Responding to the Fort Hood Tragedy – Imam Zaid Shakir

Responding to the Fort Hood Tragedy – Imam Zaid Shakir

Imam Zaid Shakir writes: This is my response to the Fort Hood tragedy and events both associated with it and ensuing from it. I begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the families of all of the dead and wounded. There is no legitimate reason for their deaths, just as I firmly believe there is no legitimate reason for the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have perished as a result of those two conflicts. Even though I disagree with the continued prosecution of those wars, and even though I believe that the US war machine is the single greatest threat to world peace, I must commend the top military brass at Fort Hood, and President Obama for encouraging restraint and for refusing to attribute the crime allegedly perpetrated by Major Nidal Malik Hasan to Islam. We pray that God bless us to see peace and sanity prevail during these tense times.


One of the greatest foundations of Islam is truth. One of the ninety-nine names of God is al-Haqq (the Truth) It is unfair to distort the truth, to falsehood as fact, or to present half-truths as definitive declarations. Truth, along with Goodness and Beauty are the three great transcendental realities that Islam and all other religions strive to aid us towards both realizing and actualizing in our lives. In the Arabic/Islamic lexicon these are known as al-Haqq (the Truth), al-Ihsan (Goodness), and al-Jamaal (Beauty).

Concerning the truth, our Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, taught us to pray, Allahumma Arinal Haqqa Haqqan wa Zurqnat Tiba’ahu, “O God! Show us the truth as truth and bless us to follow it.” The Qur’an presents the truth as a powerful, self-evident reality that is distinguishable from falsehood without any need for extraneous clarification (2:256). The mere presence of the truth is enough to dispel the clouds of darkness and falsehood (17:81). Therefore, a great objective of our religion is discovering and then following the truth.

One of the unfortunate consequences of tragic and highly emotive events like the shootings that recently occurred at Fort Hood, Texas, is that such events are used to advance agendas that by their very nature make a mockery of the truth. This event is no exception. There are those who seek to use this event to the Muslim community in this country as an inherent menace whose very existence has to be challenged. Traveling the length and breath of this country in the service of that community, I know this is not the truth. The Muslim community in this country is a peace-loving, law-abiding community that has in ways great and small advanced the general welfare of this nation and its citizenry. To present it otherwise is a blatant lie.

Like any other community that has a fairly large percentage of immigrants among it members, the Muslim community does have those elements, especially older members or those newly arrived from the Muslim world whose strongest sentiments, emotional and cultural attachments may be towards the lands they have come from than to the country they find themselves in. This is true for many members of most immigrant populations. However, generally speaking, such attachments are not found among Muslims born and raised here, nor do they translate into animosity towards or a desire to do harm to this country.


Saying that is not to deny the existence of Muslims who may be agitated by the injustices and inequities they find in American foreign policy, or the increasingly prejudicial or even racist attitudes being advanced by some parties towards America’s Muslims. Among them is a small minority whose anger and frustration may render them vulnerable to the appeal of demagogues who would attempt to exploit their emotions to advance a nefarious agenda, or a number of factors may converge in their lives pushing them towards acts of violence against their fellow citizens. This might prove to be the case for Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who has been identified as the shooter at Fort Hood, and a few other random individuals. However, it is not and never will be anything that can even begin to approach the norm in our community.

There are those who will argue that the problem is those random “few” Muslims who may snap at any time. That is certainly a problem. However, if the recent history of this country is any indication, those few have been less in number and responsible for far less carnage than the “few” from the non-Muslim population, the postal workers, high school or university students, or the random individuals who have snapped and gone on to wreak havoc in our society.One of the great tragedies in this situation is to view the crime Major Hasan is being accused of as a specifically Muslim problem. It is a human problem and if it approached as such perhaps we can learn something from it that will help us to get to the roots of the violent outbursts that are becoming increasingly widespread in our society. can debate the issue of violence at large in our society and we can debate the issue of “Muslims” violence. What is unequivocally true about the latter, to the extent that it does exist, is that attacks against the lives or property of American citizens in this country have nothing to do with Islam. There are no teachings from the normative corpus of Muslim political writings that allow a Muslim to violate the security of the public square, to endanger the lives of the general public, to attack non-combatant civilians, even in a battlefield situation, or to aggress against soldiers who are not in a battlefield. This is especially true where Muslims have entered into an explicit or implicit covenant of protection from non-Muslim political authorities and constitute a distinct minority in a particular land.

Much of the balance of this article will be dedicated to presenting Islamic teachings that substantiate what I have mentioned above concerning the duties of Muslims to protect the public square in a non-Muslim land they may find themselves in, and those teachings that warn against foolhardy, ill-conceived attacks that only bring harm and hardship to innocent, unsuspecting people, Muslims among them.

My argument is a direct refutation of Muslims who seek to distort Islamic teachings to motivate ignorant Muslims to undertake ill-advised and unsanctioned actions against the citizenry of this country. It also restates my position on this issue. [1]
No Room for Vigilante Treachery in the Divine Law

In his expansive work, al-Jihad wa’l Qital fi al-Siyasa al-Shar’iyya (Sanctioned Warfare and Fighting in the Divine Law) Muhammad Khayr Haykal mentions, concerning the implications accruing from an oath of protection: [2]

The cessation of hostilities that is mentioned here might be a consequence of an oath of protection given by non-Muslims to Muslims, or a consequence of an oath of protection given by Muslims to non-Muslims. In both cases, it obligates a cessation of hostilities against the members of the opposing community who might technically be at war with the Muslims. [This is so] whether the Muslims have granted the oath of protection or it has been granted to them. [3]

Haykal continues:

It is not permissible for Muslims who have been granted an oath of protection from members of other communities to launch into fighting them, because this is treachery. [4]

Two concepts are critical in what Haykal mentions here, one is the idea of treachery, and the other is the idea of reciprocity. Islam is predicated on honorable behavior. It is the height of dishonor to violate the trust that is extended to a person given the right to move about freely in a particular land based on the assumption that that person has accepted the responsibility to protect and preserve public order in that land and the lives and property of its people.

In his commentary on al-Mughni, one of the definitive compendiums of Islamic law according to the Hanbali rite, Imam al-Maqdisi mentions in this regard, “If an oath of protection is given to a non-Muslim population, it is forbidden to fight them, usurp their wealth, or to expose them to any harm.” [5] Imam al-Shafi’i clarifies that this includes Muslims who have entered into a non-Muslim land. He states, “If a group of Muslims enter the land of non-Muslims with an oath of protection, the others are safe from them […] they [the Muslims] have no right to oppress or betray them.” [6]

It should be clear that a Muslim is not allowed to transgress against non-Muslims as long as he or she resides in their lands under their protection. Any aggression from their quarter is unsanctioned treachery. If they feel they can no longer accept the perceived or real abuses or injustices of the host people then they are obliged to leave that land if remaining there would push them into acts of violence or aggression against the host community.

The idea of reciprocity is critical in this particular area of inquiry. All of our major legal texts discuss this idea. It is the idea that the responsibilities expected of non-Muslims minorities in Muslim lands are incumbent on Muslims in non-Muslim lands. Hence, just as it would be unacceptable for a non-Muslim residing in a Muslim land to attack the people of that land, civilian or military, it is unacceptable for a Muslim residing in a non-Muslim land to engage in similar acts. This is an undeniable principle in our law. Hence, respecting it is not a stratagem or a convenient contingency; it is upholding an inviolable principle.

It is also well-known amongst Muslim scholars that it is prohibited to undertake any acts that will result in widespread harm returning to Muslims. This is based on the prophetic Hadith, “There is no initiating or reciprocating harm.” [7] This Hadith has given rise to the legal maxim, “Harm is to be removed.” Hence, any action that is likely to result in widespread harm to Muslims is unsanctioned and necessarily removed.

In the current political climate in America where the demonizing of Muslims has evolved into an industry, where rules of civility and the rejection of any meaningful anti-defamation statutes allow for indiscriminate calls to murder Muslims on public airwaves; where Mosques and other Muslim organizations are infiltrated by agent provocateurs who are encouraging Muslims to engage in acts that could potentially unleash waves of anti-Muslim venom, it is clear to anyone with a modicum of intellect that attacks such as the one occurring at Fort Hood have no Islamic sanction, neither in principle nor from a tactical point of view.

Such attacks only give credence to those foul elements who desire to justify ongoing wars against Muslim populations. There are those in the Muslim world who think that by calling for such attacks they can draw America into deeper involvements in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan which will then become America’s Vietnam. Little do they realize that there are fanatical elements in these western lands that use such attacks to argue for a full-blown assault on Muslim lands as opposed to the current limited engagement. Some of those calls are for nuclear attacks, and their advocates would not be bothered seeing the number of dead Iraqis resulting from our involvement in that country growing from the currently lamentable number of over one million to five or six million.

Little do those Muslims realize that they are encouraging elements that would bomb Afghan towns and villages with the same insane impunity that was visited upon places like Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg of Berlin during World War II; for they are arguing that Islam, like fascism, poses an existentialist threat to America and western civilization. One of the things giving any credence to their perverse arguments and turning a hesitate public towards their camp are belligerent actions they hope can be attributed to Muslims. We should neither contribute to such actions in deed nor should we applaud them.

Ibn Juzayy mentions in Qawanin al-Ahkam al-Shar’iyya:

If the Muslims know that they will be slaughtered in wholesale fashion it is fitting that they abandon fighting. If they know that they will be slaughtered and that their losses will do little to alter the strategic balance vis-à-vis the enemy forces, it is absolutely obligatory that they abandon any encounter. [8]

Any Muslim who thinks that an unsanctioned act of violence he may undertake in this country is going to alter the strategic balance is grandly deluded or inexcusably ignorant. His undertaking any violent act in this country is additionally forbidden because he is likely going to be killed, gravely injured, or captured in the encounter. Imam al-Shawkani mentions in al-Sayl al-Jarrar, “It is well-known legal reasoning that one who strikes out [against an enemy] knowing beforehand that he will be killed, captured or vanquished, has hurled himself to destruction.” [9] Imam al-Shawkani goes on to explain that such an act is forbidden based on the Qur’anic verse, Do not hurl yourself to destruction with your own hands. (2:195) [10] The discouragement of foolhardy acts of desperation based on this verse, is also made by Ibn ‘Abideen in his commentary on al-Durr al-Mukhtar. [11]

There is another salient point that we must mention in this context. No one, even in a Muslim land, has the right to undertake violent acts, even against a recognized enemy when the political authorities of that land determine that those acts will incur harm to Muslims [or other innocent people]. Dr. Haykal elaborates on this point at length:

The lawful authorities in a land possess the right, and this right is similarly conferred by valid legislative principles, to absolutely prevent any method, or any organization whose very nature would result in consequences that would expose the Muslims to grave danger and harm. Therefore, when the legislative authorities perceive that something that may originally be permissible has consequences that involve any degree of harm, it is their responsibility to prevent that harm. Rather, it is incumbent on them to prevent it. This is accomplished by preventing individuals from arming themselves and preventing them from forming armed militias that are independent of the standing army. Indeed, the divine law has given the authorities a number of legislative principles to use in order to cut off any path where the winds of harm may blow from. [12]

If this is the case for a Muslim country, what is the permissibility for vigilante acts and underground militias in a non-Muslim land where Muslims are forbidden to threaten public order or to independently implement any Islamic teachings related to strategic affairs?

Finally, as implied above, Muslim leaders have the responsibility to protect the faithful from foolhardy acts that will lead to unnecessary lose of life, and to warn them again individuals who would lead them towards such acts. For this reason, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, warned against reckless commanders who would expose the faithful to unnecessary hardship. This led to him advising his governors, “Do not appoint al-Bara’ ibn Malik over any Muslim army.” [13]

This warning was issued owing to al-Bara’s known recklessness and his ill-consideration of the consequences of his actions for his troops. It is a shame that there are Muslims who have no connection with this country yet are recklessly and insensitively endorsing actions that endanger innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  They are not on the ground in this country and are therefore not attuned to the nature of the struggles and vulnerabilities of our community.


So what are the Muslims of this country to do in the aftermath of the tragedy at Fort Hood? We have to do the good things we were doing before it occurred. Indeed, we need to increase that good. Our civil rights can be assailed, we can be denied equal protection under the law, our lawful and law-abiding organizations can be closed down, but no one can take our dignity from us, no one can prevent us from being decent neighbors, honest workers, dedicated students, faithful citizens, and pious believers. Furthermore, no one can prevent us from engaging in a heroic struggle to secure our God-given and constitutionally-mandated rights, and from working for the creation of the kinds of policies that will prevent the current bloodletting that is occurring in some Muslim lands with the active complicity of our country’s military and security apparatuses.

Certainly, the heightened levels of hate speech, the whispers of a coming backlash, and the elected officials who have gone on record promising to do nothing to mitigate such a backlash are all unsettling. However, if we preserve and remain ever mindful of the wise commandments that are available to guide our steps, we should rest assured that God will not abandon us. He states in the Qur’an, You will surely be tested in your property and your persons. And you will hear from [some of] those given the Scripture before you, and from the idolaters much abuse. If you patiently persevere, and remain mindful of God, surely this is a manifestation of prophetic resolution. (3:186)

So brothers and sisters, at this time when very powerful and well-financed interests are rallying against us; at this time when we can entertain no real hope of meaningful support from any Muslim country, we have to redouble our dependence on God; we have to live for Him and seek our strength through him. Whoever remains mindful of Allah, He makes for him a way out, He bestows His sustenance upon him from directions he could never imagine, and one who places his trust in God finds that He suffices him… (65:2-3) This is the way of the Prophets, peace upon them. Let it be our way.

Imam Zaid Shakir 11/11/09


[1] My position on a number of controversial issues has been stated at length, among other places in my book, Scattered Pictures: Reflections of an American Muslim, published in 2005 by the Zaytuna Institute, and a 4-CD set entitled, Looking Back to Look Ahead, produced by Zaytuna Institute in 2006.
[2] In the modern context, such an oath of protection may result from the acceptance of citizenship, residency permits, visas issued for tourism, study or work, and other well-known means.
[3] Muhammad Khayr Haykal, al-Jihad wa’l Qital fi al-Siyasa al-Shar’iyya (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 1417/1996), 3:1499
[4] Haykal, 3:1502
[5] Imam Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, al-Sharh al-Kabir ‘ala Matn al-Muqni’ (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1372/1972), 10:555
[6] Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, Kitab al-Umm (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, nd), 4:248
[7] Ibn Majah, no. 2341
[8] Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, Qawanin al-Ahkam al-Shar’iyya (Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li’l Malayin, 1374/1974), p. 165
[9] Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Shawkani, al-Sayl al-Jarrar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1405/1985), 4:519
[10]There are those who argue that the correct interpretation of this verse is the opposite of what is implied here. Namely, it was encouraging those who stayed away from a battle in order to mind their crops and cattle to go forth to the fray lest they be destroyed by the advancing enemy forces. However, Imam al-Shawkani and others argue that the meaning is contingent on the situation. While that meaning may be the one applicable to the occasion of the verse’s revelation, to argue that the verse is discouraging involvement in foolhardy acts of desperation is also operative. This is so based on the interpretive principle, العبرة لعموم اللفظ لا لخصوص السبب al-‘Ibra li ‘Umum al-Lafdh, la li Khusus al-Sabab (The applicability of a verse is based on the generality of its wording not the specificity of its revelation).
[11] See Imam Ibn ‘Abideen, Radd al-Muhtar ‘ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar (Cairo: Matba’ Khidaywi Isma’il, 1286), 3:337
[12] Haykal, 2:1008
[13] Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Sarkhasi, Sharh al-Siyar al-Kabir (Cairo: Jami’ al-Makhtutat Jami’ al-Duwal al-‘Arabiyya, 1372/1972), 1:62

Source: Responding to the Fort Hood Tragedy – Imam Zaid Shakir