Should American Muslims Join the American Armed Forces?

Al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11 (and before 9/11) in response to American support for Muslim dictatorships in the Muslim world, American support for Israel, and direct American military involvement in the Muslim world (including in Saudi Arabia and Iraq) dating back to the first Gulf War. After 9/11, the U.S. withdrew its troops from Saudi Arabia, but it continued all the above-mentioned policies. Furthermore, the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. military has supported efforts to defeat Muslim insurgents in other regions, like the Philippines. The U.S. military may also attack Iran due to a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Al Qaeda continues to threaten further attacks against America. For the foreseeable future, the U.S. military will be fighting in the Muslim world.

There are 1.4 million Americans serving in the American armed forces. Since 9/11, in preparation for wars in the Muslim world, the U.S. military has actively recruited American Muslims who speak the languages of the Muslim world and who understand the cultures of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Out of an American Muslim population of approximately 6 million, between 5,000 and 20,000 American Muslims currently serve in the American armed forces. (Some were already Muslim prior to joining, and others became Muslim after they were already in the military.) Hundreds of American Muslim soldiers have been involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

Should American Muslims join the American military in larger numbers? Or should all American Muslims get out of the American military?

Arguments By Those Who Believe American Muslims Should Join America’s Armed Forces

1. American Muslims benefit from living in America. They have religious freedom, political freedom, and economic opportunity. This is their home, so they should join the American armed forces, which seek to protect all Americans (including American Muslims).

2. The American military has done good deeds in the past, like helping to free Muslims in Kuwait, Bosnia, and Kosovo, and helping Muslims in various countries after earthquakes and tsunamis.

3. The U.S. military freed Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan from Saddam and the Taliban. The U.S. military is helping Iraqi and Afghan Muslims to try to build stable, peaceful democracies. American Muslims should join the U.S. military and help their fellow Muslims.

4. American Muslims have a religious obligation to fight insurgents and terrorists in Iraq who target and kill Iraqi Muslim civilians, and to fight warlords, Taliban, and terrorists in Afghanistan who target and kill Afghan Muslim civilians. “And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? – Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!’” (4:75)

5. There have been abuses by some American soldiers against innocent Iraqis and Afghans, but abusive American soldiers are the exception, not the rule. Furthermore, the presence of American Muslim soldiers will help to protect Iraqi and Afghan civilians from abuses by other American soldiers. American Muslim soldiers can help remind other American soldiers of the humanity of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and American Muslim soldiers can encourage moral behavior by other American soldiers. Other American soldiers are less likely to abuse Iraqi and Afghan civilians if they know that American Muslim soldiers are monitoring their behavior.

6. American Muslims in the U.S. military have made a significant contribution by serving as a bridge between the U.S. military and the Muslim world. American Muslim soldiers who understand “Muslim” languages and “Muslim” cultures have helped the U.S. military build relationships and defuse distrust with Iraqis and Afghans. These American Muslim soldiers have helped Iraqis and Afghans to see the U.S. military as a multi-religious institution, rather than an invading Christian/Crusader army. These American Muslim soldiers have helped their U.S. military units communicate with Iraqis and Afghans. They have taught their U.S. military units how to avoid making cultural mistakes. They have helped their U.S. military units, and helped Iraqis and Afghans, understand each other’s needs and concerns.

7. The U.S. military can be a safe place for American Muslim soldiers. Although some American Muslim soldiers have been harassed in the military, other American Muslim soldiers report that they have not experienced any discrimination or harassment in the U.S. military. If more American Muslims join the U.S. military, it will become an even safer environment for American Muslims, because there is strength in numbers. In addition, the presence of large numbers of American Muslims in the military will help the military to better understand Islam, Muslims, and the Muslim world. Furthermore, American Muslims serving in the U.S. military can help remove America’s doubts about the commitment of American Muslims to American national security. That will reduce discrimination and hate crimes against all American Muslims.

Arguments By Those Who Believe American Muslims Should Not Join America’s Armed Forces

1. The American armed forces serve the imperialist interests of American political elites who start wars regardless of popular support or justification for those wars. American Muslims should only participate in wars that are truly justified. American Muslims should only serve in the armed forces of an Islamic state, governed by God’s law, because the wars they fight in (and die in) should please God.

2. The U.S. military doesn’t care about Muslims. America intervened in Kuwait not to protect Muslims, but to protect America’s access to oil. For years, America supported an arms embargo against Bosnia, preventing the Bosnians from defending themselves against Serbian attacks. America eventually intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo, but only after tens of thousands of Muslims had been placed in concentration camps, raped, and killed.

3. The U.S. military doesn’t care about Iraqi Muslims and Afghan Muslims. For years, America propped up dictators like Saddam, and America did business with the Taliban. Then the Bush Administration decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan and to overthrow those governments, resulting in destructive civil wars that have killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghans. Most American Muslims, and many Iraqis and Afghans, opposed the invasions.

4. For religious reasons, American Muslim soldiers cannot fight fellow Muslims. “If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (Forever): And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.” (4:93) Furthermore, the Constitution of Medina (which was drafted on the instructions of the Prophet) stated, “A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer.”

5. The U.S. military has intentionally abused innocent Iraqis and Afghans. Some American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan regularly refer to all Iraqis and Afghans using racist terms like “camel jockey,” “haaji,” and “raghead.” There have been reports of American soldiers firing randomly into crowded Iraqi neighborhoods. There have been reports of American soldiers shooting and killing innocent Iraqi families at U.S. military checkpoints. There have been reports of American soldiers raping Iraqi civilians; some American soldiers have been convicted of rape in Iraq. There have been reports of American soldiers rounding up Iraqi civilians indiscriminately, stripping them naked, forcing them to stand for hours in the sun, and verbally and physically abusing them. There have been reports of American soldiers raiding Iraqi homes, holding families at gunpoint, and stealing their food and other property. There have been reports of American soldiers randomly detaining Iraqis and Afghans. In addition, American soldiers have beaten and killed some Iraqi and Afghan detainees.

6. Some Iraqi Muslims and Afghan Muslims view American Muslim soldiers as Muslim sell-outs. Furthermore, some American soldiers view American Muslim soldiers as disloyal and untrustworthy, especially in light of incidents of violence and treason by American Muslim soldiers against other American soldiers. Therefore, American Muslims in the military cannot effectively serve as a bridge between the U.S. military and the Muslim world.

7. Anti-Muslim bias, suspicion, discrimination, and harassment in the U.S. military make it very difficult for American Muslim soldiers to serve comfortably and effectively. Some American soldiers have made it clear that they don’t trust American Muslim soldiers. Some American Muslim soldiers report that other American soldiers have called them names like “camel jockey” and “Al Qaeda terrorist.”

The Experiences Of A Few American Muslim Soldiers Since 9/11

Some American Muslim soldiers have been killed in Iraq. For example, Army Captain Humayun Khan, 27, was killed in Iraq in 2004 when he tried to stop a suicide bomber from attacking an American compound. Army Spc. Azhar Ali, 27, was killed in 2005 in Iraq by a roadside bomb that blew up his vehicle while he was on patrol. In 2007, Army Spc. Kareem R. Khan, 20, died in Iraq when a bomb detonated while he and other soldiers were checking abandoned houses for explosives; Khan was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Captain Abdullah Hulwe, a Muslim chaplain in Iraq, says his presence in Iraq helps the military develop better relations with Iraqi Muslims, and helps reduce the anger that some American soldiers have towards ordinary Iraqis, which makes both Americans and Iraqis safer. Major Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, a Muslim chaplain in Iraq, helped persuade the military to rebuild a mosque within Camp Cooke, to be used by American Muslim soldiers and Iraqis. Major Muhammad said he was able to help American soldiers better understand Islam, and to help Iraqis better understand America. Pfc. Mirza Bashir Ahmad says other soldiers in his unit in Iraq seek his help in establishing good relations with Iraqis.

Some American Muslims in the military have said they are uncomfortable having to fight against Muslims in Afghanistan or Iraq. In June 2004, Sgt. 1st Class Abdullah Webster was jailed for refusing to deploy to Iraq; he had previously served with the military in Kosovo, where the enemy had been Serbian, not Muslim. Air Force Chaplain Captain Hamza Al-Mubarak testified on Sgt. Webster’s behalf that it would be better for Sgt. Webster to die than to take up arms against Muslims in Iraq. Qaseem Uqdah, a former Marine and the head of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, says American Muslim soldiers must honor their contracts with the military, even if that means going to war in Muslim countries.

A few American Muslim soldiers have been formally accused of disloyalty. Captain James Yee, chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, was accused of espionage, detained in solitary confinement for 76 days, subjected to sensory deprivation, and threatened with the death penalty. All charges were dropped. Charges of attempted espionage at Guantanamo Bay were also dropped against Senior Airman Ahmad Al Halabi.

Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar was sentenced to death for killing fellow soldiers while their unit awaited deployment from Kuwait into Iraq in 2003. Sgt. Akbar admitted killing two fellow soldiers and injuring fourteen in a grenade attack because he believed that American soldiers would kill Muslims, and rape Muslim women, in Iraq. His lawyers argued that he was mentally ill. Sgt. Akbar claimed that he was religiously harassed before the incident, but the defense did not present any testimony regarding religious harassment at the trial.

In 2004, Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun was charged with deserting his post in Iraq. The military believes he is hiding in Lebanon.

In 2004, a National Guard tank crewman, Spc. Ryan G. Anderson, was convicted of trying to give Al Qaeda information about American troops (troop strength and tactics) and methods for killing American soldiers. His lawyer argued that he was mentally ill.

In 2008, a former Navy sailor, Hassan Abu-Jihaad, was convicted of leaking details (prior to 9/11) about Naval ship movements in the Persian Gulf to suspected Al Qaeda supporters.

In November 2009, a Palestinian/Jordanian American Muslim soldier stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was accused of shooting and killing twelve American soldiers and wounding many others. Witnesses say he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) before opening fire. Some who know him say he was angry about the presence of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; that he said the U.S. was waging a “war on Islam;” that he said Islamic law required that American actions in the Muslim world should be confronted; and that he was upset that he would be deployed to serve in Afghanistan. Hasan had previously prepared a PowerPoint presentation for the Army, warning of “adverse effects” for the Army unless American Muslims were allowed to avoid fighting fellow Muslims overseas. Investigators found Hasan’s business cards printed with the term “SoA(swt).” Investigators speculate this means “Soldier of Allah, glory be to Him.” Hasan repeatedly asked a leader at his local Texas mosque how American Muslim soldiers could religiously justify being at war against Afghan Muslims and Iraqi Muslims. Others who know Hasan say he was upset about anti-Muslim harassment he had previously experienced from other soldiers.

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