SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Lt. Hussain M. Shaikh, a Muslim chaplain assigned to Commander, Amphibious Group 3, recently deployed to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war on terror.
Shaikh is one of only three Navy chaplains to wear the Islamic crescent moon pin on his left collar tip. His primary mission is to minister and provide spiritual care for all religious faiths in the fleet. As an Imam (leader or guide), Shaikh leads Islamic prayers, counsels Sailors and serves as an interpreter of the Koran, Islam's holy book.
In 1996, the Navy commissioned its first Muslim chaplain after recognizing an increase in the number of Muslims in the fleet. "The Navy, like America is no longer a melting pot, it's a salad bowl," said Shaikh. "Nearly 4,000 Sailors in the Navy are Muslim, and the Navy has recognized that there is a need to produce Muslim chaplains to minister to those Sailors."
Shaikh, a native of Pakistan, joined the Navy in 1992 and attended basic training in Orlando, Fla. "As I adjusted to the routine of boot camp, I noticed there were small gaps of time during the day in which I could devote to prayer," said Shaikh. "My shipmates in boot camp had little understanding of my faith or why I was praying. So, from the start of my Navy career, I recognized there was a need to bridge the gap of understanding concerning my faith."
After basic training, Shaikh served as an Air Traffic Controller at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., and aboard USS Kearsarge (LHD 3). He transferred from active duty to the Navy Reserves in 1997. After completing graduate studies in Islamic and Social Sciences, Shaikh received his commission in 1999.
"Sailors often look at my uniform and wonder what it is I do," said Shaikh. "Sometimes to break the ice, I tell them I am a banana farmer," - pointing to his collar device. "That usually gets a laugh out of them."
For Shaikh, understanding among faiths is one of the greatest challenges in the world today, and he believes that part of his job is to facilitate understanding. "World events are forcing us to grow and expand our horizons and many religious faiths are only beginning to understand one another," Shaikh said.
Differences within the Islamic community have divided the religion; just as subtle differences have divided every major religion. But, Shaikh said, "true Islam teaches peace."
The term "jihad" or "holy war" is an internal struggle for peace within Islam, not a crusade to justify violence or war. "Those who commit acts of terrorism are not true believers in Islam. They have strayed so far from Islamic teachings that they have made the religion unrecognizable," said Shaikh.
One of the things Shaikh said he hopes to accomplish during his deployment is to continue to deliver life-transforming services throughout and beyond the sea services, as well as to advise Sailors in moral and ethical issues.
"We all work together as a team in the Chaplain Corps. As a flexible asset, I may be doing a lot of traveling and working with other chaplains and RPs (Religious Program Specialists), and I am looking forward to that."
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