(NNPA) - With the War on Terror well into its sixth year, America's campaign against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction has, for some, also become an attack on Islam.
For many American-born Muslims and followers of Islam serving in the U.S. armed forces, the experience has been doubly burdensome and may have played a role in Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's Nov. 5 mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.
Of the 1.4 million U.S. servicemen and women, approximately 3,572 are Muslims, according to the Department of Defense's most recent figures. However, this number may be larger, as the military does not require enlisted persons to disclose their religious affiliation.
Among the small community of Muslims serving in the United States military, there are several chaplains who teach and follow Islam. But as more Americans become skeptical of Islam's claim to be "the religion of peace," Muslim military chaplains face a unique conflict – defending their faith without drawing the ire of others who question their loyalty to the American cause.
According to the Council of American-Islamic Relations, there were at least 6 million Muslims living in America in 2001. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and Islam reached record numbers and led to widespread social backlash against alleged Islamic extremists.
Being a follower of Islam and an American soldier is a dual, but not necessarily irreconcilable, identity. Similar to African-American scholar W.E.B Du Bois' concept of double consciousness –the idea that Black Americans must live with a sense of being "an American, a Negro…two warring ideals in one dark body"—Muslim military chaplains must adhere to the tenets of the religion while serving in wars that kill other Islamic followers.
Maj. Khalid Shabazz, the former Muslim chaplain for the 1-227 Aviation Attack Battalion at Fort Hood and an associate of Hasan, told National Public Radio that practicing Islam and being a soldier is at times difficult.
"All [of a] sudden, it was almost like I switched sides to them," Shabazz, who is African-American, said of his decision to convert to Islam while on active duty. "[My fellow soldiers] were hurt because I converted. They thought maybe I was joining on to the enemy."
Shabazz said Hasan and several of the other 48 Muslim soldiers on base at Fort Hood had complained "about being taunted and harassed," but he said the respected, high-ranking psychiatrist did not appear "depressed at all."