Religious freedom is a tenet of the American Constitution. But that doesn’t necessarily prevent prejudice from percolating among those unfamiliar with the faiths of others.
Up until August 2021, the U.S. military was fighting a Global War on Terror in the Middle East, which was, at times, conflated by some with a war on Islam. Muslims in America experienced a great deal of prejudice in the aftermath of 9/11, much of which resulted from terrorists who cited Islamic jihad as a cause for the attacks.
Moreover, being Muslim and a member of the U.S. military may have, at various points in recent history, seemed at odds. For a handful of troops, however, religion and service go hand-in-hand.
A new documentary — “Three Chaplains” — chronicles the struggle that three Muslim chaplains endured to keep their faith, fight for religious freedom, and end stigmas about Islam among fellow service members.
Air Force Maj. Rafael Lantigua, Army Col. Khallid Shabazz, and Air Force Capt. Saleha Jabeen, throughout the course of the film, discuss their experiences of balancing faith and serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, while also attempting to provide spiritual counsel and guidance for others.
“I think it’s important for individuals to have insight as to what is it that chaplains — military chaplains, especially — [are] doing,” said Lantigua. “I’m hoping that the film will provide a means to initiate conversations that haven’t been had before.”
The experiences of the film’s subjects did not just involve scrutiny from fellow troops, meanwhile. Criticism also came from their own families and community members who often couldn’t understand why they would willingly join an organization that seemed, at times, incompatible with their faith.
“It seemed like a rich place to investigate all of these misperceptions of Muslims in the United States — of service members during this era,” director David Washburn, who also produced “An American Mosque,” told Military Times.
“I pursued this film to look at Muslim chaplains because it’s bigger than just military service,” he added. “It touches on all of these other themes that folks in the civilian world can relate to.”
“Three Chaplains” premieres on Nov. 6, and you can watch it free on PBS: https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/documentaries/three-chaplains/
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.