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    JTF Guantanamo Gets Rare Visit by Imam

    By Vaughn Larson
    Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay

    GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – One of only two Muslim chaplains in the U.S. Air Force paid a visit to the naval station over the holidays.

    Before Air Force Capt. Walid Habash arrived in mid-December, it had been about one and one-half years since the last visit by a Muslim chaplain.

    Navy Lt. Cmdr. Clint Pickett, the Joint Task Force Guantanamo command chaplain, said he hopes it doesn't take another 18 months or so for a return visit.

    "It's our goal to have one down here twice a year," Pickett said.

    There are an estimated 6,500 Muslims in the U.S. armed forces, according to Habash. While exact numbers were not provided, Pickett said there are practicing Muslims at Guantanamo Bay, in uniform and out. It is these individuals Habash came to see, not the approximately 250 detainees here.

    However, Habash emphasized that he is here to serve everyone regardless of their particular faith.

    "I function like every other chaplain in the armed forces," he explained. "In addition, I attend to Muslim needs."

    Those needs include the five daily prayers, Friday worship services and Muslim holy days. He conducted the Maghirb (sunset) and Isha (evening) prayers Dec. 17, 2008 at the base mosque – a room across from the main chapel on the naval station – as well as Friday services.

    Habash said he may also be asked to provide briefings on the Islamic faith or culture, depending on the situation.

    Habash conducted his Masters degree studies at the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va. Following that, he spent two years in clinical pastoral education at a clinical hospital in Ohio. This provided the civilian experience required by the Department of Defense to become a military chaplain. He has served as a chaplain for more than five years and is presently stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

    Habash did not describe himself as either a Sunni or a Shiite.

    "I see myself as someone really following the authentic teachings of Islam without creating boundaries or obstacles for either sect," he said. "The prophet Mohammed was neither Sunni or Shiite – those things did not exist at that time. The goal is to be obedient and submissive to the almighty God."

    Pickett acknowledged that all chaplains experience misconceptions about their faith to some degree. Habash was philosophical about this.

    "Life is a journey," he observed. "To make this journey interesting, you must have some bumps along the way. Being a Muslim chaplain in the service, you might get some of these."

    Habash said he tries to educate individuals and get past some issues, but conceded that stereotyping can be a formidable obstacle.

    "Allow yourself to be open-minded," he urged. "Search for the truth. Are there differences? Most certainly, but it's not the end if we allow ourselves to see others as a human being that can share certain things."



    Date Taken: 01.05.2009
    Date Posted: 01.05.2009 12:47
    Story ID: 28475

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