Upholding the First Amendment is often viewed as central to defending the U.S. Constitution. Among those who join the military, however, there can be a fine line between free speech and service.
As far as freedom of religion is concerned, that right is even more muddled for Muslim troops who face scrutiny for their beliefs — not just from fellow service members but from those close to them as well.
Now, a documentary film by David Washburn (”An American Mosque”) is shedding light on the struggles, triumphs and spirit of three Muslim chaplains who work tirelessly to end stigmas about Islam, provide spiritual counsel, and serve proudly in the military.
In the film, Air Force Maj. Rafael Lantigua, Army Col. Khallid Shabazz, and Air Force Capt. Saleha Jabeen share their experiences navigating the complexities of serving both their faith and the U.S. Armed Forces.
“Despite decades of military service, some still view them as the enemy and unfit to serve because of their beliefs,” notes the documentary’s press release. “Rather than blend in, they accept the challenges and inherent dangers of being the public face of Islam for the U.S. military.”
Scrutiny of the chaplains, meanwhile, does not just come from fellow troops. The film also captures the turbulence between families struggling to understand why one would volunteer to work within a system viewed as oppressive to their beliefs.
“Why do you want to join forces with a system that is hell-bent on destroying your own Muslim sisters or brothers?” Jabeen notes in the trailer as one of the first questions she recalls being asked by family.
Still, the three ultimately view their roles as a necessity in promoting diversity among the military’s ranks, and as a measure of showing that Muslims are every bit as American and dedicated to upholding the Constitution as their counterparts.
“Three Chaplains” premieres on Nov. 6 on Independent Lens on PBS.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.