Imam Asim Hafiz is Islamic Religious Advisor to the Chief of the Defence Staff and Service Chiefs. In this blog he answers a key question for many people – are Islam and the Armed Forces compatible?
When I became the first Imam to the UK Armed Forces in 2005, many of my peers were not impressed. This was the year of 7/7 and the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – people saw my decision to accept the role as if I was condoning the killing of Muslims by the British government.
I didn’t see it like that. And I still don’t.
My eleven years as Imam to the Armed Forces and now Islamic Advisor to the Chief of the Defence Staff have shown me that serving in the Armed Forces is in fact fully compatible with being a Muslim.
There is no conflict between the two.
Many in the wider community are unaware of one of the key requirements of service in the Armed Forces – living by and exemplifying the Armed Forces’ Core Values. Abbreviated (like all good military lists) to C-DRILS, these values are: Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment.
The importance placed on these values was one of the central things that attracted me to the Armed Forces. The higher regard shown for those values, combined with the rules and regulations that the Armed Forces work within mean that the Armed Forces are in many cases working to a stricter, more demanding moral and legal code than society as a whole.
When you look at assertions like “the Armed Forces just go around killing Muslims” in this light, it simply isn’t true. The UK’s Armed Forces are a reflection of our society. It is made up of service men and women from all backgrounds; they don’t come from a different planet. They’re people from different faiths. They have families. They’re not any less human for serving in the Armed Forces. Yes – service men and women in the Armed Forces are trained to kill. But they’re not murderers, as some would have you believe.
The UK Armed Forces exist to act in defence of justice, to stop persecution, protect the UK (not just one faith – all faiths) and act to strengthen international security and stability. Providing security, justice and protecting freedom are not values that are incompatible with Islam.
My overwhelming experience of the Armed Forces is that people are far more in touch with their spirituality and the morality of warfare. During my own deployments to Afghanistan, one of which was documented for ‘Faith on the Frontline’ a lot of my time was spent providing pastoral and spiritual care to Muslim personnel. This could consist of a simple chat or in depth discussions with personnel who were conscious that they might have to take a life in the course of their duty. What struck me was the seriousness with which these personnel – indeed all personnel – approached this and how the responsibility weighed on them.
Serving in the Armed Forces isn’t just about war. In Afghanistan I also saw the humanitarian aspects of the Armed Forces at work. When I was serving in Afghanistan, I witnessed many Afghans visiting a health clinic thanks to the work of the UK Military. What touched me most was that many had never seen a doctor before.
It doesn’t stop there.
Recently, I visited British Military personnel helping tackle Ebola in Sierra Leone. Soldiers stepped in to help the community during the recent floods in Cumbria. An estimated 50,000 people were helped in the Philippines when HMS Daring and HMS Illustrious stepped in to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
This selfless commitment to help and protect others is what stands out to me when I think about the UK’s Armed Forces. Islam commends the protection of others, justice, security and giving people the opportunity to be free. Having been part of the MOD for eleven years, I can say that these are values that the UK’s Armed Forces share. Is being a Muslim compatible with serving in the Armed Forces?
The Armed Forces Muslim Association (AFMA), was set up in recognition of the contribution Muslim personnel make across all three services, both in the Regular and Reserve forces.
From the earliest days of basic training, through to deployment and military operations, AFMA is on the ground helping support British Muslims in the Armed Forces, helping these dedicated Muslim men and women perform their military duties in full without compromising their faith.
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