Army Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz, a Muslim chaplain, has accepted the job of handling the spiritual affairs of 14,000 mostly Christian soldiers.
Shabazz recounted to McClatchy the offer he received to lead the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“I’m on the phone saying, ‘Thank you, I appreciate it. I’ll serve honorably,’ and then I hang up the phone and I’m jumping all around like a little kid,” Shabazz said. “I was running around the office saying, al hamdulillah, al hamdulillah, praise be to God!”
Out of 1,400 chaplains in the Army, only five are Muslim. And across all the services, there are only ten Muslim chaplains total.
“When you get the call saying you have been bestowed a division, the news is kind of like, unearthly,” Shabazz added. “The list is so small and it’s such a tough cut.”
Shabazz, formerly known as Michael Barnes, was born Lutheran in Louisiana. He later joined the Army at 23 and was stationed in Germany, where he worked with a Muslim soldier. He says he quickly grew tired of the Muslim soldier bragging about Islam, so he challenged him to a public debate.
The ensuing debate while on base caused Shabazz to reevaluate his religion. He subsequently converted and changed his name, before encountering struggle after struggle in the Army and later joining on with the Chaplain Corps.
He’s now served as a chaplain for 18 years and has deployed to Iraq, Kosovo and Guantanamo Bay.
Shabazz said he is not interested in converting anyone to Islam, but some soldiers do end up converting.
“My job is not to convert anybody to Islam,” Shabazz said. “God guides people. My only goal is to have people leave my office stronger than when they came in.”
Most of the time, Shabazz spends his hours advocating for Islam, so as to prevent “anti-Muslim” incidents at bases.
Shabazz, himself black, has also advocated on behalf of the black community and for Black History Month. At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Shabbaz discussed how important it is to boldly represent what you believe in, despite possible backlash.
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