The U.S. Air Force commissioned its first female Muslim chaplain candidate, marking the first time the U.S. military will have a female chaplain of the Islamic faith.
2nd Lt. Saleha Jabeen graduated from Air Force Basic Chaplain Course on February 5, at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. This was a historic event as the Air Force aims to create an environment of more diverse and inclusive service.
In a statement published on the Air Force’s website, Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, Air force Chief of Chaplains said, “ The Chaplain Corps, which Jabeen just entered, exists to ensure every Airman has a religious freedom advocate. This is a big day not just for Muslims, but for persons of all faiths. I could not be more proud of our Air Force for being willing to commission and embrace the first female Imam in the Department of Defense.”
Capt. Mara Title, Air Force Chaplain Corps College staff chaplain, believes the newly-graduated students are ready to provide for the spiritual needs of all Airmen across the force, and said Jabeen’s addition to the chaplain corps will be of great benefit to everyone.
“The Air Force Chaplain Corps endeavors to promote diversity in all respects,” Title said. “Chaplain Saleha Jaben’s presence enables an even broader scope of spiritual care for our Airmen, and for this, we are very grateful. She is as determined to take on the role of chaplain as she is kind, caring, and compassionate. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity for her to graduate with the class of BCC 21A.”
“I did not have to compromise on any of my religious beliefs or convictions,” Jabeen said. I am surrounded with people who respect me and are willing to receive what I bring to the table as a woman, a faith leader, and an immigrant....I get to provide spiritual care to all the service members, Guardians families and advise the commanders on religious and moral matters regardless of my faith, ethnicity, or gender.”
2nd Lt. Jabeen graduated from North Park University, an evangelical Christian school in Chicago, in 2009, and the Catholic theological school, where she was the first Muslim woman chosen by fellow students as valedictorian for their class of 2014, according to a bio she provided to Religion News Service (RSN).
Jabeen served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 2016 to 2018, acting as a lay representative for the Islamic faith when a Muslim chaplain was not available.
“Serving as a female Muslim Chaplain would give me the opportunity to serve the female service members and families of male service members of the Islamic faith and otherwise as well,” 2nd Lt. Jabeen told RNS via email. “Having a female chaplain is crucial to honor the gender-specific needs of all the female service members in general. It is specifically important for female Muslim service members to have a female chaplain to accompany and to fulfill their needs, in the very practical aspects of religious and cultural sensitivities, as they seek help in moments of vulnerability.”
“We all have a purpose that is specifically meant for us to fulfill,” Jabeen said. “We must listen to our heart and follow our conviction. It is important to have people in our lives who model that for us. Choose that kind of mentorship and choose good companionship. I just want people to remember that God, or higher power or the values that people uphold, reminds us that we all are created with a plan: to become the best versions of ourselves. There is a ‘why’ for our existence and ultimately it is meant for us to be the best version of ourselves. Commit to it, accomplish it and uplift others to do the same. Do all that needs to be done with kindness, generosity, resilience, and the grit to never quit.”
2nd Lt. Jabeen, who was born and raised in India, said she expects to take officer training this summer at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.