London- A Muslim chaplain has been appointed to the British army to provide assistance and spiritual guidance to 305 Muslim soldiers and their families, British Defense Secretary John Reid announced Tuesday.
Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry’s headquarters in London, Reid welcomed Asim Hafiz and three other chaplains to the Armed Forces, stressing the army “was not exclusive to one single religion” and its doors were open to people of all faiths.
The Muslim chaplain Imam Asim indicated that the presence of Muslim soldiers in the army “is a sign they want to get involved just as they have done so in all sectors of the community”.
Reid indicated that the government understood that “spiritual guidance” was crucial to the morale of its soldiers.
He said the new appointment would encourage more people from non-Christian faiths to join the Armed Forces. “It is important that everyone knows that the Armed Forces opens its doors to all British people.”
The four new chaplains were also welcomed by the Rev David Wilkes, the British military’s chaplain general.
As a “first step”, the four chaplains would not wear military uniform while working part-time, with the exception off the Muslim Imam who will be based at the Wellington Barracks in London.
“The number of Muslims in the Armed Forces has greatly increased. A few years ago, there were almost no Muslims and now we have 308 and we are working to recruit even more,” the Defense Secretary said.
The Armed Forces, “took pride in rescuing thousands of innocent civilians in Kosovo who were Muslims of course,” he added.
Reid expressed hope that the status of the four chaplains would be modified in the future so they would work with soldiers and their units wherever they were stationed instead of merely visiting them.
For his part, Imam Hafiz said, “working in the Armed Forces is no easy matter.” His responsibilities will include advice on prayer and giving guidance to Muslim soldiers as well as to look after their families. He considered his appointment and that of his three colleagues “to help realize harmony and unite all parts of society.”
Dr. Sunil Kariyakarawana will serve the 220 Buddhist soldiers and their families, Krishan Attri will provide support to the 230 Hindu British soldiers and their families, and the only woman, Mandeep Kaur will serve as the Sikh chaplain to 90 soldiers and their families.