Soldier of Faith

January 20, 2008

Author: Caryle Murphy

Source: The Washington Post

IN THE SHANK OF A DESERT EVENING IN APRIL 2001, as the hour for Muslim prayer drew near, Shareda Hosein crawled out of her bunk in the huge warehouse doubling as a female barracks. She was in Kuwait for her annual two-week training with a U.S. Army Reserve unit. For some time now, she had been pondering a new career path. And, as she headed for the nearby chapel on the sand-buffeted U.S. base, she wondered if her idea could ever fly in the male-dominated traditions that have been so central to her life for so long: the U.S. military and Islam. Should she pass up her dream or press on with it?

The Reserve major, who stands 4 feet 10 inches tall and has maple syrup smooth skin, was looking for a sign.

She found it, of course, when she least expected it.

Inside the chapel, a male Muslim soldier was trying, with some difficulty, to teach a female soldier the precise moves of the obligatory, pre-prayer washing of hands, face and feet.

"She doesn't know how to make the ablution, could you help her out?" he asked Shareda.

The two women went to the ladies room where, at the sink, Shareda demonstrated the ritual performed by Muslims for more than 1,300 years. Suddenly, it hit her. Here was God's whispered blessing for the unusual goal she had set for herself: to become the first female Muslim chaplain in the U.S military.