Army Muslim Chaplain: No Hostility Since Shooting
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In the days after the shooting, the Army sent a number of chaplains to Fort Hood. Their job was to counsel soldiers. The chaplains included Major Dawud Agbere. Hes a native of Ghana, in West Africa. Hes now served a decade in the United States Army, and hes one of the Armys six Muslim chaplains. There are chaplains from a variety of religions. Major Agbere says hes been moving around the base, meeting troops at Fort Hood. Above all, he listens.
Major DAWUD AGBERE (Army Chaplain): You have soldiers who are just asking why, just like everybodys asking why. Why should such a thing happen? And we give them other perspectives, the big picture, so that they just dont concentrate on just one single event. We want to encourage them to keep on going and see this as out of human life.
INSKEEP: We should make clear for people who may not know: Youre not just seeing Muslim soldiers, are you?
Maj. AGBERE: Exactly. So, you know, I tell people all the time, I am not a Muslim Chaplain. I am a Chaplain who happens to be of the Islamic faith. So, yes, the Christian chaplain will take care of the Muslim soldier. The Jewish rabbi will take care of the Mormon soldier. So sometimes, I find myself in a unit, and Im the only Muslim in that unit.
INSKEEP: And Islam has enough in common with Christianity and other religions that you have no trouble giving all kinds of people advice that youre comfortable with and that theyre comfortable with?
Maj. AGBERE: Exactly. I mean, look at human situations. You know, when you talk of divorce, financial problems, these things dont have religion. These are things human beings go through. So for example, as a Muslim chaplain, I do not baptize, as baptism is not part of my beliefs.
Maj. AGBERE: But I have soldiers who come to me for their children to be baptized. So I can call a chaplain who can baptize, and then, you know, schedule an appointment where these soldiers will be taken care of.
INSKEEP: Have you received questions in the last few days about Islam itself and what it stands for?
Maj. AGBERE: Definitely, because, you know, we live in a country where people love to label things. Hopefully, very soon, when we are done with everything that is going on, things will become normal. But here, because of this specific situation in which we are, people tend to take that route.
INSKEEP: Since last weeks shooting
Maj. AGBERE: Yes, sir.
INSKEEP: Has anyone in the last few days been openly hostile toward you?
Maj. AGBERE: Personally, no. I tell you, Im coming from Fort Leavenworth, and Ive been going around the post talking to people. Interesting, last night, I was in Wal-Mart, a soldier saw me, because it was the first time he saw the crescent on the uniform. So he asked me, what does that mean? And I told him, you know, I go to the moon every month. He said, really?
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Maj. AGBERE: And I said, thats a Muslim chaplain. He said, oh, I have not seen that before.
Even though Ive seen a Muslim chaplain, we only have six Muslim chaplains in the Army. You know, its not always just easy to come into contact with them. Personally, no. Soldiers who see - I mean, they see me and they salute me. I have not personally received any hostile statement.
INSKEEP: What are you hearing from your fellow Muslims in the military, if anything?
Maj. AGBERE: Definitely, Muslim soldiers do have their specific challenges they face as Muslims, just like Jewish soldiers, Mormon soldiers. The reality is if youre a minority, there are some specific challenges, especially this has to do with young soldiers. Sometimes its just perception, sometimes it may be real.
INSKEEP: What are some of the specific complaints youve heard from Muslim soldiers when it happens to be a Muslim whos talking to you?
Maj. AGBERE: Okay. So they will come to me and say, hey, my colleague or my comrade says negative things about me. And sometimes, like in a joke, people will make statements. And sometimes, what other people think is a joke, for some people is serious business. Or somebody will say, hey, you know what? You know, I want to go and pray at this time at night. My leadership is not trying to help me to do that, or they refuse to allow me to do that. Sometimes when you explore these things, they just misunderstand the here and there. But again, ignorance is big, and so we have to educate people through the when people get to understand where others are coming, its easy for them to begin to accept them.
INSKEEP: Thanks very much.
Maj. AGBERE: Thank you, sir.
INSKEEP: Thats Major Dawud Agbere, an Army chaplain who is Muslim. He spoke with us from Killeen, Texas.
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