The American Muslim community continues to experience numbness and is in deep shock following the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim psychiatrist who was born in Virginia to Jordanian parents, is accused of opening fire on his colleagues, killing 13 and wounding 38. The officer, who was commissioned in 2001, provided counseling to help alleviate psychological stressors that servicemen and woman experience.
The Muslim community has worked faithfully since the tragic events of Sept. 11 to show the real picture of Islam, which has included meetings, educational seminars, collaboration with law enforcement agencies and work with interfaith groups to build trust, promote tolerance and bridge the gaps.
We have had many successes. However, the tragedy of Fort Hood - actions that find no support in Islamic ideology - threatens to abort efforts that have been woven to strengthen the fabric and harmony in society. The deplorable acts attributed to Major Hasan leave millions of hardworking American Muslims vulnerable, and prone to dealing with anger and backlash. They may make it difficult for the average American not to paint all Muslims with the same brush.
The country has witnessed similar shootings, including at Columbine and Virginia Tech. The difference this time is that the perpetrator is a well-educated Muslim army officer, who in salving the emotional wounds of the troops he counseled, may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder by proxy.
It seems that the attacker struggled to define his identity while in the army. While providing care to others, he was displaced from his own meaningful identity. He developed negative views regarding the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan (which he recently became more vocal about ), reported experiencing harassment by his peers, and hired a lawyer to facilitate his desire to quit the Army. His stress level is likely to have escalated as he became aware of his impending deployment overseas.
Despite his upbringing in a family-based Middle Eastern community, Mr. Hasan's family was not fully aware of his internal struggles. It did not seem as if Mr. Hasan did much thinking about the pain and suffering that he left the family with. His family - also victims, in a way - has to deal with the consequences of this shooting, which could live on for generations, as well as the possible immediate backlash that they may be subjected to.
Mr. Hasan apparently found comfort in resting his struggles at the doors of his Islamic faith. But his apparent actions at Fort Hood contradicted guidelines established by the Quran (the holy book of Muslims) in relation to dealing with non-Muslims, and in regard to the duty of a Muslim toward contracts and pledges he or she engages in. In his negotiation of identity, he adhered to traditional dress, frequented the mosque, desired to shape his community based on his beliefs, and read the Quran. But the events at Fort Hood are far from those that authentic Islamic teachings endorse or would approve of.
In review of the Quranic verses related to homicide, the Quran clarifies that "if anyone slew a person; unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole people" (5:32). Further, the Quran instructs Muslims to treat non-Muslims with kindness: "Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them" (8:60). The Quran also defines clear guidelines in reference to contracts and pledges with non-Muslims: "But the treaties are not dissolved with those pagans with whom Ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loveth the righteous" (4:9).
As a result, the acts of Major Hasan not only were disappointing to all who have known him but were also a betrayal of trust given to him by the Lord, by his family and by his colleagues.
Many soldiers can develop psychological distress, and - regardless of ethnicity or religion - more vigilance in screening the troops may be considered. Major Hasan sent many indirect messages to alert people on the base to his hidden emotions. He even engaged in what can be seen as self-destructive behavior through receiving mediocre performance reviews, posting questionable remarks on the Internet and becoming more confrontational and openly critical of the wars. It is appropriate to look into developing deployment fitness screenings to assess psychological readiness of soldiers. In addition, the Muslim chaplains might consider regular meetings with Muslim soldiers on base in order to answer questions and to provide potentially needed counseling for individuals to cope with scenarios that they may be dealing with.
In addition, the Muslim community has to take further measures to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. As Muslim soldiers may feel more comfortable to discuss culturally or religiously related matters with someone from that same background, formal counseling services should be established at Islamic centers, as such services can provide the format needed to instruct and correct any inaccurate beliefs or misconceptions individuals may have. Also, as Fridays tend to be the time when Muslims attend Islamic centers most frequently, sermons should be further employed to share the true values and guidelines of the Quran related to the needs of Muslims living in the West. Moreover, seminars or classes can be organized that tackle issues such as stress management, violence control and other topics.
It is with sadness that we have to deal with the aftermath of this matter. However, there is no reason for more innocent lives to be lost. We should seize the opportunity to put in place all necessary measures needed to weed out violence, repair the damage and to strengthen the fabric of our society.
Maher Kharma is president of the Islamic Society of Annapolis. His e-mail is email@example.com.