Shaving Nidal Hasan’s irreligious religious beard

I hope you’re having a day that enables some thoughtful reflection on this anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. It’s a day that changed many of our lives and is the main reason why I became interested in religion writing. Eleven years ago, I knew very little about Islam. The more I study it and read about it, the more I realize how little I know and how much I have left to learn. And the battle against Islamic terrorism continues, as this story about the trial of Fort Hood shooting suspect Nidal Hasan shows.

The Reuters piece, headlined “Fort Hood massacre suspect’s beard must go, says judge: US military judge orders forced shaving of Nidal Hasan, ruling his beard is not covered by laws protecting religious freedom,” shows how religion angles require good coverage.

Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder, coming from the shootings at Fort Hood Army base in Texas in 2009. A U.S. military judge has ordered Hasan to shave or be shaved, saying his beard is not covered by federal laws protecting religious freedom.

Colonel Gregory Gross ruled following a hearing that Hasan’s attorneys had failed to prove he had grown the beard, which he has worn since June, for religious reasons. Hasan, 41, has said he grew the beard in line with the beliefs of his Islamic faith and that it is part of his free exercise of religion.

Hasan, an army psychiatrist, faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the shootings at the army base in Texas in 2009.

“Bottom line is the judge ordered him to be forcibly shaved,” the Fort Hood spokesman Tyler Broadway said.

The story focuses on how the court of appeals for the armed forces had said that the ruling could be appealed and some background on the case Hasan is charged with. We learn how a forced shaving would work — with fairly explicit detail. But I left the story confused about the religion angles. For instance, above we’re told that the judge ruled that Hasan had failed to prove he’d grown the beard for religious reasons, but then we’re told something completely different:

Gross said army grooming regulations, which prohibit beards, overrode religion. Gross has repeatedly declared Hasan to be in contempt of court when he has appeared in court for pre-trial hearings with the beard, declaring it to be disruptive, and ordering him out of the courtroom.

So did the judge say Nasan failed to prove the beard was grown for religious reasons or did the judge say army grooming regs overrode religion? Those are two different things.

But more than anything I wonder why not a single expert on Muslim grooming could be cited. There have to be various schools of thought on this issue, right? What do they say? Do they say nothing? If nothing, that should be mentioned, too. Did Hasan just make this beard thing up? Did he have any justification? What did his defense argue? Shouldn’t these things be included in the story? And it’s not just Reuters. I had similar questions after reading this Associated Press account, too.

Image of man with beard via Shutterstock.

  • Jerry

    I have the same questions you do. But I have one other one: why is a beard a disruption to court proceedings. I understand it’s against military regulations, but disruptive beards needs explanation as well.

  • The Old Bill

    Active duty military personnel are governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, quite different from civil law. You take the oath and your rights and responsibilities are very different. There are regulations for male grooming. Beards are not permitted except for medical reasons. There have been a half-dozen exceptions for religious reasons: a rabbi, two Muslim and three Sikhs. An interesting blog entry about this is at http://christianfighterpilot.com/blog/2012/09/07/weinstein-on-accused-fort-hood-shooter-will-shave-or-be-shaved/

    Army regs are pretty clear:
    “3-68. Males will keep sideburns neatly trimmed. Sideburns may not be flared; the base of the sideburn will be a clean-shaven, horizontal line. Sideburns will not extend below the lowest part of the exterior ear opening.

    3-69. Males will keep their face clean-shaven when in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty. Mustaches are permitted. If mustaches are worn, they will be neatly trimmed, tapered, and tidy. Mustaches will not present a chopped off or bushy appearance, and no portion of the mustache will cover the upper lip line or extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from the corners of the mouth. Handlebar mustaches, goatees, and beards are not authorized. If appropriate medical authority prescribes beard growth, the length required for treatment must be specified. For example, “The length of the beard will not exceed ? inch.” Soldiers will keep the growth trimmed to the level specified by appropriate medical authority, but they are not authorized to shape the growth into goatees, or “Fu Manchu” or handlebar mustaches.”

  • The Old Bill

    Jerry,

    I’m going to take a wild guess here: The judge believed that the beard would make Hasan look different, or non-uniform. This could prejudice any proceedings against him. He would not appear to be an army officer. But as I said, I’m just guessing and could be completely wrong.

  • northcoast

    Old Bill’s wild guess would apply to anyone in the military court, and I’m sure he is right. Major Hassan evidently didn’t discover his need for facial hair until after the shooting.

  • FWKen

    The obvious question is why these religious concerns popped up now. The Guardian site even had a pre-shooting, pre-beard picture, but neither article noted the new scruples. It seems to me a more salient question than the relative weight given to religious rights versus military discipline.

  • Darren Blair

    I actually live right next to Ft. Hood, and know people who were on base at the time.
    The local media has made it a point to keep abreast of matters relating to the incident, and so sometimes we get things locally that don’t come out elsewhere.
    Based on what has been coming out in the local news, I’d say that religion has *nothing* to do with his decision to grow the beard. Instead, it’s most likely a desperate gambit to delay the trial. The evidence against him is pretty overwhelming, especially the evidence that he was unstable before he was even assigned to Ft. Hood (his co-workers at Walter Reed knew something was wrong, but reportedly didn’t want to report him for fear that they’d be branded “racists” and the matter swept under the rug). It could be that he and his lawyers fear for what might happen to him if the matter ever goes to trial, and so they’re trying to stall as long as possible.

  • unapologetic catholic

    Yes, stalling is what is called a “slow plea” in the trade. When the result is nearly inevitable, postpone the inevitable. Who knows what might happen?

  • John

    As an Army Chaplain the issue surrounding Hasan’s beard is at its heart a religious freedom issue. With that said there is no inherent violation of his rights. All Soldiers, including Christian, Jewish or Sikh (among many) who desire to follow structures of their faith that collide with Army policy must, I repeat must, follow a process called “accomodation of religious practices.” The Soldier in question must go through an interview process, that includes a Chaplain, to verify the truth and reality of the claim and request for exception to Army policy, in this case a beard. Hasan, to my knowledge, has not followed the process, so whether he is in uniform or in civilian clothes he is still an Army officer required to follow Army grooming standards. This stunt of his is not based on religious conviction, but a blatant ploy to corrupt the process with cries of religious persecution and thus an unfair judicial process. Further, it appears to be an attempt to exploit the judicial process to his advantage and to the disadvantage of justice. This entire event is reminiscent of detainees in Iraq/Afghanistan who cried “torture” in order to stall the process of their detention and trial, as well as inflame the minds of those sympathetic to their “terroristic acts of freedom fighting,” cry woolf and see the entire town come running. . . Tell me what you think.


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