The Air Force last month commissioned the first female Muslim chaplain in the service.
Second Lt. Saleha Jabeen was commissioned Dec. 18 at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago by Air Force Chief of Chaplains Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, the Air Force said in a release Friday.
The Islamic Society of North America endorsed Jabeen to become the Air Force’s first female imam, a spiritual leader in Islam, the release said.
“Any time we advance religious freedoms, it’s a win for all persons of faith,” Schaick said in the release. “This is a big day not just for Muslims, but for persons of all faiths.”
While Air Force chaplains are ordained in their own particular faith, they are responsible for counseling and supporting the spiritual needs of all airmen in their units, even if the airman follows a different religion, or no religion at all.
In his remarks at the commissioning, Schaick spoke about the importance of diversity in the Air Force’s chaplaincy.
“The fact is America is a place where the Constitution guarantees your freedom to embrace or abstain from religious ideals, and the Chaplain Corps, which Jabeen just entered, exists to ensure every airman has a religious freedom advocate,” Schaick said.
Jabeen is originally from India and first came to the United States 14 years ago as an international student. Originally, she thought she would enter the corporate world after completing her education.
But after her brother joined the Army and she learned about the challenges service members face, she decided to follow his lead. She served in the Army Medical Corps and worked alongside chaplains to help other soldiers.
“My brother has been the source of my inspiration,” Jabeen said. “It was because of his dedication and getting to see his military career that I recognized the importance of the chaplaincy in the armed forces. I saw that when one member gets deployed, all of their family members join them.”
Jabeen will now have to complete her chaplaincy training and then will be assigned to a duty station where she will support airmen — and, she hopes, inspire them.
“When other people look at what I have done, I want them to know that God has a plan for you and to go out there and be the best version of yourself and accomplish the mission you were specifically designed to complete,” Jabeen said. “Don’t let anyone or anything stop you and when they try, be kind, be generous, be resilient and don’t quit.”
Female imams are still relatively uncommon in Islam, though over the past quarter-century or so, more Muslim women are serving as spiritual leaders.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.