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Muslim Americans Must Obey U.S. Laws; Nidal Hasan Disobeyed Islamic Doctrine

Major Nidal Malik Hasan

Major Nidal Malik Hasan

The Islamophobic blogosphere has gone buck-wild.  Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and the rest of the goof troop are pretty ecstatic that Major Nidal Hasan, a Muslim American, killed thirteen U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood.  Nothing makes a neo-conservative happier than an attack on American soil; as the family of the victims mourn the dead, the anti-Muslim ideologues gleefully co-opt the situation to market their hate-filled beliefs.

The Islamophobes claim that Major Hasan was simply “being a devout Muslim” when he opened fire on his fellow soldiers.  According to them, this is a part of Jihad, an obligation in Islam.  As such, the enemy is not just extremists, radicals, or terrorists; but rather, it is Islam itself.  It is not then a gross perversion of a religion by zealots that result in such horrific attacks, but rather the exact opposite: it is a faithful understanding of the Islamic religion which results in terrorism.  That’s what they claim at least.

There is, according to these anti-Muslim bigots, a conspiracy by Muslim Americans to overtake the country from within.  The tactics to do so can be non-violent (“Stealth Jihad”) or overtly violent (such as 9/11 or the Fort Hood Massacre), but the goal is the same: to overthrow the U.S. government, rip the Constitution to shreds, and enact Sharia (Islamic law) in the West.  It is for this reason, you–the average American Joe–need to fear your Muslim neighbor.

The Covenant of Security

But experts of the Islamic legal tradition say differently.  The Islamic religion commands believers to obey the laws of the land they live in, even if it be one ruled by nonbelievers.  Muslim jurists consider citizenship (or visa) to be a covenant (aqd) held between the citizen (or visa holder) and the state, one which guarantees safe passage/security (amaan) in exchange for certain obligations (such as obeying the laws of the land); covenants are considered sacredly binding in Islam.  The Quran commands:

And fulfill every covenant.  Verily, you will be held accountable with regard to the covenants. (Quran, 17:34)

The Quran condemns those who break covenants as not being true believers:

It is not the case that every time they make a covenant, some party among them throws it aside. Nay! The truth is most of them believe not. (Quran, 2:100)

The Islamic prophet Muhammad described the religious hypocrite as follows:

When he enters into a covenant, he proves treacherous. (Sahih al-Bukhari)

Citizenship (and visa) is called in Islamic legal parlance as a “covenant of security” (aqd al-aman).  For over a thousand years, Muslim scholars have rigorously affirmed the binding nature of the covenant of security.  This covenant of security can be of two types: (1) a contractual agreement or (2) a customary understanding.

Naturalized citizens in the United States enter into a contractual agreement with the government when they declare the oath of allegiance, as follows:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”

A Muslim is obliged to keep to his word, and thus this oath is religiously binding upon him.

Natural born citizens, on the other hand, do not utter any such oath, so they fall under the second category under Islamic law.  The covenant of security is considered for them a customary understanding, in the sense that even though they did not physically say an oath or sign a document of loyalty, it is understood that there exists between the citizen and the government a covenant of security; this, i.e. customary understanding, is considered by Islamic law to be just as binding as the contractual agreement.  There is no difference between the two.

Betraying the Covenant is Forbidden

What the 9/11 hijackers did was a violation of Islamic law for multiple reasons.  The most obvious of these is the prohibition of killing civilians, but it should also be pointed out that they violated the covenant of security between them and the United States, which granted them visas to enter the country.  Using Islamic lingo, the U.S. government granted safe passage (amaan) to the 19 hijackers, and thus they entered into a covenant (aqd), which they subsequently violated.

The United States government granted them visas with the understanding that they would come to the country to study, or seek medical treatment, or for sightseeing, etc., but not for waging war within their lands or killing their citizenry.  Even if a Muslim country is at war with a non-Muslim one, it would not be permissible for a Muslim fighter to enter into enemy territory by requesting safe passage (amaan) and then subsequently killing enemy troops once he crosses over.

The classical Islamic jurist, Muhammad al-Shaybani (died 805 A.D.) expounded:

If it happens that a company of Muslims pass through the enemy’s front lines by deceptively pretending to be messengers of the Muslim’s ruler carrying official documents–or if they were just allowed to pass through the enemy lines–they are not allowed to engage in any hostilities with the enemy troops. Neither are they entitled to seize any of their money or properties as long as they are in their area of authority.

Both the 9/11 hijackers and Major Nidal Hasan violated this sacred principle of Islam.  They gained the trust of those whom they considered their enemies, and then when those they consider enemies were caught unaware, they killed them.  In other words, these criminals took advantage of the fact that they had been trusted, and violated this trust.  Such a thing is considered unacceptable in Islam.

(It should be noted that Muslim Americans don’t see themselves as living in “enemy territory,” but the point is that even if Nidal Hasan saw the U.S. in that light, then he still wouldn’t be allowed under the Islamic belief system to do what he did.  Of course, the point applies even more to those Muslim Americans who see themselves as distinctly American and who love the country.)

The Quran does say that if the believers are being oppressed in some land, then the Muslims should come to their assistance.  But it forbids fighting against those with whom a covenant exists.  The Quran says:

If [your coreligionists] ask for your aid in religion, then you must help them, except against people with whom you have covenants with. (Quran, 8:72)

A Muslim American Must Obey the Constitution and Never Rebel Against the U.S. Government

A Muslim must abide by his covenant, which includes obeying the laws of the land he lives in, no matter how he entered into the country, be it by birth, legal (or even illegal) immigration.  (Entering countries illegally with forged documents is considered forbidden in Islam, but if one commits this sin, he cannot commit the further sin of then using it as an excuse to violate the laws of the land.)  Salman al-Oudah, a senior religious cleric, says:

[Islamic] scholars have stated that those who enter non-Muslim countries have to adhere to their respective laws and regulations even if they entered those countries illegally, and they have no excuse for breaking those laws, since they were entrusted to abide by those laws upon entry into those countries…As long as [a Muslim] agrees to live in a non-Muslim country, he is never to rebel against the people living in his choice of residence, even it seems too hard for him to endure.

From a religious angle, Muslim Americans are forbidden to rebel against the U.S. government.  They are not allowed to seek to overthrow the government, rip up the Constitution (which they gave an oath to uphold!), etc.  They are not allowed to cheat on taxes, steal from anyone, kill or harm any of their fellow citizens, etc.  Instead, they should be law-abiding citizens–according to the Islamic religion and the consensus (ijma) of the Muslim clerics since the last 1,400 years, in spite of Al-Qaeda’s reinterpretation (perversion) of religious doctrine.

Even if hypothetically the U.S. law were to stipulate a condition which was against Islamic teachings, the Muslim American would still have to follow it, as the Islamic cleric I quoted above says:

[Muslims] have to avoid whatever contradicts Islamic teachings. In case they are obliged by law to uphold something contrary to Islamic teachings, they have to adhere to the minimum that the law requires of them.

This idea–that Muslim Americans should uphold the laws of the land–is taught in mosques across the country with great unanimity, so the Islamophobic fear mongering is ill-founded.


The actions of Islamic extremists–such as the 9/11 hijackers and Major Nidal Hasan–flout the normative tradition of Islam and the teachings which millions of Muslim Americans follow.  It is therefore inappropriate to conclude that the religion of Islam itself advocates such things, or that these attackers were simply following their religion.  Such a thing is offensive to say and quite frankly inaccurate.

In any case, it is too early to say with any level of certainty what Major Hasan’s motivations were.  Was he an extremist or simply a guy who lost his marbles like so many other shooters?  Whatever the case, one thing is for sure: his actions do not reflect the Islamic teachings nor the millions of law-abiding Muslim Americans.

UPDATE: I recently found a similar article to mine found here, from BBC News.

SECOND UPDATE: Another article that raises some good points can be found here, this one by a Muslim cleric specifically about the Fort Hood Shooting.

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