You know that nice Muslim neighbor you have, the one whom everyone would describe as “moderate, quiet, unassuming”…

Don’t be so sure. He could be the next mass-murdering Muslim jihadist. Just ask Asra Q. Nomani, a Muslim-American writer-activist.

The alleged Fort Hood gunman had revealed a hard-line Islamist streak to acquaintances in the Muslim Community Center that he made his mosque.

Not long ago, Golam Akhter, a local Bangladeshi-American civil engineer, 67, got into a fierce debate with a young Muslim doctor over how to interpret the concept of “jihad” within Islam. Akhter argued, “Jihad means an inner struggle, fighting against corruption and injustice.”

The young doctor responded. “That’s not a correct interpretation. Jihad means holy war. When your religion isn’t safe, you have to fight for it. If someone attacks you, you must fight them. That is jihad. You can kill someone who is harming you.”

The conversation would be just another theological debate, interesting but irrelevant, except that the doctor was Maj. Nidal Hasan, 39, the gunman in the tragic Fort Hood rampage. After being posted to Walter Reed Hospital as a psychiatrist, Hasan called the Muslim Community Center his local mosque. It’s just a short drive away from Walter Reed.

In interviews with the media, leaders of the Muslim Community Center have painted a portrait of Hasan as a quiet, unassuming Muslim more interested in finding a wife than debating world politics. They express shock at his killing spree and, appropriately, condemn it. But a closer look behind the doors of the mosque and inside the conversations between the engineer and the doctor reveal a more complex picture of a young first-generation American Muslim man living a life of dissonance between his identity as an American and his ideology as a Muslim who had accepted a literal, rigid interpretation of Islam, akin to the puritanical Wahhabi and Salafi interpretations of Islam that define the theology of militancy inside the Muslim world today, according to community members who knew Hasan.

“So many times I talked with him,” said Akhter, a community leader who is sort of like a mosque gadfly, challenging congregants to reject literal, rigid interpretations of Islam. “I was trying to modernize him. I tried my best. Hasan used to hate America as a whole. He was more anti-American than American.”

Despite all the conversations, Akther said, “I couldn’t get through to him. He was a typical fundamentalist Muslim.”


On the day of the debate between the engineer and the doctor over the meaning of jihad, Akhter said that Hasan told him that if he didn’t believe in jihad as warfare, “Then you are not a Muslim.” Other members of the community confirm this portrait of Hasan. Part of the problem is that many Muslims are clinging to the notion of an “ummah,” or “community,” with a capital “U,” a view that inhibits dissent and encourages blind loyalty to a global Islam.

In that struggle, we whitewash the truth of men like Hasan responding defensively, rejecting any links to Islamic teachings and, ultimately, I believe, denying the reality of a radicalized ideology of Islam that sanctions violence.  That politics of making another Muslim illegitimate is a strategy typically used today by literal, rigid interpreters of Islam to discredit other Muslim. Read More: The Daily Beast