India-born Saleha Jabeen becomes U.S. Air Force’s 1st female Muslim chaplain

Friends and family members of Chaplain Candidate Saleha Jabeen pin on her second lieutenant rank, during a commissioning ceremony, Dec. 18, 2019, at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. Jabeen entered the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense as the first female Muslim chaplain candidate. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Armando A. Schwier-Morales)

India-born and raised Saleha Jabeen was commissioned last month as a second lieutenant at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, becoming the first female Muslim chaplain in the Department of the Defense. Jabeen came to the United States 14 years ago as an international student.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Jabeen completed her BA in Business and Economics at North Park University, followed by a MA in Theology–Interreligious Dialogue from Catholic Theological Union and course in counseling psychology from Trinity Christian College.

“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 Religion News Service after her Dec. 18 commission.

She will now have to complete her chaplaincy training and then will be assigned to a duty station where she will support airmen.

Air Force chaplains are religious ministry professionals who support the spiritual needs of airmen around the world. The Department of Defense has service members of many faiths and those of no faith, but the DoD didn’t have a female Imam.

Jabeen, who had plans of entering the corporate world after completing her education, wrote in a speak piece for the Muslim American Leadership Alliance website, that her brother’s experiences in the U.S. Army, as well as her experiences with bigotry and justice first hand, made her change her mind.

After completing her education, she served in the Army Medical Corps and worked alongside chaplains to help other soldiers. 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, according to the Religion News Network.

“My brother has been the source of my inspiration,” U.S. Airforce News quoted her as saying. “It was because of his dedication and getting to see his military career that I recognized the importance of the chaplaincy in the armed forces. I saw that when one member gets deployed, all of their family members join them.”

Jabeen told Religion News Service that she expects to take officer training this summer at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

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