CENTCOM Muslim chaplain interacts with Jordanian Armed Forces imams

U.S. Special Operations Command Central
Story by Sgt. Nathan Booth

Date: 05.09.2012
Posted: 05.24.2012 09:51
News ID: 88930
CENTCOM Muslim chaplain interacts with Jordanian Armed Forces imams

By Sgt. Nathan Booth<br /> Combined Joint Task Force Spartan Public Affairs<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> Eager Lion 12 is designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships of more than 11,000 troops from 19 participating partner nations.<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> "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.”<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> “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.”<br /> <br /> Saifulislam said the meetings gave him an inside look at how other countries take care of their troops' religious needs.<br /> <br /> He asked imams at the conference what issues the Jordanians have faced, “especially for those Muslims who are serving in the military.” <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> “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.”<br /> <br /> 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. <br /> <br /> “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.”<br /> <br /> 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.<br /> <br /> “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.”