On Tues., March 3, 2020, Masjid Muhammad/“The Nation’s Mosque”, in Washington, D.C., hosted 16 military chaplains who were attending Wesley Theological Seminary located in D.C. 

These individuals were enrolled in the seminary’s curriculum and serve in all branches of the military on active duty, the reserves and guard. 

Also, they are stationed in several places from around the country, including Hawaii, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Virginia, Washington, etc.

Due to the excellent bond that has been cultivated over the years between Imam Talib Shareef and Dr. Sathianathan (“Sathi”) Clarke, the Bishop Sundo Kim Chair in World Christianity, Professor of Theology, Culture and Mission at the institution, Dr. Clarke arranges occasional visits with his students to Masjid Muhammad. 

The students’ visit to the Masjid facilitates them to receive a genuine experience of Muslim life, practice, and culture in a relaxed and comfortable wholesome environment.

The group of military chaplains arrived at the Masjid around the time the Adhan was being called for the midday congregational prayer, known as Salatul-Asr. 

This was the first time that most of the chaplains had ever been inside of a Masjid. 

A few minutes later, the students observed the believers line up in ranks and perform the congregational prayer following behind Imam Shareef.

After seating and welcoming the guests, Imam Shareef allowed each of them to introduce themselves and tell where they were from and the role they serve in the military chaplaincy program.

Thereafter, Imam Shareef, who served for 30+ years in the Air Force, introduced himself and gave an intriguing and interesting history of our community, the leadership of Imam W. Deen Mohammed and a brief story of what led up to him becoming Muslim

He also gave some details about his military career, as it related to his Islamic responsibilities while serving in uniform.

During our two-hour discussion, I was introduced to the attentive chaplains as the National Commander of the Muslim American Veterans Association (MAVA) and I gave a brief history of our organization.

This afforded me the opportunity to provide the chaplains with information about the role another group I was a part of while serving on active duty played in assisting with getting the first Muslim Imam/Chaplain ( Imam Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad) officially sworn into the military on active duty at the Pentagon in 1993.

Prior to concluding our meeting, several great questions were asked by the chaplains.

One of them was about how does one become an Imam? Imam Shareef responded to this question by explaining the series of events that led up to him becoming the 4th full-time Imam in the 80 + year history of our community in Washington, D.C. 

Also mentioned was the Imam doesn’t have to be the most learned in the community, but the choice of the Imam should be based on the will of the people, and he should be one who embellishes the good character demonstrated in the life example of Muhammed the Prophet (SAWS).

This question was followed by one from one of the guest female chaplains, who mentioned an event that was prominent in the news a few months ago pertaining to the first female Muslim Chaplain candidate in the military. 

To this intriguing question, the chaplains were informed that the textbook definition for the word Imam is a leader, and it’s derived from the word Umm which means Mother. 

Consequently, the Imam should have caring, loving, and nurturing sensitivities akin to that of a Mother.

Additionally, Prophet Ibrahim (AS) who is considered the patriarch of the three heavenly religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is referred to in the Qur’an as an Imam to all the Nations or Systems of Knowledge. 

So in summing up the response to the question, can a female be an Imam: 

We have to make the distinction of the difference in the terminology of the word Imam as compared to the term Chaplain, and in Al-Islam, a female can’t be an Imam but a female can most certainly serve as a chaplain. 

Therefore, we congratulate 2nd Lieutenant Saleha Jabeen who was commissioned on Dec. 18, 2019, at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Ill., for becoming the first female Muslim Chaplain in the history of the U.S. Military once she completes her chaplaincy training.

Before departing for the day, all the guests were extended an invitation to visit with us again, and they all expressed gratitude and appreciation for the hospitality given to them during their visit and have many of their burning questions answered satisfactorily. 

Also, the guests were given enlightened brochures explaining the rich history and legacy of Masjid Muhammad and a copy of the Muslim Journal.

(Please respect, support, and assist your military service members, and consider joining a MAVA Post near you. To find out more about MAVA, and to start a post where you live visit: http://mavanational.org/ and on Facebook. MAVA National is a 501C(19) Non-Profit Organization.)

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