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.