As coverage of the Ft. Hood shootings continues, I find myself wondering less about Major Hasan's religion than about his clothing.
Let me explain. As someone who has worn a religious habit for over 20 years, I have had to reflect a lot on what this specific uniform means in itself, for me, and for the people I encounter or meet. Within Catholic circles, my habit identifies me as a member of a community called the Daughters of St. Paul, a community with its own history, spirituality and field of work. On the streets of Chicago, my habit identifies me as a full-time “Church lady” (although that means different things to different people). For myself personally, the habit is a practical expression of simplicity of life and a daily reminder that my life, like that of Jesus, is to be at the service of others. That's a lot of meaning riding on one set of clothing!
But the media have presented Major Hasan in two distinctive uniforms: that of the U.S. Army, and the habit-like Middle-Eastern clothing he is seen wearing in a convenience store video. Each of those uniforms says something about the wearer's values, beliefs and relationships. I haven't heard otherwise, but, it's hard to imagine that Major Hasan wore Middle-Eastern styles growing up in southwestern Virginia. I was in Dearborn, Michigan last week; this city has the highest concentration of Muslims in the entire US, and while I saw many women in headscarves, I didn't see a single man in a flowing tunic.
Clothes don't make the man (nor the habit the monk), but knowing the circumstances under which this American military officer began to don the vestments of Middle-Eastern culture might help us better understand what was going on that day in Ft. Hood.
This post was originally written for the Chicago Tribune's Religion blog.