Islamic Chaplain Serves DoD’s Largest Muslim Community
The Air Force Times profiles Chaplain (Capt) Sharior Rahman, who is one of two Islamic Chaplains in the US Air Force. (The other is Chaplain (Capt) Walid Habash; it is unclear what became of Chaplain (Capt) Abdulah Hamza Al-Mubarak, who was the Air Force’s first Islamic Chaplain and served at the Air Force Academy until a few years ago.)
Rahman serves at Lackland AFB — gateway for all enlisted recruits — and reportedly has more than 500 attend his weekly services. By some counts, there are perhaps 5,000 Muslims in the entire US military. How is it his congregation at a single base is so large?
Lackland is home to the Defense Language Institute English Language Center. While there may be Islamic American military members in his services, there is an extremely large population of foreign military members at Lackland — around 1,000 from more than 100 countries — learning the English language. Students include Iraqis, Sudanese, and Afghans, to name just a few. In fact, nearly 300 Afghans — an almost exclusively Islamic country — have graduated from DLIELC over the past two years.
For his part, the Chaplain speaks five languages and is learning another, which almost certainly makes him an asset to the international community there.
His schedule is full even beyond the five-times daily prayers and Friday services:
He gets calls from commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan wanting to know the protocol for building a mosque. He sits down with doctors and nurses who want to know about patient privacy issues for Muslim patients. He provides guidance to the Air Force Chief of Chaplains office. He has even traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to visit detainees.
(Imagine, for a moment, if a commander asked a Chaplain for protocol on building a church…)
While Chaplains are most known for their roles in meeting the religious needs of like-minded adherents, they actually serve a diverse range of functions, including advising the command on issues of religion in general — not just their own faith. Rahman’s presence at Lackland seems to be a positive indicator of the Air Force’s attempts to protect the religious freedom of all the military members under its care — even those from foreign countries. Despite an occasional accusation to the contrary, US military Chaplains can help meet the needs of allied and other supporting countries serving with the US. Rahman also helps meet the needs of understanding Islam in an era in which Air Force and other military members are engaged around the world in predominantly Islamic societies.
Whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or something else, the military makes admirable, if not always perfect, attempts to uphold and encourage members of specific faiths even as they serve their country and defend those freedoms for others.
Photo caption: Chaplain (Capt.) Sharior Rahman, an Air Force Imam, holds the sajjud position during salah in the prayer hall of the Defense Language Institute Student Center, Lackland AFB, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung). This photo originally appeared in an Air Force article entitled “Defending Freedom through Religion.”
**Photos of military members exercising their religious freedom can be found here. Contrary to some accusations and conspiracy theories, nothing prohibits a military member from either participating in, or being photographed in, a religious exercise while in uniform.