Muslim Women in the U.S. Military

Posted on December 16, 2006

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FROM HEAD SCARF TO ARMY CAP, MAKING A NEW LIFE
Andrea Elliott, New York Times, 12/15/06

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Tex. ­ Stomping her boots and swinging her bony arms, Fadwa Hamdan led a column of troops through this bleak Texas base.

Only six months earlier, she wore the head scarf of a pious Muslim woman and dropped her eyes in the presence of men. Now she was marching them to dinner.

[…] The United States military has long prided itself on molding raw recruits into hardened soldiers. Perhaps none have undergone a transformation quite like that of Ms. Hamdan.

Forbidden by her husband to work, she raised five children behind the drawn curtains of their home in Saudi Arabia. She was not allowed to drive. On the rare occasions when she set foot outside, she wore a full-face veil.

Then her world unraveled. Separated from her husband, who had taken a second wife, and torn from her children, she moved to Queens to start over. Struggling to survive on her own, she answered a recruiting advertisement for the Army and enlisted in May. […]

Comment from Rafik Beekun: In spite of comments from Islamophobes that American Muslims are not patriotic, there are many Muslim men and women serving currently in the U.S. Military. Many more wish to serve. However, the military needs to work with and to accommodate the religious duties (such as prayer times and fasting) and dress code of Muslims if it wishes to recruit and retain more American Muslims. In a couple of the branches of the US armed forces, more Muslim chaplains are needed. Male Muslim soldiers should be allowed to keep their beard as long as they keep it neat and trim–like Sikh soldiers were allowed to during the Vietnam War. Women should be allowed to dress modestly within the parameters of the Islamic dress code and the duties they perform.

As the story of Sister Hamdan indicates (see remainder of article and the multimedia presentation below), such accommodation has yet to be reached especially with the dress code of Muslim women. She was asked to wear shorts when clearly she was within her rights to wear sweatpants. Sensitivity to these issues and diversity training in the US military will go a long way towards making more American Muslims effective and comfortable in whatever branch they are serving. Click on this link to read the remainder of the article.

Please click here to watch a multimedia presentation of Sister Hamdan and her experience in the US army. Since this presentation contains both audio and photos, it may take some time to load depending on your internet connection speed.