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Why did Fort Hood shooter, a radical Muslim, request a Bible?

Nidal Malik Hasan, convicted of killing 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, requested a Bible as he awaited trial. For a devout Muslim, it was not an odd request, scholars say.

By Staff writer / December 30, 2013

This undated file photo shows Nidal Malik Hasan, who was convicted in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood that left 13 dead and more than 30 others wounded.

Bell County Sheriff's Department/AP/File

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As he awaited trial this year for killing 13 people and wounding 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, Nidal Malik Hasan requested several items: medical equipment, a clock, and a Bible.

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Mr. Hasan was eventually sentenced to death and currently awaits execution at a federal prison in Kansas. Why a radicalized Muslim would want the sacred text of Christianity is not known. His civil attorney John Galligan told NBC-TV in Dallas Monday that Hasan wanted to study parts of the Bible because he is a “deeply religious man” but denied he was experiencing a crisis of faith.

“I have some questions about the Bible. Please send a knowledgeable person to answer my difficult questions as well as a paperback copy for my personal use,” Hasan wrote in a request at Bell County Jail Complex in Belton, Texas, where he spent three years. The Dallas television outlet, which reported on the jail records Monday, said Hasan received the Bible.

It is not uncommon for Muslims to turn to the Bible to seek a deeper understanding of their own faith, says Hans Wiersma, a religion professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

“Muslims who read the Quran, and not all of them do, but ones that do notice the Quran speaks to the Bible all the time, and the people in the Bible, so it’s a natural progression of curiosity,” Professor Wiersma says.

Both the Quran and the Hadith, a secondary text sacred to Muslims, talk about Biblical figures in both New and Old Testaments, using them to either confirm or expand what Christians would recognize as familiar. For example, Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, but deny the crucifixion or resurrection.

“From a Muslim perspective, God wouldn’t do that to one of his prophets,” he says.

Muslims living in the US also tend to be more open to different interpretations of their faith than Muslims outside the US. A majority of US Muslims (57 percent) say Islam can be understood in more than one way, opposed to 37 percent who say there is only a single correct interpretation, according to the 2012 Pew report “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity.”

American Muslims are more exposed to the Bible because they are more likely than those living in Muslim countries to have relatives or friends who are of other faiths, particularly Christianity, says Besheer Mohamed, a research associate at Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project in Washington.

“Jesus was mentioned in the Quran and he is considered a prophet in Islamic teaching. So some of those similarities may lead some people to find that looking at the Bible is helpful,” Mr. Mohamed says.

To Wiersma, Hasan’s request for a Bible “makes sense” because it would be the only way for him to learn first-hand the Hebrew prophets and stories told to him through the Quran.

“Muslims are naturally curious living in a country that is predominantly Christian what does this Christian bible actually say, because in their experience, it’s been mostly flirted through the Quran,” he says.

In fact, the Quran validates Jewish and Christian believers, as long as they believe in the Quran as well.

“It seems Hasan wants to know what the followers of these other two books believe,” Wiersma says. “There’s a deep acknowledgement [in the Quran] that traditions in the Bible, and the people in the Bible, were sent by God. But [those passages have] lost legitimacy over time," which has forced some believers to pursue research on their own.

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