JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., June 1, 2017 — Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Khallid Shabazz became the Army’s first division-level Muslim chaplain during a May 29 ceremony at the Lewis Main Chapel here. Shabazz became the 7th Infantry Division’s chaplain, succeeding Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jimmy Nichols, who is headed to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to be the installation chaplain there.
Army Maj. Gen. Thomas S. James Jr., 7th Infantry Division commander, officiated at the ceremony and said the division is in good hands with Shabazz. The Army chief of chaplains selected Shabazz for the job in January based on his leadership qualities. He is charged with ensuring and supporting the free exercise of religion by service members, families and civilians.
“As simple as it sounds, I want to give people a sense of purpose,” Shabazz said. “My job is to help them be stronger on the other side of the door than when they came in.”
Doctorate, Four Master’s Degrees
Shabazz, who holds a doctorate degree as well as four master’s degrees, has dedicated his life to working with service members of all religions. He grew up as a Lutheran in Louisiana and converted to Islam while serving as an enlisted soldier.
“What has served me well is I was Christian for 28 years,” the chaplain said. “I know both sides; I want to meet people where they are. If they come in and they are struggling with faith, I am not opposed to giving them their scripture and telling them how they can strengthen themselves.”
Shabazz explained that his goal is to give people a safe place to land when they come in to his office. Those he counsels don’t often realize he is Muslim, he said. “My job is not to convert anybody or impose my religion on anybody,” he added. “My job is to ensure that those people are strong and resilient.”
Supporting All Religions
The concept of pluralism within the Army Chaplain Corps means that the service’s spiritual leaders support all religions. The Army does not endorse any religion or religious organizations.
Army Spc. James Glover, a nutrition care specialist with Alpha Company, 47th Combat Support Hospital, is one soldier whom Shabazz has counseled. Glover said he worriedly asked Shabazz at the start of counseling, “You’re Muslim and I’m Christian; does that matter?”
It did not.
Glover said he sometimes forgets Shabazz is Muslim, because the chaplain doesn’t push his religion. They found common ground in Army values and in their drive to be successful.
“He helped me realize that I can do a lot of things, regardless of how hard they are,” he said. “I just have to actually try and do what I have to do.”
Showing care and compassion while helping service members succeed is Shabazz’s specialty, said Army Sgt. Maj. Elian Strachan, the chief chaplain assistant at I Corps, where Shabazz served as deputy chaplain in his last pervious assignment. He has known Shabazz since the two were stationed together at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2014.
“When you think about what a chaplain should be, that’s exactly what he brings,” Strachan said. “Every problem, every issue anybody has — he makes time for them. He makes them feel like they are the only person alive right then and there.”
During Shabazz’s career, he has traveled the world as a professional military religious advisor, leader and ethics instructor. Strachan said he excels at showing people how to get along regardless of their denomination.
“Being mindful of the Islamic perspective does not make you weak; it actually makes you stronger,” he said. “That doesn’t mean a person is not a good Christian.”
The worldview Shabazz brings, coupled with his experience as a noncommissioned officer, give him a skillset rarely found in the Army Chaplain Corps. He also can identify and address the spiritual needs facing Islamic soldiers today.
Still, Shabazz said, he expects some resistance when people see the crescent moon, a symbol of Islam, and realizes some may doubt his ability to serve those of other faiths.
“The transformative power of loving people, to me, it crosses all so-called faith issues,” he said. “That’s what’s most important to me. I approach every situation with that attitude and with that respect.”