Chaplain becomes first Muslim to take position as spiritual leader of entire Army division

A Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Chaplain Corps has become the first Muslim division-level chaplain in the history of the US Armed Services.

LTC Khallid Shabazz has reached the career goal of most US Army Chaplains with his new position, validating years of intensive study, practice and work that allows him to be a spiritual health leader in the US Army.

Shabazz could barely hold in his excitement when he heard the news.

“I’m on the phone saying, ‘Thank you, I appreciate it. I’ll serve honorably,’ and then I hang up the phone and I’m jumping all around like a little kid,” the 48-year-old Lieutenant Colonel said. “I was running around the office saying, al hamdulillah, al hamdulillah, praise be to God!”

One of only ten Muslim chaplains in the entire US Military and one of five in the US Army, LTC Shabazz realized the gravity of how slim a chance it was to assume his new role at the US Army’s 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

“When you get the call saying you have been bestowed a division, the news is kind of like, unearthly,” Shabazz said. “The list is so small and it’s such a tough cut.”

While he hopes for the best, he knows the transition will likely not be as easy as it would be for a Christian chaplain, particularly in an environment that is seemingly hostile to Muslims.

“For me, a regular old guy from Louisiana, I look to the heavens and say, ‘Why me?’ ” Shabazz said. “As the day gets closer, I’m sure I’ll have more anxiety and think about it more. I’m extremely proud to have been on this journey for 20 years and never would’ve imagined that I’d be chosen to be the first.”

According to the Kansas City Star, Shabazz is a Muslim convert, who is still referred to by his birth name of “Michael” back in Louisiana. Having grown up in more than one religious setting, he understands the universal nature of spiritualism. For him, it is about mutual respect.

“I do still go to church with my family- that’s an important part of reaching across the aisle,” he said. “It would be improper for me to disrespect something that instilled in me so much of who I am.”

Shabazz understands the role of a chaplain is to help all in need and seeks to assist anyone who comes to him for guidance.

“Because I have the language from my days as a Christian, I can give them Scriptures from the Bible, and that doesn’t violate my religion,” Shabazz said. “My job is not to convert anybody to Islam. God guides people. My only goal is to have people leave my office stronger than when they came in.”

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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