COLUMBIA — Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded at least 30 others in a mass shooting Thursday. Hasan is a Muslim.
Jason Rodriguez killed one person and injured five others in a mass shooting on Friday in Orlando, Fla. Who knows Rodriguez's religion?
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, posed that question Friday. While Hooper said news reports could not avoid including Hasan's faith once it came up, he added that this angle needs to be kept in perspective.
"One disturbed individual is not representative of American Muslims or of Islam as a faith," Hooper said.
Most media reports of the shooting — including an Associated Press story on the Missourian's home page Friday — included the fact that Hasan was a Muslim within the first few paragraphs.
"Soldiers who witnessed the shooting rampage at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead reported that the gunman shouted 'Allahu Akbar!'" — an Arabic phrase for "God is great!" — Friday's Associated Press story began.
A "total lack of reliability" exists when it comes to eyewitness testimony, said David McDonald, an MU psychology professor. There are a "mountain of studies saying eyewitness testimony is worthless," McDonald said.
Ismail Hameduddin, outreach officer for the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, questioned the relevancy of including the shooter's religion at all.
"If a Christian did something like this and was psychologically impaired, people don't mention he was a Christian. I don't see why it's relevant," Hameduddin said.
Studies have shown that demographic information — such as religion — at the beginning of a story can color what people take away from it. MU Equity Director Noel English said that kind of information in a news report is what people tend to remember.
MU Equity is part of the Chancellors Diversity Initiative, a program designed to make MU a more inclusive campus.
If news organizations decide including religion in a story is necessary, they need to provide context, Hameduddin said.
"Islam does not condone these kinds of things," he said, adding that perhaps stories should have mentioned that Hasan is not a very aware Muslim.
News reports need to avoid assigning a level of religious devotion to a person and then suggesting that as a motive for a crime, he said.
"If you say one religion is more dangerous than another, that is something we object to," Hooper said.
People in Columbia are generally open-minded, Hameduddin said, and most realize that the actions of one Muslim do not represent the Islamic faith as a whole. In larger cities, however, he has seen people react harshly toward Muslims after an unfavorable news report.
Hooper said the American-Islamic Relations Council has received hate calls and messages, and leaders have been threatened. But, he said, the council has also received support from non-Muslims.
The hate calls and e-mails are a "fact of life in the post-9/11 era," Hooper said.
Furqaan Sadiq, a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and coordinator of the Muslim Speakers Bureau of Columbia, said he worries that focusing on religion in the media reaffirms negative stereotypes about Muslims.
People need to remember that U.S. Muslims feel great sadness about this tragedy as other Americans do, Sadiq said. An incident like this affects everyone, he said, adding that quite a few Muslims belong to the military.
"Many American Muslims are active citizens and want to give back to this country," Sadiq said. His own father works at the Fort Campbell military base in northern Kentucky.
Thursday's incident at Fort Hood will serve as a call to action from American Muslims to engage with their neighbors and show this is wrong, Sadiq said.