U.S. NAVY MUSLIM CHAPLAIN CORPS HARD SHOULDER BOARDS

Meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of Sailors, particularly those deployed in forward operating areas, is obviously one of the prime duties of a Navy Chaplain. For Muslim Chaplains, the nature of the Global War on Terror means they are faced with a two-fold mission: ministering directly to Navy personnel, and keeping commanders informed of the spiritual, religious, and cultural needs and norms of both Muslim Sailors and of local populations.

With the end of the Cold War at the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the United States Navy and other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces were increasingly deployed to Muslim-majority nations. Understanding religious practices and orientations was vital in order to ensure that otherwise fragile coalitions would not fall apart due to cultural misunderstandings, and is doubtless one of the reasons the U.S. Military began to actively seek Chaplains from faiths such as Buddhism and Islam during the first half of the 1990s.

For counsel on how to instruct Sailors and Soldiers stationed in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on the types of behavior that were respectful and considerate of the local populace with whom they would be interacting, the Department of Defense turned to W. D. Mohamed, a one-time leader of the Nation of Islam in the U.S. who had transitioned that organization into the World Community of Al-Islam in the West. Mohammed played a key role in helping the military appreciate the contributions that U.S. Muslims could make to military efforts, both by serving as enlisted personnel and by helping their fellow Soldiers and Sailors achieve a better understanding of Muslim Culture. Mohammed also played a significant role in the Department of Defense’s decision to add Islam to the faiths that would be officially represented in the Chaplain Corps of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

Among the efforts the Navy has made to make its Sailors aware of the tenets of the Muslim faith and to minister to its adherents have been educational programs on holy celebrations such as the month-long observance of Ramadan and the subsequent three-day festival of Eid ul-Fitr, the deployment of a Muslim Chaplain to minister to detainees awaiting military trial at Guantanamo Bay, and giving permission for Sailors on active duty to make the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, when doing so does not endanger other Sailors or impact ship safety.

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