Chaplain works to be ambassador for Muslim faith, U.S., Army

  • Follow Your Faith

At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Maj. Khallid Shabazz is physically imposing.

Maj. Khallid Shabazz is one of five Islamic chaplains in the Army. He is at Fort Gordon for training but is permanently stationed in Germany as the European Command's only imam.  ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
Maj. Khallid Shabazz is one of five Islamic chaplains in the Army. He is at Fort Gordon for training but is permanently stationed in Germany as the European Command's only imam.

But what seems to intimidate some people more than his size is the little crescent moon stitched above the name tag on his uniform.

That crescent identifies Shabazz as one of five Islamic chaplains, called imams, in the Army. It’s a position that often draws considerable attention and sidelong stares given that America’s armed forces have fought Muslim extremists for more than a decade.

Shabazz confronts the issue head-on when he’s introduced to a command staff. While acknowledging the negative, he also demonstrates that there’s more to him than the Muslim label.

“I’m not a Muslim chaplain,” he explains. “I’m a chaplain who is Muslim.”

The Army’s imams are spread out geographically to maximize their impact; Shabazz is at Fort Gordon for training but is permanently stationed in Germany as the European Command’s only imam. It’s estimated that fewer than 1 percent of soldiers practice Islam, so Shabazz is more frequently called to perform Christian services than Muslim prayers. It’s familiar territory for Shabazz, who was born Michael Barnes in Alexandria, La.

Barnes was raised in the Christian church, but some bad choices as a teenager culminated with him getting shot in the back and beaten with a shovel. The Army promised a fresh start, so he enlisted in 1991.

Military life suited Shabazz, but his position in the artillery made him miserable. His search for direction led him to a religious debate with a Muslim, who changed his perspective on the faith and eventually led to his conversion.

His first introduction to the mistrust that often accompanies Islam came almost immediately. When Shabazz told a superior about his decision, the man he had idolized replied: “Why would you do something so stupid?”

Shabazz was crushed, but a Catholic chaplain consoled him and suggested he study to become a chaplain. It was a revelation.

“It just felt like something I was born to do,” Shabazz said.

A major part of this new step involved changing his name. Khallid means “one whose ideas live forever,” a reference to the schooling Shabazz has completed, including two years in Arabic language school in Jordan. Shabazz translates as “King of Eagles,” which Shabazz picked to show his enduring loyalty to America.

One of the biggest tests of his career came in 2004, when he was assigned as chaplain of the detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. He was replacing a chaplain named Yusef Yee, who was arrested on sedition charges, which were later dropped. Shabazz shipped out in a week.

“I didn’t have the time to be super scared,” he said.

Shabazz initially felt like an outcast at Guantanamo. As an imam with no beard and an American soldier’s uniform, the detainees generally didn’t trust Shabazz. The guards at Guantanamo weren’t too keen on a man who catered to men America considered enemy combatants.

“It’s one of the toughest times of my life. I’m on nobody’s side,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz eventually won the minds of many at the base through his personality and a knack for organizing intramural basketball games wherever he’s stationed. It’s representative of his goal to be a model ambassador for America, its army and his faith.

“When soldiers interact with me and they get to know me, then I have a ball with these guys,” he said.

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panamajoe98 02/04/12 - 02:39 am
Sir, which side of Muslim

Sir, which side of Muslim teaching that if one does not convert to Islam, then that person should die, do you believe in?

Techfan 02/04/12 - 09:23 am
Deuteronomy 13 6If thy

Deuteronomy 13
6If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
7Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
8Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
9But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

howcanweknow 02/04/12 - 10:35 am
Techfan, once again you have

Techfan, once again you have pulled a verse way out of context in a vain attempt to discredit Christianity. You are consistent.

The Deut. passage was written for a specific people at a specific time. Israel was in a very hostile land filled with idols and false gods. They were in danger of being enticed away from the one true God, and failing their purpose. It was a drastic time in their history, and it called for drastic measures. Such measures worked, as it paved the way for the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, and Christianity.

Fast-forward to the Christian era. There is absolutely no command to go and kill anyone. That was a necessary command given for a specific time and purpose. It has not been in effect for over 2000 years now. Please don't try to discredit Christianity by quoting ancient directives (completely out of context) that are now not relevant to Christianity. We grow tired of you doing this.

Now, please contrast this to the more recent and still-applicable teaching from the Quran to kill those who are not Muslims. "Allah" has not modified or rescinded this command. IT STILL APPLIES for Islam today. THAT is the difference.

So, do you follow Christianity which teaches love for those who disagree with it, or do you believe Islam which clearly states that infidels are to be put to death?

JohnRandolphHardisonCain 02/04/12 - 11:01 pm
Good article. Inspiring

Good article. Inspiring story. Give the Imam some credit. He is Muslim, but he is first a chaplain and a human being. He is also a true American. This is what the American ideal stands for. Praise Allah. Peace.

copperhead 02/05/12 - 06:15 am
JohnRandolphHardisonCain, you

JohnRandolphHardisonCain, you do know what true muslins do to non-muslims that make light of allah,don't you?

Jane18 02/05/12 - 09:11 am
Even though Shabazz is in the

Even though Shabazz is in the American Army, I cannot get over the statement, "I'm on nobody's side". My thought on that is, then why are you in the military of the United States? If he is an imam(Islamic chaplain), that means he is against everything and anyone that is American. Someone please tell me if I am wrong for thinking something is not right "with this picture".

InChristLove 02/05/12 - 06:01 pm
Thank you howcanweknow. I'm

Thank you howcanweknow. I'm sure Maj. Sahbazz is a very nice man and a great solider, but I don't understand how a man of Islam faith can perform Christian services when the two relgions are so different.

MuslimConvert 03/28/12 - 11:22 am
Assalam o alaikum wa

Assalam o alaikum wa rahmatulahey wa barakatahoo (Peace and Blessings be upon you) Chaplain,

I found this article very interesting. Your experiences are unique. Please write a book called: "I'm on Nobody's Side." It would be a very interesting read.

MuslimConvert 03/28/12 - 11:32 am
Re: "And when the sacred

Re: "And when the sacred months have past, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ..." (9:5)

One, this is a time specific passage. Note "when the sacred months have past."
Two, the Promised Messiah says that the Jihad of the Sword is dead. Three, Christians are not called "polythiests." Christians are "People of the Book," which is a term of respect for those who worship God.

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