Devout Muslims Sometimes Split On Beliefs
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Were going to continue to discuss the shooting at Fort Hood. Were talking about whether so-called political correctness prevented colleagues and associates of Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of last weeks shooting rampage from aggressively pursuing concerns about Hasans own mental health and fitness for duty. A few minutes ago, we heard from two reporters who covered the military who discussed warning flags that arose and how the military responded to them.
Now, we want to discuss another side of that story, whether Hasans associates within the Muslim community ignored or downplayed possible warning signs of his instability. Weve called upon Imam Johari Abdul-Malik. Hes the director of outreach at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, where Nidal Hassan sometimes attended services. Also with us is journalist Asra Nomani, who wrote an article for the Daily Beast called Inside the Gunmans Mask. She talked to Muslim congregants at a Muslim center in Silver Spring, Maryland where Hasan also spent some time. Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. ASRA NOMANI (Journalist): Thank you, Michel.
Imam JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK (Director of Outreach, Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center): Good to be here.
MARTIN: Asra, Im going to start with you. You met with a local Bangladeshi American civil engineer who knew Nidal Hasan and had conversations with him about his beliefs in Islam. And the man you met told you that he always had a feeling that Hasan was extremist and could one day become harmful. But why didnt he speak up?
Ms. NOMANI: You know, he spoke up to Major Hasan, and he spoke up in the mosque. He said that he didnt know that Major Hasan was in the Army. Otherwise, if he had, he would have sent out, you know, warning shot to the military also. But in our communities everywhere around America and around the world, I believe that, you know, were in a battle for the hearts, minds and souls of people like Major Hasan. Theres going to be a lot of people who are going to claim that Major Hasan was not a Muslim.
But to me, thats intellectually dishonest because he did represent an ideology thats very much alive in our Muslim community. We can say that hes a lost sheep, but we cannot say that he was not part of the flock. And in that, I believe, we have a responsibility to try to win the hearts and minds of people like Major Hasan so that we can actually bring them to an interpretation of Islam that says that you can coexist with those who are different from you. And that you can serve in the military and that you dont do things like Fort Hood.
MARTIN: You go on to write that the story of Hasan at his local mosque as a cautionary tale to all Muslim communities about the consequences when we fail to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world with moderate interpretation of Islam over rigid literal interpretations.
You say part of the problem is that many Muslims are clinging to the notion of an Umma or community with a capital U - a view that inhibits dissent and encourages blind loyalty and you say that, you feel that that sort of liberal and progressive elements are suppressed because then they are viewed as causing dissension within the community.
Ms. NOMANI: Yeah, you know, we have this ideological lever in our Muslim community called fitna which is a term thats used to describe chaos or conflict. And whenever you try to raise your voice inside the community and try to oppose the mainstream ideas because you dont believe that they are representative of the best of Islam, youre accused of fitna. And I know this personally because every time Ive tried to raise issues about womens rights in our mosques, try to go into the main halls where women are not allowed, men come, they surround me and they yell youre causing fitna.
You know, it isnt discussion about the issue. Its not a discussion about whats right theologically. Its a discussion about having uniformity. And so, look at just Major Hasans PowerPoint presentation. He says in one of his conclusions God expects full loyalty, promises heaven and threatens with hell. So thats the politics of ideology then that doesnt allow for critical thinking and dissension in our community. And thats what will fail us.
MARTIN: Imam, lets hear from you.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: You know, I think this is a very complex issue. I think that the Muslim community in America is really coming of age. That there is a kind of a discourse that I think may be more proverbial than it is the promise of the future. That today youll find that there are Muslims who are straight. There are Muslims who are openly gay. There are Muslims who are conservative. There are feminist voices in the Muslim community. There is ethnic diversity. And in that growing community, obviously, there are going to be issues.
I would refer you to something that they call Joharis window. It was by two psychologists Joe and Harry who talked about how you see yourself, how others see you in the public arena. Then theres a part of you that you dont see and a part of you that the society at large doesnt see. Theres another part that is something thats probably not known by any of us. Its that secret part of us and then theres the facade.
And I think Asma is talking about the facade, the way we would like to perceive ourselves. We would like to say we are a perfect community. We are perfectly faithful, that we are the most educated among them. But the reality is we have doctors and we have cab drivers.
MARTIN: I understand that, imam, but I wanted to talk about.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Come on.
MARTIN: But I understand in part the reason we called you is this whole issue around Imam Anwar Al Awlaki.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Okay.
MARTIN: And he was formerly a staff imam at the community center where you are now working. He since moved to Yemen. On his blog, he called Major Hasan a hero. Now I understand that you know him.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Right.
MARTIN: You were friends with him.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Yeah.
MARTIN: I understand that you even went on Haj with him.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: We met on Haj and spent our Haj together but let me
MARTIN: The only point I wanted to make is that you denounced his comments once they were made. You and just about every other Muslim leader that I can think of in this country denounced those comments and this conduct once it occurred. I think the question Asra also is asking is before inappropriate or antisocial behavior is experienced, when people are expressing hateful views towards other religions
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Indeed.
MARTIN: and other people and things of that sort. Is that behavior discussed and called out within the community.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Well, lets be clear. When Anwar al Awlaki was at the Al-Hijrah, he was articulating the same message that I articulate today in Al-Hijrah - very open, a very engaging, a very community, lives and contemporary understanding of the faith, even within the framework of its traditionalism. But at the same time, I have to say that the speech that I heard and the only time I ever went to Anwar al Awlakis blog was on November 9th to read this outlandish speech and to say we would not have tolerated that if he had said that in our mosque before he left in April of 2002.
That would not have been acceptable. That would not have been swept under the rug. And Im a person. I recently spoke at a forum about the treatment of homosexuals at George Washington University saying, although people may not be ready for it, the reality is that our Islam says that the priority is worshipping God. I dont really think, I think if we are going to talk about hearts and minds, in the case of Nidal, I think that he didnt have his mind. So, its not a question of his heart. I know his family. I visited their house. I have a fairly good sense and they have shared with me that they think that hes a person who snapped.
MARTIN: You think its a psychological issue. But, Asra, what about that? I mean that its a psychological problem and that psychological disorder can be found in any group and it is found in any religious group.
Ms. NOMANI: What concerns me about that kind of analysis is that we dont take responsibility. We dont take responsibility then for the ideology that basically finds a home in a mind that may be vulnerable. And so what happened is that Nidal Hassan's ideology, from the people that I talked to at the mosque in Silver Spring, was obvious for the last five years.
The conversations that people had with him inside the community were ones in which he espoused an ideology of Islam that is akin to this theology known as Wahhabism and Salafism. It is a ridged, puritanical, very dogmatic interpretation of Islam. We cannot say that he just snapped one day. This was a mind in progress and he found identity in this ideology.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Let me - if I...
Ms. NOMANI: And so in that, I just want to say that we have to take responsibility inside our community and we have to win the mind of somebody like Major Hassan. We have to win his soul. We lost him, and in that, we lost this battle.
And I appreciate this dissonance that Imam is talking about, because until we decide that we can live with a value system inside of ourselves that reflect our external actions, we are going to continue to have individuals like Major Hassan who can't find compatibility between Islam and the West.
MARTIN: Asra, I gave you the first word.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Yeah. But I...
MARTIN: I'm going to give Imam the last word.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: But I want chime in.
MARTIN: Go ahead.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: I mean the reality is that on some level I think people have the right. If they want to be conservative in their own personal lives, I think that's fine. If they - yeah - but there's a difference between...
MARTIN: But there's difference between conservative and racist.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Yeah. But...
MARTIN: But there are conservatives in a bigot and expressing bigotry toward people isn't there?
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Right. Right. But I'm saying that my own personal feelings about black people, white people, gay people, straight people doesnt give me the right to go into the middle of my workplace and kill my coworker. This has - for me, this has nothing to do with religion. There is nothing about Islam, even if I believe in heaven and hell and a day of judgment, that says that it's okay to kill people just because I dont like...
MARTIN: So is it your view that there's nothing that can be done until someone crosses the line in behavior?
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: No. No. No. I think really we need to have - and I am challenging - a robust discourse about saying that people like Anwar al Awlaki's speech on his Web site - we need to send a warning to our young people that that's not acceptable; that bookstores shouldnt post it, that our Web site shouldnt enlist it. I think that we have to, in the realm of freedom of speech, we have to say that we are going to discipline our own selves, and if there are individuals who speak out that's inappropriate, we need challenge that.
MARTIN: I'm going to - unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it there for now. But Asra, I'm going to direct people to read your writings at our Web site. We'll have a posting of your - the article that you wrote so they can read it in full.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is the director of outreach at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, where Nidal Hassan sometimes attended services. Asra Nomani wrote and article for The Daily Beast called "Inside the Gunman's Mosque." She talked to Muslim congregants at a Muslim Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, another center where Hassan visited. Nomani's also the author of "Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam." They were both kind enough to join us from our studios here in Washington...
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: Don't forget my blog.
MARTIN: And, we will, of course, have a link to your blog as well, Imam.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: I have a lot of (unintelligible).
MARTIN: And can continue this dialogue online.
I thank you both so much for joining us.
Imam ABDUL-MALIK: All right. Assalaamu Alaikum.
Ms. NOMANI: Thank you, Michel.
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