First woman Muslim chaplain commissioned in the US military

Saleha Jabeen became a second lieutenant in a December ceremony at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

(RNS) — The U.S. Air Force commissioned its first Muslim woman chaplain candidate last month, marking the first time the U.S. military will have a female chaplain of the Islamic faith.

Saleha Jabeen became a second lieutenant in a December ceremony at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

“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. This is a big day not just for Muslims, but for persons of all faiths,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, Air Force chief of chaplains, in a statement published on the Air Force’s website on Friday (Jan. 10).

“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.”

Jabeen’s path to the chaplaincy has included graduating 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 2014 class, according to a bio she provided to Religion News Service.

She 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.

U.S. Air Force Chaplain Candidate Saleha Jabeen, right, is commissioned by U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains (Maj. Gen.) Steven Schaick, Dec. 18, 2019, at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Armando A. Schwier-Morales)

“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,” 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.”

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.