By Sgt. Nathan Booth
Combined Joint Task Force Spartan Public Affairs
AMMAN, Jordan – Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena Saifulislam, a staff chaplain for U.S. Central Command, got a first-hand look at how other countries handle the intricacies of mixing Islam and military life at a religious leaders' conference May 9 in Zarqa, Jordan during Exercise Eager Lion 12.
Eager Lion 12 is designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships of more than 11,000 troops from 19 participating partner nations.
The conference allowed Jordanian and U.S. chaplains to share information on day-to-day operations, the use of chaplains' assistants, and how to balance military and religious responsibility.
"I have had the opportunity to work with some of the Jordanian imams [Islamic spiritual leaders] in Afghanistan,” Saifulislam said, “but it was eye-opening for them to see me as an imam in the U.S. military. They are very happy to see me and our effort is to build the partner-nation capacity.”
Although Saifulislam has experience with foreign imams, the conferences, held at the Prince Hassan Academy for Religious Studies in Zarqa, introduced him to new insights.
“It is rewarding both personally and professionally,” Saifulislam said. “It helps me to grow and be exposed to different countries and challenges, and to see the vast majority of the world – how they interact with each other.”
Saifulislam said the meetings gave him an inside look at how other countries take care of their troops' religious needs.
He asked imams at the conference what issues the Jordanians have faced, “especially for those Muslims who are serving in the military.”
While most Muslims classify themselves with a variety of different monikers, such as Sunni, Shi'a and Sufi, Saifulislam says simply being Muslim is enough.
“You don't need to define yourself by being Shi'a or Sunni,” Saifulislam said. “That's one thing I learned from being in America. I'm an American. I don't want to identify myself as anything other than American. Similarly, I decided that if I'm a Muslim, that's enough.”
Saifulislam immigrated to the United States in 1989 from Bangladesh. In 1998 he volunteered for a chaplain’s candidate program, which provided him the opportunity to become an officer as well as serve Islam.
“Being an imam means opportunity to help others, spiritually and in any way I can through the training that I have experienced,” Saifulislam said. “I don't think I can be the typical imam inside of a mosque.”
Saifulislam said the Jordanian imams were most curious about his exposure to other religious groups in America and his challenges being a minority leader in the U.S. military.
“The Jordanians have taken the lead through the Amman Message,” he said. “They want to be the voice of religious tolerance. We have more exposure [to different cultures.] Perhaps I can share those with the imams here. If they have the urge to learn, I can help them.”