Meet the first Muslim army chaplain to become a colonel

He thinks he should have died in the helicopter flight to the hospital. Six men had just “jumped on him”, shooting him and hitting him with a shovel.

Against all odds, Army Col. Khalid Shabazz survived – just like he survived sexual abuse as a child.

It was not an easy road that Shabazz took to join the army, which he did in 1992. Now he is the chaplain of the US Army Central command, the three-star command in charge of operations. land in the Middle East.

He is the first Muslim chaplain in the US military to achieve the rank of colonel, according to ARCENT spokesperson Colonel Armando Hernandez. Army Times spoke with Shabazz about his unique career as one of the army’s few Muslim chaplains throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shabazz, a 6-foot-4 former college football player who is built like a brick house, has become a TikTok micro-celebrity in recent months. He primarily shares gym videos and motivational content with his nearly 23,000 subscribers, in addition to occasionally training with negative commentators.

He describes himself as “just a person who tries to inspire people”.

Shabazz joined the military as a field gunner after being kicked out of college for retaliating against one of the men who shot him, he said. But that, and his conversion to Islam, did not immediately solve his problems, he found.

In fact, the conversion and the name change led some of his colleagues to avoid it, he explained.

“In the first year I had two 15 items, [involuntary separation] paperwork in hand, ”he said. “I had already decided that I was going to take my [own] life because I was a horrible father, a drunkard and an even worse husband.

Instead of driving him away, however, his battalion sergeant major decided to take him under his wing. Shortly after, a Christian chaplain approached him during a field exercise with a suggestion: Why don’t you become a Muslim chaplain?

“I was sitting on my [vehicle], and I was crying because I couldn’t believe I was being treated so badly for my personal choice, ”he said. “As God willed, the chaplain came to me … and he spoke to me for about an hour.”

The conversation changed “the whole way I saw life,” Shabazz said. He therefore kept in touch with the chaplain and soon enrolled in an Islamic seminary. He became army chaplain in 1998.

At the time, there were hardly any Muslim chaplains in the military. And as recently as 2017, according to McClatchy, he was one of the five.

In the decades that followed, he did his best to defend soldiers of all faiths, he explained. This is what army chaplains are responsible for doing. It was especially difficult after the 9/11 attacks, he said, to “deal in the area where you are kind of new.”

“The first interactions with the commanders and the soldiers were difficult,” Shabazz said. But the camaraderie on the basketball court and in the gymnasium would always help him fit in with the soldiers and leaders of each new duty station.

For young Muslim soldiers, as Shabazz once was, the connection is immediate, and it still extends to Muslim troops in neighboring units who hear of a chaplain who shares their faith.

Serving them “makes me cry because these young men and women need to be represented, like everyone else,” he said.

One of his most rewarding jobs, Shabazz said, was helping to integrate former Iraqi and Afghan performers into the military from the late 2000s. He served as a cultural liaison between the performers. and their training commanders at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“It did wonders for them because they felt like they had someone who understood them,” he said. “When I [had] those conversations …[they] always said, ‘Wow the army cares about us [Muslims] enough to have an imam in uniform.

His unique status as the army’s longest-serving Muslim chaplain – and as chaplain of the ARCENT command – has enabled him to assume a role of strategic and even diplomatic importance in the Middle East.

In 2019, he visited Kuwait and Qatar during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

During the trip, Shabazz spoke at the Kuwait Grand Mosque in Kuwait City and met with diplomats, military leaders and senior government officials, he said.

“For me at that time [in the Middle East], I have to be honest with you – man, it was worth it, ”he said. “All the pain, all the fire I had to go through in the front rows… It all seemed to be worth it at this point.”

Now he’s trying to improve his outreach efforts through TikTok, he explained.

“This space opens up opportunities for people to talk to [me]”Shabazz said.” I mean, who would talk to me in the [post exchange]? I am tall, I am a colonel and I am a Muslim!

The platform serves to make it more accessible, he explained.

“On TikTok, if I’m there with these motivational videos and these clowns… people feel safe enough to talk to me,” he said. “I want to spend the rest of my life inspiring young people. “

“It will be quite appropriate for me,” he added.

Davis Winkie is a staff reporter covering the military. He first joined Military Times as a trainee journalist in 2020. Prior to journalism, Davis worked as a military historian. He is also the Human Resources Officer of the Army National Guard.

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