The British Armed Forces’ first Muslim chaplain has told the BBC that there is no conflict in being a Muslim and fighting for Britain.
Imam Asim Hafiz, who was appointed by the MoD in 2005 and is one of two Muslim chaplains, said of the Afghanistan conflict: “There is no doubt a misunderstanding among the Muslim community that this is somehow a war against Islam. The military is out there trying to support Afghanistan and the Afghan people. They are not fighting a religion or a culture.”
According to reports, there are more than 650 Muslims in the British Armed Forces, up from 305 in 2005. The overwhelming majority of British Muslims oppose the war in Afghanistan and joining the army is generally considered taboo in the community.
But Mr Hafiz said: “Just because they join the armed forces doesn’t mean they lose their soul or lose their faith. I’ve met many Muslims (in the forces) who are very devout.”
He also said the armed forces has become a more welcoming employer for Muslims.
“It’s not perfect yet, there’s more that can be done. The armed forces caters for all the needs a Muslim might have. So fasting during Ramadan, praying five times a day, going to the mosque on Friday for weekly prayers.”
Mr Hafiz has served in Afghanistan on several occasions and is now an adviser to senior British military officials. As part of the deployment he has met Afghan religious leaders to discuss the role of Islam in bringing peace to the country.
“We did discuss the idea of jihad and what we understand is that jihad is not about fighting, it’s not about prolonging conflict. Jihad is about seeking peace and that’s one of the things we were trying to promote.”
His duties have earned him recognition in the New Year Honours list after he was awarded an OBE.