Devout Muslim Soldier Hopes to Avoid Deployment to Afghanistan
Pfc. Naser Abdo says year in Army has conflicted with Muslim faith.
Pfc. Naser Abdo, 20, has filed for conscientious objector status, which would allow him to leave the Army without consequence, on the belief that his Muslim faith and one-time desire to serve his country can't be reconciled.
"A Muslim is not allowed to participate in an Islamicly unjust war," the Texan told ABCNews.com. "Any Muslim who knows his religion or maybe takes into account what his religion says can find out very clearly why he should not participate in the U.S. military."
Stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, Abdo said he once believed strongly that joining the Army and fighting to protect Islamic freedoms in Iraq and Afghanistan would make him a good Muslim.
"I felt it would be challenge to my body and a challenge to my mind and I thought God would be proud of me," Abdo said. "I felt I was doing something good for the Muslim nation."
But in February, less than a year after joining and going through basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia, Abdo said he began to lose touch with the Islamic community that had become so important to him.
"I started considering that, I'd had a problem maintaining my faith because I wasn't involved with the Islamic community as much as I should have been," he said. "I started questioning whether I was really ready to die.
"I came to the conclusion," he said, "that I wasn't ready to die and meet God."
Fort Campbell spokesman Rick Rzepka said his base is home to several Muslims who serve without issue. He pointed to a weekly Islamic prayer service and a recent memo that went out telling soldiers of accommodations that could be made for them to observe Ramadan.
Rzepka confirmed that Abdo's deployment had been deferred. It would take officials about six months to review his conscientious objection application, which was filed in June.
"He's not in trouble," Rzepka said, while noting that if Abdo were ordered to deploy and refused, he would face charges.
Abdo is hoping it doesn't come to that.
His website, which tells his story and includes a link to donate to his legal expenses, suggests that Abdo "will be at danger of harassment and even death from his fellow soldiers, many of whom will be resentful of PFC Abdo's religious beliefs and his desire to be discharged from the military."
His attorney, James Branum, said he has already planned for the worst-case scenario and is prepared to represent him in court should he be court-martialed. If Abdo's claim is denied, Branum said, they'd consider refiling the claim citing new evidence, asking a federal civilian court to intervene or trying to persuade Abdo's command to discharge him on other grounds.
"At all costs, though, I hope we can avoid a showdown," Branum wrote in an e-mail, "where Abdo's faith and conscience forces him to break the law and refuse to deploy."
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Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of Islamic Law Counsel of North America, said he sees no reason why a person can't be both a good Muslim and a dedicated soldier.
"I don't see that, from the Islamic point of view, there is any problem with that," he said, pointing out that there are many thousands of Muslims around the world serving in the militaries of non-Muslim countries, including his native India.
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