslims, it appears he decided to take it to the next level (see the following doctrine, jihad).

Incidentally, we also find that “he [Hasan] was going to be kind of the caretaker for [American] Muslim soldiers. Sometimes Muslim soldiers have a rift between what they’re doing and their faith,” according to Major Khalid Shabazz, an Army Muslim chaplain. “That person who is a leader needs to quell some of those fears and help them through that process.”

This all sounds well and good, but what, precisely, does it mean? If, as we have seen, Islam clearly forbids Muslims from aiding infidels against fellow Muslims, and if being in the U.S. Army requires American Muslims to fight non-American Muslims now and again, how was Hasan -- or any other observant Muslim -- going to “quell some of those fears and help through that process”? How, if not by merely instructing them in the centuries-old arts of taqiyya?

In part two, Mr. Ibrahim analyzes jihad, proselytizing, and spiritual calmness.