Lt. Col. Khallid Shabazz, 48, was recently named division-level chaplain for the Army’s 7th Infantry at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, a title that puts him in charge of providing spiritual counsel to roughly 14,000 mostly-Christian U.S. soldiers.
Shabazz has been an Army chaplain for years, one of only 10 Muslim chaplains in the entire U.S. military and one of only five in the Army.
And in four months, his appointment will be formalized, via a division ceremony at Lewis-McChord.
“When you get the call saying you have been bestowed a division, the news is kind of like, unearthly,” Shabazz said, McClatchy D.C. reported. “The list is so small and it’s such a tough cut.”
And his reaction when he got the call?
“I’m on the phone saying, ‘Thank you, I appreciate it,'” he said, to McClatchy D.C. “Then I hang up the phone and I’m jumping all around like a little kid … running around the office saying, al hamdulillah, al hamdulillah, praise be to God.”
“The Evidence Bible” is now available and includes, besides the King James version, dozens of articles expanding answers to questions such as why is there suffering, explanations about what Muslims believe and scientific facts written millennia before man discovered them.
Not all are going to be happy with the appointment, he acknowledged.
“For me, a regular old guy from Louisiana, I look to the heavens and say, ‘Why me?’ As the day gets closer, I’m sure I’ll have more anxiety and think about it more,” he told McClatchy. “Islamic guy in a leadership position? If I think about it too much, it’ll get overwhelming.”
Shabazz was born Michael Barnes to a Lutheran family who lived about three hours from New Orleans. He attended Jarvis Christian College in eastern Texas, and after graduating, went back to Louisiana and taught fifth-grade biology.
He quit at the age of 23 and joined the Army. And it was while serving in Germany that he converted from Christian to Muslim.
As McClatchy D.C. reported:
While stationed in Baumholder, Germany, Shabazz worked the motor pool with a Muslim soldier who annoyed other troops with his boasts about the virtues of Islam. Shabazz, who back then was still Christian, grew fed up and decided “to cut him down to size.” He challenged the Muslim to a public debate on the merits of their respective religions.
On the afternoon of the showdown, Shabazz recalled, about 30 soldiers filled a meeting room on base. Shabazz was ready to pounce, but the Muslim opponent “kind of blindsided me with some facts,” launching into a powerful, persuasive defense of his faith that put Islam in a whole new light.
Shabazz, stunned, was down for the count.
“It was all-out cognitive dissonance, depression and shame, honestly,’ Shabazz said, recalling his feelings at that moment. ‘I thought I had a stronghold on the truth. And, for the first time, my confidence was shaken in who I was as a human being and what I believed.”
Shortly after, Shabazz started studying Islam. Two years later, he converted to Islam and changed his name. Why the switch?
He said after studying Islam, he identified with the faith, particularly its emphasis on “thinking” and charity.
Shabazz said his new job as division chaplain would not lead him to convert troops.
“My job,” he told the news outlet, “is not to convert anybody to Islam. God guides people. My only goal is to have people leave my office stronger than when they came in.”
He also said, the news outlet reported: “I don’t want to help just Muslims. I don’t want to help just Christians. I want to help people who are in distress.”
The Department of Defense reports a total of 6,000 or so of self-identified Muslims among its ranks. That’s out of a total of 1.3 million active duty members, and another 800,000 or so reserve and guard troops.