Does something get lost in the ISIS-Islam debate?

Posted by:

President Barack Obama has taken heat for trying to distinguish between ISIS and Islam. I don’t care to debate whether ISIS fighters represent an extreme wing of Islam or are just madmen who try to cloak themselves under the veil of Islam. They’re killers and thugs.  That’s enough for me.

But since Islam has become part of the discussion regarding terrorism—rightly or wrongly—maybe it’s worth looking at Islam from another angle. Let’s look at Muslims who serve in the U.S. military.

The image that likely comes to mind for most is Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 people and wounded 31 others in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas. He said the shootings were retaliation for the U.S. wars in the Muslim world.  Nidal is on Death Row in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

Nidal leaves us with a dark image of Islam, one that is hard to dispel, but there are other images as well. According to the Department of Defense, in 2002 there were approximately 15,000 Muslims in in the U.S. military, and we hear little about these Muslims.

The Army had six Muslim chaplains in 2009. (I wasn’t able to find current numbers.)  One was Chaplain (Maj.) Dawud Agbere, who served at Fort Sill, Okla. Though most of the soldiers in the battalion he served were Christian, the battalion commander, then Col. Jim Davis, said his men trusted Agbere right away. “I got a chaplain that soldiers loved to go and talk to.”

In 2006, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena M. Saifulislam, who grew up in Bangladesh, was one of two Muslim chaplains in the Navy. At the time, he was stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.  Saifulislam immigrated to the U.S. in 1989 and enlisted in the Navy. He aspired to become an officer, which required that he first become a U.S. citizen.  Saifulislam became a citizen in 1995, and three years later, he entered a chaplain’s candidate program that offered a commission.

Army Spc. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan grew up in Manahawkin, N.J., and was 14 on 9/11. He joined the Army after high school and went on to receive the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Khan was killed while on patrol in Iraq on August 6, 2007 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where a Muslim crescent marks his grave.

We can look closer to home to find Muslims serving in the military. Sajjad H. Rizvi, a Shia Muslim, and Mohammed N. Rahman, a Sunni Muslim, served in Lima Company, a Columbus-based reserve Marine unit that deployed to Iraq in 2005 and lost 23 men. Rizvi and Rahman fought together in a squad led by Jason Dominguez, who now serves as Assistant Director for Ohio Department of Veteran Services.

Rizvi was born in the U.S., but when he was seven, his family moved to Pakistan where, according to a Marine Corps news release, he saw religious motivated killings and discrimination for the next 10 years. Upon returning to the U.S., he attended and graduated from Westerville South High School in 1998 and joined the Marines in 2003.

Here’s Rizvi’s perspective from a 2005 interview on being a Muslim and a Marine: “I joined after the 9/11 tragedy, and I was never discriminated against because of my nationality or religious background like I had been before. Many people have this misconception that the Muslim community is like what the insurgents portray it as, which is totally untrue.”

Rahman was born in Bangladesh. His family moved to the U.S. when he was 12. He graduated from Worthington Kilbourne High School. Dominguez remembers that Rahman was personally offended by and saw al-Qaida as a black eye on Islam and wanted to show the world that the insurgents didn’t represent the Islam religion he practiced. Here’s Rahman’s perspective on being a Muslim and a Marine: “I trust in our leaders’ decisions.  I will continue to do my job the best I can. Through my actions, my faith will be redeemed, and my country will be safe.”

Dominquez tell me that Rizvi works for UPS and continues to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves, and Rahman serves as a Columbus police officer. With men like these among us, I wonder about the value of the ISIS-Islam debate. I don’t know the answer, but I know this: the debate can overshadow the good work being done by American Muslims.


Jack D’Aurora writes for


To subscribe to this blog, use the subscribe box at



  1. KevinB  March 18, 2015

    Seems to me that you missed the point in this blog. Yes, we all know that there are good people in every group that may be defined by race, religion, etc. There’s really nothing noteworthy about that. Yawn.

    The scarey thing is that we hear so much about the minority of Muslims bent on their perversion of jihad, and so little from the majority of peaceful Muslims condemning the actions of those misrepresenting their religion. Groups like ISIS create so much fear and loathing that it can lead to severe prejudice in the average non-muslim if left unchecked. The elevating “eye for an eye” doesn’t do anyone any good.

    If the Muslim community wants to stem the tide of increased prejudice, then simply living a good life isn’t enough. What’s that saying: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. If the western countries choose to fight ISIS they are viewed as evil by more and more of the middle eastern Muslims fueling membership in these radical groups. I would like to see Islamic countries take more responsibility for fighting their own radical subgroups before this whole thing gets even scarier.

    •  March 24, 2015

      I like what you say. Yes, it’s disturbing that more peaceful Muslims don’t speak out against the Muslims who are terrorizing the Mid East. Why that doesn’t happen is beyond me? Is it a cultural thing? Are the peaceful Muslims afraid to speak up? Whatever the answer, that paradigm has to change for the sake of the peaceful Muslims themselves.

  2. Jim  March 20, 2015

    Jack , you always make us think! …for the better.

  3. John C. Calhoun  April 1, 2015

    Men smarter than I have long said that military men fight for the guy to the left of them and to the right of themselves. I found that true when on the ground in SE Asia as it is currently in SWAO. Explaining the “principles” of why governments do what they do is for smoking and joking in the rear area’s. When men (or women or now children) come looking for you with guns and hiding behind civilians you have to find the inner “warrior ethos” to fight and protect those closest to you literally and figuratively. And if we are lucky enough to have a Tomcat driver like you were, close by, to help him put steel on target. Religious fervor by fanatical sects has been with us since the earliest of recorded times. You and Kevin rightfully have concluded that it is puzzling and shameful but woefully so human, that there exist only a few courageous men and women from within Islam willing to stand up and not be subverted (the men cited above are true patriots). Unfortunately history has shown that it is the norm for only a few to stand against the many. History is full of examples and war does not solve any of these problems because the people who have really learned the lesson are dead. I believe this is rightfully a religious/political question and it is very unfortunate we must call on our best young men to do something about it. Thank You for your past Service. Pray for those guys who continue in harms way, I tried to be there for them everyday even though I was back here at DSCC. John C. ( Past Commander HHC 9th DMMC)


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published and your last name is optional.