Interview with Capt. Abdul Rasheed Muhammed,
the First Imam in U.S. Army.
The Growing Islam in U.S.A.Interviewer: Muslehuddin Ahmed
Captain Abdul Rasheed Muhammad is the first Imam to be appointed in the U.S. Army, to cater to the needs of the growing number of Muslims in its ranks. He was one of the honoured guests of the Muslim World League during the Hajj 1415H, and had the rare opportunity to be invited to an audience with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz. Captain Muhammad entered the fold of Islam during the year 1974. Though the only member of his family from his father’s side to become a Muslim, other members of his family, however, extended wholehearted cooperation and showed full understanding towards the new Faith, he had chosen. His wife and seven children also became Muslims. “(Mrs.) Muhammad is a very devout Muslim and an active social worker,” he proudly said.
Capt. Muhammad joined the U.S. Army in 1982 as a Muslim. He grew in rank by dint of his efficiency and excellence in work. After the Gulf War, when the number of Muslims in the U.S. Army increased and there was a need for appointing a Muslim Imam to provide them spiritual guidance, the U.S. Army made a serious effort to find a suitable person to fulfil this great need. The search resulted in the selection of Capt. Muhammad as the first Imam of the U.S. Army.
As a Chaplain, as he is called in the Army, Capt. Muhammad is responsible for providing religious support to a military unit comprising 1,500 members and their families. The participants include members of other faiths also whom he provides counseling, guidance and useful suggestions for their social and spiritual development and in order to establish and maintain harmony and peace with God, with themselves and with other members of the society. As he is the first Islamic Chaplain of the U.S. Army, much of his work is devoted to programme development in order to provide the best services to his colleagues in the Army.
Islam is a fast growing religion in U.S.A. and there are approximately 5 million Muslims in that country. A number of educational institutions, managed by the Muslim community to provide both secular and religious education to their children are coming up every day in U.S.A. The schools are reputed for their discipline and help mould the Islamic character and morals of the students. Because of such congenial atmosphere, parents of other faiths are also increasingly seeking admission for their children in such schools. Excellent audiovisual materials are also being produced to teach Islam in these schools.
Because of the increasing number of Muslims there is a growing demand for Halal meat and poultry in the U.S. The hygienic nature of the Halal meat is also attracting members of other faiths to purchase Halal meat and chicken. There is a big spurt in this business which now is worth more than 600 million U.S. dollars and is growing every day. “This is a major area of economic activity for the Muslim community in U.S.A.,” Capt. Muhammad remarked.
Capt. Muhammad has a very pleasant, sociable and enthusiastic personality. On his first visit to the Kingdom to perform Hajj, he was highly moved by this great spiritual experience, where the entire multitude wears the same dress, follows same procedure in its various rituals and surrenders itself completely to Allah, exemplifying through this the brotherhood of mankind. This gives every Haji a rare opportunity to feel and experience the true spirit of Islam, which is submission to the will of God and attainment of complete peace with oneself and one’s Creator.
Asked why he chose to become a Muslim, Capt. Muhammad said, “I had always experienced difficulty accepting man as god, hence, I was not comfortable with Christianity. I always felt that the Creator has to be someone other than a human being. Islam has taught me the true nature of God, the amorphous Omnipotent, Allah, who takes care of every creation in His vast and boundless universe,” remarked the enthusiastic Imam with a rare zest characteristic of a true Believer.
Capt. Muhammad was very much impressed by the excellent and extraordinary arrangements made for Hajj by the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz. He observed that no effort was being spared by the Kingdom’s authorities to provide maximum comfort and facilities to the guests of Allah. He was also full of praise for the Muslim World League for its excellent arrangements, which it had made for its guests, and was highly impressed by its dedicated Secretary General Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Ali, who symbolized for him a model Muslim leader.
He also appreciated the tremendous services rendered by the League’s former Secretary General, Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef, for making the MWL a truly international organization, fully devoted to the service of Islam and the Muslim Ummah. Capt. Muhammad offered to work closely with the MWL and begin an ongoing interaction with the MWL in shaping and developing a vital Islamic presence within the U.S. Armed Forces.
The soldier-Imam felt that his main job was to cater to the religious needs of the soldiers without compromising on their military duties. He also evinced keen interest in the magazines and other publications of the Muslim World League and other similar organizations for support in his Dawah work.
Talking about the arrangements for Hajj, Capt. Muhammad suggested, that it would be very helpful for Hajis, if the Saudi government could send sufficient information and literature in advance on the cultural tradition, environment, the various facilities and arrangements made by it for the Hajj and inform the pilgrims on its expectations from Hajis in order to contribute to a smooth and efficient performance of the Pilgrimage.Speaking about his mission and future plans, Capt. Muhammad said they are simple and would include setting up a Masjid at Fort Bregg; establish a separate building which could accommodate a large number of worshippers; ensure that the army becomes aware that Islam exists as practical part of its mission of providing religious support to its followers, to establish fardh (obligatory) aspects of Islamic life on every army post beginning with Fort Bregg 28307 and gain as much support as possible from the Muslim community in U.S.A. and abroad.
At the end, Capt. Muhammad expressed his great appreciation and thanks to the Government of Saudi Arabia, to the MWL and to all the Muslim brothers whom he had met during Hajj for the great affection and valuable support expressed by them for the Muslims in the U.S. Army, and the Muslim community in U.S.A. at large. In addition, he also expressed his appreciation to the U.S. Government for the support extended to the followers of all faiths in his country.
(Courtesy of The Muslim World League, Makkah Al Mukarammah)