Seeking to avoid the controversy that ensued when the United States Navy appointed its first Jewish Chaplain without having a Chaplain Corps insignia in hand that indicated the faith he represented, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board commissioned The Institute of Heraldry to design an insignia for Buddhist Chaplains in 1990. The Institute promptly unveiled the design, which was adopted in August of that year.

In late 1992, the U.S. Army’s Chief of Chaplains submitted a similar request for Muslim Chaplains to the Department of the Army, and the Institute’s design—a silver crescent—was approved on the 8th of January, 1993. What is particularly interesting about the Muslim Chaplain Corps insignia is that while the crescent is instantly recognized as an emblem of the Islamic faith, many Muslim scholars go out of their way to explain that there is no directive in the Koran or the Hadith that believers should employ a crescent as a means of identifying their faith in and allegiance to Allah.

The use of a crescent or a combination of a crescent and star, in fact, seems to be more related to the widespread influence of the Ottoman Empire than anything else. As both a Muslim nation and a major worldwide power, Turkey’s flag featuring a crescent and star were ineluctably associated with Islam. Peruse the current flags of many of the nation’s that were at one time or another within the Ottoman Empire—Tunisia, Algiers, Azerbaijan, and Mauritania, for example—and you find the crescent and star.

Many Muslim teachers point out that neither the Prophet Muhammad nor any other early successors used any type of emblem such as a crescent, preferring instead to use text such as the Shahada in order to avoid comparisons to the practices of the adherents of other “people of the book” (crosses by Christians, Stars of David by Jews, etc.). Another reason my Muslim teachers are adamant about the fact that the crescent is not any sort of official symbol of Islam is that some of its detractors have pointed to it and postulated that it means Muslims worship the moon, or that Allah is a “moon god,” neither of which is even remotely hinted at in the Koran or other holy writings of Islam.

However, there is one fact that is beyond question: Sailors seeing the crescent being worn by a Chaplain know that he is a teacher of Islam. To that extent, the design of the insignia has certainly achieved its purpose.

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