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Muslim Chaplain Talks about Life in US Military

This undated photo provided by Army Col. Khallid Shabazz, right, in January 2022, shows him with with Spc. Savannah Spencer, who requested that Shabazz say a dua prayer for her baby. (Courtesy Khallid Shabazz via AP)
This undated photo provided by Army Col. Khallid Shabazz, right, in January 2022, shows him with with Spc. Savannah Spencer, who requested that Shabazz say a dua prayer for her baby. (Courtesy Khallid Shabazz via AP)
Muslim Chaplain Talks about Life in US Military
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United States Army officer Khallid Shabazz is one of a very small number of American military chaplains who are Muslim. Colonel Shabazz is also the highest-level Muslim chaplain in the U.S. military, says the Army Times newspaper.

Although he has had great success, Shabazz has faced many difficulties in his life.

Highest ranking Muslim chaplain in U.S. military

A chaplain is a person who performs religious services and gives help and guidance to people.

Shabazz serves as command chaplain for U.S. Army Central, the command responsible for land operations in the Middle East.

With his position as a colonel, Shabazz is now responsible for tens of thousands of soldiers and supervises other chaplains. Like all military chaplains, he has to be ready to deal with soldiers of all religions.

“The majority of my job is counseling about domestic issues or” other kinds of difficulties “and only one percent of my job is actual religious counseling,” Shabazz explained.

Still, in order to better understand Christian soldiers who make up the majority of the military, Shabazz continued to study Christianity. He even got a doctorate in Christian theology from North Texas Theological Seminary.

Shabazz became a Muslim as a young man. He believes his experience with both religions has helped to make him a better chaplain.

Difficult past

Shabazz has had success despite difficult times in the past.

As a child, Shabazz was sexually abused by a family friend — an experience, he said, that left him an angry young man.

When he first went to college, he said, he became friendly with the wrong crowd. He began drinking alcohol and partying and often found himself in violent disagreements. It was during one of these drunken fights that he was beaten and shot in the back.

He survived but decided to put his studies on hold. He went back to Louisiana, his home state. The only job he could find was as a cleaner at a large store.

With few choices available to him, Shabazz joined the military.

It was there he first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

“I found a lot to inspire me in his story,” said Shabazz. He added, “I wanted to be educated and to stand for something bigger than myself. So I decided to become like Malcolm….”

Shabazz’s new identity as a Muslim came in the early 1990’s. The change was not received well by all. He faced discrimination from other soldiers and the displeasure of his Christian family. He was ready to quit the military.

Then he met with an Army chaplain. The officer persuaded Shabazz not only to stay in the army but to become a chaplain himself.

Shabazz became a chaplain in 1998, having studied Arabic in Jordan along the way. He also earned two master's degrees at universities in Connecticut and California.

Shabazz says there are five Muslim chaplains in the army, three in the Air Force, and one in the Navy.

Shabazz added there is more work to be done. Unlike other faiths, Shabazz said, he has not met any Muslim chaplain assistants — officers who help chaplains in their work.

But, he said, “It’s easier today to be a Muslim soldier in the army than when I began.”

I’m John Russell.

Joseph Hammond reported on this story for Religion News Service. The Associated Press distributed the story. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. _____________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

chaplain – n. a religious leader who performs services for a military group (such as the army)

inspire v. to make (someone) want to do something : to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create

counseling -- n. advice and support that is given to people to help them deal with problems, make important decisions, etc.​

domestic -- adj. relating to or involving someone's home or family​

theology – n. the study of religious faith, practice, and experience