Muslims in the Military


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Before President Obama left for Asia he visited Fort Hood in Texas, where 13 members of the military were killed allegedly by an Army psychiatrist who is an American-born Muslim:

President Obama at Fort Hood memorial service: “No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice—in this world and the next.”

The Fort Hood killings have raised questions about whether the accused shooter’s zeal about Islam could have played any role in the tragedy and about being Muslim in the US military.  Imam Yahya Hendi is the Muslim chaplain at both the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and at Georgetown University in Washington. He had met Major Hasan.

Imam, welcome. Is there anything in what you’ve heard or read about Major Hasan that could explain to you what happened?

The Obamas at Fort Hood memorial service

AM YAHYA HENDI: Actually, no. It is a shock for me. I met Major Hasan a few times, and every time I met him I understood him to be a loyal American, loving of his country, and he wanted to join the military in support of America.

ABERNETHY: Is there anything about his being a very devout Muslim that could explain to you his shooting?

HENDI: For me it was….

ABERNETHY: …his alleged shooting.

HENDI: For me, what happened on that Thursday (November 5) has nothing to do with Islam. Islam does not stand in support of such shooting. Actually, according to Islamic law what he did was criminal, immoral, and unethical and against the teachings of Islam in every way, shape, and form.

ABERNETHY: When he apparently—when he began shooting he shouted out “Allahu akbar” in Arabic—God is great.

HENDI: Yeah. You know Muslims use that phrase, “Allahu akbar,” like “Oh, gosh” in English, “Oh, my Lord, Oh, my God.” It does not really have a religious motivation always and all the time.

ABERNETHY: You have counseled a lot of Muslim soldiers and sailors and marines. Is there any conflict for some of them, at least sometimes, between being Muslim and then having to go some place where they are fighting Muslims?

HENDI: You know, overall most of the soldiers we have, Muslim soldiers in the US military, are loyal Americans and have joined the military, again, to defeat terrorism, to defeat extremism. After all, on September 11 we were attacked, and Islam gives Muslims and America the right to defend itself against terrorism and, therefore, Muslims should be proud and are proud of their service in the US military.

ABERNETHY: There’s a concept, if I understand it correctly, within Islam called the ummah, which is a sense of intense brotherhood with all other Muslims. Now does that conflict with having to go into Afghanistan?

HENDI: Actually, no. If I love my brother and when my brother does something wrong, Islam requires me to stop him from his wrongdoing. You know, Prophet Muhammad—and in the Koran we are told that we have to enjoin good and forbid evil. What happened on September 11 and the aftermath of that terrorism, extremism, what is happening in Pakistan, suicide bombing, and in Afghanistan is against the teachings of Islam, and Muslims are required to join any military in self-defense and to defeat terrorism.

ABERNETHY: What about in the Muslim community in this country? What’s going on there since the shootings?

HENDI: You know, American Muslims feel proud of being American, but at the same time are suspected on daily basis. Their religion is under siege; the community is under siege because of suspects. What we want America to do is to understand that we are a part of the fabric of America. We love America, our country, and we want to fight with everyone in defense of America.

ABERNETHY: Imam Yahya Hendi, many thanks.

HENDI: Thank you.