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Navy Muslim Chaplain to Help Lead White House Iftar Dinner

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2007 – When Muslim U.S. servicemembers join other Muslim-American citizens and representatives of Washington’s diplomatic community at an iftar dinner tonight at the White House, one of just 10 Muslim chaplains serving in the U.S. military will have the honors of administering the call to prayer and leading prayers.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena M. Saifulislam will lead the call to prayer at a White House iftar dinner Oct. 4, 2007, hosted by President Bush to commemorate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Photo by Donna Miles

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena M. Saifulislam will lead the call to prayer at tonight’s iftar, hosted by President Bush to commemorate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and encourage a renewal of friendly ties between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

An iftar is a meal served at the day’s end during Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 this year and continues through Oct. 12.

Ramadan is the Islamic faith’s holiest time and commemorates the revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad, Bush noted in his presidential message issued Sept. 7. Through fasting, prayer and worship, Muslims reflect on their spiritual lives and their dependence on God as they strengthen family and community ties.

Tonight, as the president hosts his seventh iftar since taking office, he is expected to reiterate the words of his presidential message: “May the holy days of Ramadan remind us all to seek a culture of compassion and serve others in charity.”

Saifulislam said he considers it an honor to help share that message of sharing and understanding.

He led a similar celebration at the Pentagon Oct. 1 and called it an important way to open communication lines between Americans and Muslims. “It’s a privilege to work in these capacities, to help create an atmosphere where we can learn to live together,” he said. “It’s not a choice. It’s a necessity.”

A native of Bangladesh, Saifulislam had a lot of firsts in his 15-year Navy career, the last eight years served as a Muslim chaplain. He was the first Muslim chaplain to be assigned to the Marine Corps, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He helped organize the Marines’ first iftar, in 2005. He was the first Muslim chaplain to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to administer to detainees there.

Sailfulislam said he works year-round to promote understanding and break down misconceptions that exist on both sides of the aisle. He educates Christians about Muslim beliefs and works to dispel views that “Islam is evil.”

Similarly, he works to erase some Muslims’ perception that “America is against Islam” and encourages Muslim-Americans to play a more active role in communicating to the Muslim world what America represents. “It’s a two-way process,” he said. “The more we learn about each other, the more understanding and acceptance there will be.”

Sailfulislam said he’s proud to be among an estimated 5,000 Muslim-Americans who serve in the U.S. military. “America Muslims are a part of America, and we have documentation that they have fought for this country since the Revolutionary War,” he said.

Muslims have served and died for the United States in every conflict it’s ever been involved in, including the war on terror, Sailfulislam said. He’s personally attended funerals at Arlington National Cemetery for several Muslim servicemembers killed in Iraq.

Sailfulislam said he sees no conflict between his Muslim faith and his military calling in the United States.

“I’m an American. My wife is an American. My daughter is an American, and my sister and my nieces and nephews,” he said. “If I am not willing to defend them, then who will be?”

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