Muslim Chaplains: A Presence in the Military, Prisons, Hospitals, Universities and Beyond

August 31, 2006

Source: Chicago Tribune,1,5932662.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

On August 31, 2006 the Chicago Tribune reported, "When Lt. Abuhena Saif-ul-Islam first arrived at the Camp Pendleton military base in California, recruits often asked the Muslim chaplain what the crescent on his lapel meant. Saif-ul-Islam, a Bangladeshi immigrant, jokingly told them he was an astronaut. Nowadays, fewer sailors find the Islamic symbol unfamiliar. But Saif-ul-Islam, a U.S. Navy chaplain since 1999, still is questioned often about his religion during training sessions he conducts at bases across the nation. 'They want to know if non-Muslims can go into a mosque,' Saif-ul-Islam said. 'They ask why people in Iraq are behaving [violently] if Islam is so peaceful. It's a genuine question.' Though the questions are constant, his role as chaplain has changed since the early days, Saif-ul-Islam said Wednesday at a conference of Muslim chaplains in Rosemont, attended by dozens of chaplains assigned to hospitals, universities, prisons and military bases nationwide. He still spends time doing what any military chaplain would do: providing counseling, facilitating at funerals and assisting soldiers who might suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Like other chaplains, he provides these services to all soldiers, regardless of religious denomination. As a Muslim chaplain, he spends time teaching non-Muslim soldiers about religious customs that would help them serve in places like Iraq, such as not wearing shoes in mosques and providing lighter duties for Muslim soldiers who might be fasting during Ramadan. But as the number of Muslim chaplains has grown--and the Muslim community has become more familiar with the role of a chaplain--Saif-ul-Islam and others also can turn attention to details that before might have been neglected, Muslim scholars say."