Don't Be Treacherous! A Look at Nidal Malik Hasan's Actions in Light of Islamic Teachings 


Bassam Zawadi


On November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire in the Soldier Readiness Center of Fort Hood, Texas, and killed 13 people and wounded approximately 30 others. 

Some strongly oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and could not help but feel that Nidal did something good. After all, he wasn't some crazed psychopath intending to kill civilians and women and children. Rather, he intended to kill those soldiers who were going to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who probably themselves were going to end up killing Muslims or at least play a role in that task. Looking at it from that perspective, one might be able to rationalize Nidal's actions and not find them blameworthy. 

Despite the temptation to do such a thing, we cannot and should not as Muslims. We are Muslims, and that means that we don't derive our moral values from culture, our emotions, our desires, our finite rationality, from a role model we admire, etc. Instead, we only judge moral actions in light of what Allah (i.e., Qur'an) and His Messenger (i.e., authentic Sunnah, which was revealed to him by Allah) have to say about the matter. We do not condemn Nidal's actions to appease the Americans or the rest of the Western world. We are not here to compromise our beliefs for political correctness. If Nidal's actions were Islamic, then we would absolutely praise it regardless of anyone's opinions, but the fact is that Nidal's actions were not. 

The focus of this article is on treachery. The reason why I am focusing on this one in particular is because I know how some Islamic critics would respond to the condemnation of Nidal's actions by Muslims. They would say that Islam praises Nidal's deceit and trickery because the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:  

Saheeh Bukhari 

Volume 4, Book 52, Number 269 

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:

The Prophet said, "War is deceit." 

So critics will state that this hadith provided Nidal with the Islamic justification he needed to deceive and trick the US military into thinking he was on their side and then turn against them and shoot them right in the back. 

Is that really the case? Does deception in war really entail that? Is deception in war something immoral to begin with? 

Sun Tzu, the author of the famous book "The Art of War," states: "Deception in war is nothing new." He also stated, "All war is deception." Deceptive tactics were common in World War 2 and are still common. 

But how about treachery? 

There is a vast difference between 1) Deception and 2) Treachery 

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) forbade treachery: 

Saheeh Bukhari

Volume 1, Book 2, Number 33:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Amr: 

The Prophet said, "Whoever has the following four (characteristics) will be a pure hypocrite and whoever has one of the following four characteristics will have one characteristic of hypocrisy unless and until he gives it up. 

1. Whenever he is entrusted, he betrays.

2. Whenever he speaks, he tells a lie.

3. Whenever he makes a covenant, he proves treacherous.

4. Whenever he quarrels, he behaves in a very imprudent, evil and insulting manner."

Saheeh Muslim

Book 019, Number 4294:

Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war, do not embezzle the spoils; do not break your pledge; and do not mutilate (the dead) bodies; do not kill the children.

"Do not break your pledge" is a translation of ‏ولا‏ ‏تغدروا [wala taghdiru] (see original Arabic text of hadith here), which means "do not commit treachery". 

So here we see that Islam permits deception in war, yet disallows treachery. Is this a contradiction? No, not at all.

Sheikh Al Munajjid states: 

Islam has forbidden treachery, and treachery is not one of the kinds of tricks and deception that are permitted in war.

This Islamic sharee'ah makes a distinction between the kinds of deceit that are permitted and that which involves treachery and breaks treaties. 

Deceit in war simply means deceiving your enemies into thinking that your strategy is A while it is actually B or causing confusion and chaos amongst their ranks.

Treachery, on the other hand, basically means betrayal of trust.

The famous book of Hanafi jurisprudence Fathul Qadeer states: 

والغدر : الخيانة  ونقض العهد

Treachery means: Betrayal and nullification of a covenant. (Ibn Al-Hammam, Fathul Qadeer, Volume 12, page 408) 

Shafi'i jurist Al-Maawardi states:


والغدر: أن يقتل بعد أمانة

 Treachery means: to be killed after being promised safety. (Al-Maawardi, Al Haawi Al Kabeer, Volume 12, page 53) 

Al-Tabari tells us what kind of deception is allowed: 

وإنما الذي أذن فيه من ذلك يعني الكذبـ كالذي فعله بالأحزاب عام الخندق

And as for the situations in it being permitted - that is lying - is like what was done to the Ahzab, the year of the ditch. (Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Tadheeb Al Aathaar, Volume 1, page 113)   

The example that Al-Tabari is referring to is the Battle of the Ditch, with the specific incident being: 

A man from the tribe of Ghatfan called Na'im bin Mas'ud asked to be admitted in the audience of the Prophet [pbuh]. He declared that he had embraced Islam secretly and asked the Prophet [pbuh] to order him do anything that might benefit the Muslims. The Prophet [pbuh] asked him to do anything that could help the Muslims in the present distress and use any strategem of avail. The man, in a shuttle movement, between the Jews, Quraish and Ghatfan managed to incite each party to let down the other. He went to see the chiefs of Banu Quraiza and whispered in their ears not to trust Quraish nor fight with them unless the latter pledged some hostages. He tried to lend support to his counsel by claiming that Quraish would forsake them if they perceived that victory over Muhammad [pbuh] was far fetched, and the Muslims then would have terrible revenge on them. Na'im, then headed for the camp of Quraish and managed to practise a similar strategem in its final result but different in content. He claimed that he felt that the Jews regretted breaching their covenant with Muhammad [pbuh] and his followers. He told them that the Jews maintained regular correspondence with the Muslims to the effect that Quraishite hostages be sent to the camp of the Muslims with full Jewish allegiance paid to them as already agreed upon. Na'im then exhorted Quraish not to send hostages to the Jews. On a third errand, he did the same with the people of Ghatfan. (Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, Chapter on Al-Ahzab (The Confederates) Invasion, Source) 

Here, we see that the Muslims deceived their enemies who were not in a covenant with them. This kind of deception is allowed. 

As for treachery: 

Malik's Muwatta

Book 21, Number 21.4.12:

Yahya related to me from Malik from a man of Kufa that Umar ibn al-Khattab wrote to a lieutenant of an army which he had sent out, "I have heard that it is the habit of some of your men to chase an unbeliever till he takes refuge in a high place. Then one man tells him in Persian not to be afraid, and when he comes up to him, he kills him. By He in whose hand my self is, if I knew someone who had done that, I would strike off his head." 

Yahya said, I heard Malik say, "This tradition is not unanimously agreed upon, so one does not act on it." 

Malik when asked whether safe conduct promised by gesture had the same status as that promised by speech, said, "Yes. I think that one can request an army not to kill someone by gesturing for safe conduct, because as far as I am concerned, gesture has the same status as speech.

Notice the story of Umar ibn Al Khattab. He heard about Muslims purposely lying to their enemies and falsely promising them safety. This is clear treachery, and Umar condemned it. 

The isnad of this story is: 

Man from Kufa - Malik - Yahya (see original Arabic text here) 

Because we cannot identify who the first person in the chain is, the narration becomes weak. However, despite the weakness in the chain, we see that its meaning is correct and accepted by the scholars, as indicated later on in Imam Malik's statement. 

Ibn Abbas is also reported to have said: 

Book 21, Number 21.13.26: 

Yahya related to me from Malik from Yahya ibn Said that he had heard that Abdullah ibn Abbas said, "Stealing from the spoils does not appear in a people but that terror is cast into their hearts. Fornication does not spread in a people but that there is much death among them. A people do not lessen the measure and weight but that provision is cut off from them. A people do not judge without right but that blood spreads among them. A people do not betray the pledge but that Allah gives their enemies power over them." 

Hence, we see that the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) took a strong stance against treachery. 

Imam Al-Nawawi states: 

واتفق العلماء على جواز خداع الكفار في الحرب , وكيف أمكن الخداع إلا أن يكون فيه نقض عهد أو أمان فلا يحل

The scholars have agreed that it is permissible to deceive the kuffaar during times of war regardless of how it is achieved as long as it doesn't lead to breaking any covenant or promise of safety, for this is not allowed. (Imam Al-Nawawi, Sharh Saheeh Muslim, Kitab: Al Jihad wal Sayr, Bab: Jawaaz Al Khidaa' fil Harb, Commentary on Hadith no. 3273, Source) 

We read the following story: 

Sunan Abu Dawud

Book 38, Number 4346:

Narrated Sa'd ibn AbuWaqqas:

On the day of the conquest of Mecca, Abdullah ibn Sa'd ibn AbuSarh hid himself with Uthman ibn Affan.

He brought him and made him stand before the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him), and said: Accept the allegiance of Abdullah, Apostle of Allah! He raised his head and looked at him three times, refusing him each time, but accepted his allegiance after the third time.

Then turning to his companions, he said: Was not there a wise man among you who would stand up to him when he saw that I had withheld my hand from accepting his allegiance, and kill him?

They said: We did not know what you had in your heart, Apostle of Allah! Why did you not give us a signal with your eye?

He said: It is not advisable for a Prophet to play deceptive tricks with the eyes. (Shaykh Al-Albani declared this hadeeth authentic in Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith no. 2334)

Notice how the Prophet (peace be upon him) refused to deceive Ibn Abi Sarh by making him think he was safe, but he was actually signaling his companions to assassinate him. This shows that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not commit treachery, even against his worst enemies.

We read elsewhere: 

 كان بين معاوية وبين الروم عهد ، وكان يسير نحو بلادهم حتى إذا انقضى العهد غزاهم ، فجاء رجل على فرس أو برذون وهو يقول : الله أكبر ، الله أكبر ، وفاء لا غدر . فنظروا فإذا هو عمرو بن عبسة ، فأرسل إليه معاوية ، فسأله ، فقال : سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول : من كان بينه وبين قوم عهد فلا يشد عقدة ولا يحلها ، حتى ينقضي أمدها ، أو ينبذ إليهم على سواء ، فرجع معاوية

There used to be a covenant between Muawiyah and the Romans, and he (i.e., Muawiyah) was marching towards them to attack them just in case the covenant broke. So, a man on a horse or hackney came and said: Allah is Great! Allah is Great! Loyalty and no treachery! So, they saw that it was Amro ibn 'Absa, so Muawiyah summoned for him and asked him, so the man said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say: Whoever had a covenant with a people should not strengthen or abandon it until its limit has reached or has been equally dissolved by both sides. So Muawiyah retreated. (Ibn Daqeeq Al Eid, Al Iqtiraah, page 120; the story is authentic)

So here we see that the Muslim army refused to break the covenant and caught the opposing side by surprise by committing treachery.

So, what is the crucial difference between deceiving in war and committing treachery in war? The difference is that treachery requires breaking a trust, while deception necessarily doesn't. That is the key point to remember. Hence, you can deceive in war without being treacherous because you were never loyal to your enemy in the first place to have betrayed him. 

Hanafi jurist Abi Al-Barakaat Al-Nasafi (d. 710 A.H.) states (paraphrasing the meaning of his words): 

فلا بد من النبذ تحرزا عن الغدر ولا بد من اعتبار مدة يبلغ خبر النبذ إلى جميعهم ويكتفى في ذلك بمضي مدة يتمكن ملكهم بعد عمله بالنبذ من إنفاذ الخبر إلى أطراف مملكته

We must carefully abandon betrayal, and we must ensure that an appropriate amount of time is given to them. Hence, they are aware of the termination of the covenant and that the news can reach all corners of their kingdom. (Abi Al-Barakaat Al-Nasafi, Al Bahr Al Raa'iq Sharh Kunz Al Raqaa'iq, Volume 13, page 319) 

Maliki jurist Imam al-Qurtubi said: 

It is not permissible to attack them (the enemy) until they know with insight what their affair is (in terms of a return to hostilities) and they are warned (that war may befall them). This was the basis for everything that the people of infidelity felt was a covenant and a trust from the Muslims. (Kitaab ul-Injaad fi Abwaab il-Jihaad, Volume 2, page 310) 

Here, we see that Islamic scholars have been very strict about treachery, so much to the extent that Muslims are required to ensure that the news for ending a treaty has reached all of the opposing sides before attacking them!

After all this, we see that the kind of deception allowed in war is tricking your enemy into thinking you're marching North while you are marching West. Or to make your enemy think you are attacking at noon while you actually attack at dawn.

The kind of treachery forbidden is making a promise to your enemy and making them trust you, yet you break your promise to them.

The distinction is very clear.

Nidal Malik Hasan clearly committed treachery because: 

1) He was under a covenant with the US government and military.

2) He broke that covenant without informing the other side.

Clearly, then, we can conclude that Nidal Malik Hasan's actions on November 5, 2009, were in direct contradiction to Islamic teachings and must, therefore, be condemned on that basis.




Sam Shamoun has responded to my article over here.

Shamoun said:

It is apparent that Zawadi hasn't bothered to study Major Hasan's power point presentation. In that presentation which was given two years before Nidal Hasan went on his murder spree he had warned the U.S. that they suffered the risk of potential attacks if they refused to allow Muslims the right to refuse to join U.S. forces in their military campaigns against fellow Muslims.

Yes, he indeed said that, but how is that relevant? Where do we see Hasan telling the army that if they were to force him to go fight overseas, then he would go on a killing spree? Saying that something might happen is not the same as clearly stating it will. If Hasan did indeed make himself clear that he would go on a murder rampage if they were to force him to go overseas, then why on earth was the US Army stupid enough to ignore such a threat? I am no fan of the US Army, but I don't believe they are stupid. They interpreted Hasan's words as him being a neutral observer of the actions of some Muslims and how they might react and not that he was necessarily speaking about himself. The fact that he didn't make himself clear still makes his act treacherous and anti-Islamic, as I have previously explained above in the article.

Shamoun then proceeds to speak about the concept of Muslims befriending non-Muslims. We have already discussed this here, and you can also read about the Christian view here

Shamoun said:

According to the Quran the only time a Muslim can befriend a disbeliever is if s/he lives in a situation in which the unbelievers outnumber them and/or the Muslims do not have the ability to subjugate them:

Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers. Whoso doeth that hath no connection with Allah unless (it be) that ye but guard yourselves against them, taking (as it were) security. Allah biddeth you beware (only) of Himself. Unto Allah is the journeying. S. 3:28 Pickthall

Shamoun needs to pay better attention to the verse, which states:

Let not the believers take disbelievers for their friends in preference to believers.

Also, Shamoun has to distinguish between being " friends " and having a peace treaty with someone. This has already been clarified here.

Shamoun then cites Surah 9:3 to try and prove that in Islam, one could break covenants of security

And a declaration from Allah and His Messenger to mankind on the greatest day (the 10th of Dhul Hijjah - the 12th month of Islamic calendar) that Allah is free from (all) obligations to the Mushrikun (see V.2:105) and so is His Messenger.

But Shamoun doesn't emphasize to us what the next verse states:

Except those of the Mushrikun with whom you have a treaty, and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor have supported anyone against you. So fulfill their treaty to them to the end of their term.

Notice what the verse is saying. It is saying that those polytheists whom the Muslims are in a peace treaty with and did not break the treaty and abided by it are not to be fought. What does this tell us? This tells us that the polytheists who are to be fought are those who either don't have a peace treaty because they never made one or they broke it.

Shamoun said:

The Quran also informs Muslims to break their treaties with those who have proven to be treacherous:

And if thou fearest treachery from any folk, then throw back to them (their treaty) fairly. Lo! Allah loveth not the treacherous. S. 8:58

Again, what could be more treacherous than Western armies "invading" Muslim lands and aiding them in that purpose? In fact, is there anything worse from an Islamic point of view than western forces coming to Muslim lands with a purpose of establishing democratic governments based on western values as opposed to helping to set up a system which seeks to implement Shariah or the rule of Allah as "revealed" in the Quran and the sunna of his messenger? And what could be evil Islamically speaking than Muslims inviting or allowing such "infidel" armies to come and wreak "havoc" in their lands by taking over in order to set up their "infidel" forms of government?

First of all, Hasan joined the US Army at a time when the US Army was already known for supporting the state of Israel against Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians). If Hasan had a problem allying himself with such a government, then why did he join and then make a fake proclamation of loyalty to the US Army, which only proved to be treacherous later on? It wasn't the US Army that was being treacherous here. They never promised Hasan that they wouldn't invade Muslim lands. That was not part of the pact. Hence, it cannot be said that the US Army committed treachery; it was Hasan's fault for joining such an army. Furthermore, the Quran states that Muslims are not to support other Muslims against disbelievers whom they have a peace treaty with:

Surah 8:72

Surely those who believed and fled (their homes) and struggled hard in Allah's way with their property and their souls, and those who gave shelter and helped -- these are guardians of each other; and (as for) those who believed and did not fly, not yours is their guardianship until they fly; and if they seek aid from you in the matter of religion, aid is incumbent on you except against a people between whom and you there is a treaty, and Allah sees what you do.

There was a time when the Prophet (peace be upon him) refused to assist a Muslim in order to maintain the peace treaty he had with the disbelievers:

It was during this time while the treaty was being written that Abu Jandal, Suhail's son, appeared on the scene. He was brutally chained and was staggering with privation and fatigue. The Prophet [pbuh] and his Companions were moved to pity and tried to secure his release but Suhail was adamant and said: "To signify that you are faithful to your contract, an opportunity has just arrived." The Prophet [pbuh] said: "But the treaty was not signed when your son entered the camp." Upon this, he burst forth and said, "but the terms of the treaty were agreed upon." It was indeed an anxious moment. On the one hand, Abu Jandal was lamenting at the top of his voice, "Am I to be returned to the polytheists that they might entice me from my religion, O Muslims!" but, on the other hand, the faithful engagement was also considered to be necessary, above all other considerations. The Prophet's heart welled up with sympathy, but he wanted to honour his word at all costs. He consoled Abu Jandal and said, "Be patient, resign yourself to the Will of Allâh. Allâh is going to provide for you and your helpless companions relief and means of escape. We have concluded a treaty of peace with them and we have taken the pledge in the Name of Allâh. We are, therefore, under no circumstances prepared to break it." (Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, Chapter on Al-Hudaibiyah TreatySource)

Now, the reason why the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not help the Muslims was because one of the conditions of the treaty explicitly said that he shouldn't:

  1. The Muslims shall return this time and come back next year, but they shall not stay in Makkah for more than three days.
  2. They shall not come back armed but can bring with them swords only sheathed in scabbards and these shall be kept in bags.
  3. War activities shall be suspended for ten years, during which both parties will live in full security and neither will raise sword against the other.
  4. If anyone from Quraish goes over to Muhammad [pbuh] without his guardian's permission, he should be sent back to Quraish, but should any of Muhammad's followers return to Quraish, he shall not be sent back.
  5. Whosoever wishes to join Muhammad [pbuh], or enter into treaty with him, should have the liberty to do so; and likewise whosoever wishes to join Quraish, or enter into treaty with them, should be allowed to do so. (Ibid.)

It all has to do with the conditions of the treaty. Suppose Hasan made an unconditional proclamation of loyalty to the US Army (i.e. he didn't stipulate that his loyalty is based on the condition that the US Army doesn't fight Muslims). In that case, he has no right to break that treaty. He should have chosen to abandon the army and go to jail instead of committing treachery and going on a murder spree.

Secondly, Hasan has no governmental authority or say in this matter. Suppose the Muslim leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan today are welcoming US Troops into their countries to fight whom they view to be corrupt Muslims. In that case, Hasan has no authority to overrule that decision. Hence, Hasan here is actually not representing any body of Muslim authority today. He is a loner with support from a small band of ill-informed Muslims scattered throughout the world. Indeed, it may be said that it is a crime for Muslim governments to let the US Army invade their countries, but at the end of the day, they are the ones in control and not people like me or Hasan

Shamoun said:

And didn't we also see how Muslim scholars claim that it is expressly forbidden to fight alongside the "disbelievers," especially when its against fellow Muslims?

We want to say that the Hanafi school of thought does take the position that Muslims could fight other Muslims alongside disbelievers if the Muslims they are fighting against are criminals (i.e., criminals in the eyes of Islam).

As I previously said, even though Hasan believed fighting against other Muslims is forbidden, he should have left the army or gone to jail as an alternative to the steps he ended up taking.

Shamoun said:

Now as far as oaths are concerned we find in the so-called sound-narratives Muhammad expressly telling his followers that they could break their word and promises if it means doing something that is better:

Narrated 'Abdur-Rahman bin Samura:
The Prophet said, "O 'Abdur-Rahman! Do not seek to be a ruler, for if you are given authority on your demand then you will be held responsible for it, but if you are given it without asking (for it), then you will be helped (by Allah) in it. If you ever take an oath to do something and later on you find that something else is better, then you should expiate your oath and do what is better." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 89, Number 260)

Again, what could be better from an Islamic perspective than killing the "enemies" of Allah who were planning to "attack" Muslim lands?

This hadith doesn't justify treachery, as I explained a long time back here.

The way the scholars have understood this hadith is that if you realize that you took an oath that was Islamically forbidden to begin with, then you must break it.
For example, Nidal pledged his loyalty to the US Army. Now he has realized that this unconditional pledge of loyalty was wrong because now the US Army is invading Muslim lands and carelessly killing many Pakistani and Afghani Muslim families. He cannot be loyal to such a cause; hence, he must break his loyalty oath.
However, just because he discovered that being loyal to invading Muslim lands is wrong, he cannot jump from there to committing treachery on a peaceful treaty. Why not? Because committing treachery on a peace treaty itself is Islamically forbidden. The entire wisdom behind why Islam allows people to break oaths in certain situations is that people mistakenly take an oath to do something Islamically forbidden at times, and Islam granting them the ability to break that oath gives them a chance to escape doing the sinful act. However, for one to break his oath to commit another sinful act is still sinful and misses the entire point of the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him). 

Shamoun brings up the story of Surah 66 to show that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was allowed to break his oath to his wives. We thank Shamoun very much for this example, which clearly interprets the hadith he just cited. The oath that the Prophet (peace be upon him) took was wrong in and of itself because he forbade something permissible for himself. This is wrong, just as Allah told him in Surah 66:1, for it is only Allah who has the right to forbid things for us. Because the oath was Islamically wrong, the Prophet (peace be upon him ) was allowed to break it. After he broke it, he did not do anything wrong. However, Nidal breaking his oath the way that he did was Islamically wrong, for it was treachery. He could have broken his oath in other ways (e.g., demoting himself, leaving the army, etc.)

Shamoun said:

Muhammad also expressly violated one of the stipulations of the treaty which he made with the Meccans: 

It's amazing Shamoun still uses this argument even though I have clearly demolished this argument of his several years back in this exchange we had (*,*,*) 

Let me also add that even if it were true that the Muslims broke the treaty, then it was only with the authority of Allah that they broke it and not by their authority. Since the revelation has stopped, no one today has the authority to break such treaties. This blows Shamoun's entire argument away. 

In conclusion, Shamoun still hasn't shown us how the Forthood Massacre is Islamically justified.



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