Air Force Imam Visits Leaders in East Africa
Imam Walid Habash, a Muslim chaplain for the U.S Air Force, joined other military chaplains for a recent trip to strengthen relationships between the American people and Muslim communities in East Africa, May 2010.
U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Gary Snyder, U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Captain) Habash, U.S. Navy Chaplain (Captain) Robert Young and U.S. Army Chaplain (Colonel) David Colwell met African community, religious and government leaders in four countries during the 13-day trip.
The interfaith delegation quickly found that they demonstrated a first for many in their audience -- how people of more than one religion can live and work together peacefully anywhere.
"Everywhere we went, I was told that it was the first time they had seen a Christian and Muslim sitting together peacefully during a meal, religious discussion or any event," said Habash, Islamic Chaplain for the 86th Airlift Wing, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. "That alone started discussions about the possibilities for diverse people living together peacefully."
During a lunch with five Somali Imams, the chaplains' respect for each others' views and their ability to work closely together quickly led the discussion in the direction of how to foster peace, respect and understanding.
The chaplains also had an opportunity to exchange ideas for a peaceful future with a number of young, future leaders. Thirty seven Somali youth attended a meeting in Eastleigh, Nairobi, to discuss the challenges they face in reaching a peaceful future with more education and economic opportunities.
One student named Mohamed stood up to speak about the youth of Somali as "raw material that can be turned into any product" and that all they lacked were opportunities to become useful products for the future of Somalia.
"Early on I could already see a huge impact whether we are connecting with key leaders or the average person," Habash said. "I think we are going a long way to building bridges [between our respective nations]."
The chaplains met with more than 200 leaders during the trip. They traveled to diverse communities including the remote village of Micheweni on Pemba Island, Tanzania, held a religious leader conference in Moroni, Comoros, and visited community centers in Dire Dawa and Harar, Ethiopia.
At every engagement, the chaplains were invited to return as an interfaith model for future opportunities to discuss and promote peace and stability in the Eastern African region.
(Editor's note: Chaplain Colwell is the Command Chaplain, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Chaplain Young and Chaplain Snyder are the director and deputy director for CJTF-HOA Religious Affairs, respectively.)