Devout Muslim Soldier Hopes to Avoid Deployment to Afghanistan

Pfc. Naser Abdo says year in Army has conflicted with Muslim faith.

August 30, 2010, 10:57 AM

Aug. 31, 2010— -- An Muslim soldier trying to avoid deployment to Afghanistan said his year in the Army has shown him that "no Muslim should serve in the U.S. military."

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 "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."

Soldier on Muslims in the Military: 'We're Not All Terrorists, You Know?'

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.

"There are a lot of good Muslims who are serving in the U.S. Army and a lot of other places."

But there have been significant hurdles along the way for some.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Fort Hood massacre in Texas last year at the hands of disgruntled Army Maj. Nidal Hasan have caused some Muslim soldiers to report everything from raised eyebrows to teasing to downright discrimination.

Earlier this year, Muslim Army Spc. Zachari Klawonn expressed his frustration at the Army's response to a growing pattern of what he considered harassment and threats by his fellow soldiers, alleged abuse that he said only worsened after the Fort Hood shooting.

And although he'd like to see the Army do more to prevent discrimination against Muslim soldiers, he has never regretted enlisting, he told ABC News in April .

The Army makes every effort to ensure that its soldiers are able to maintain their faith, but the guidelines specifically state that what the Army deems a "military necessity" must come before religious practices for all faiths.

The son of a Muslim father and a non-denominational Christian mother, Abdo was raised in both religions and decided to delve into his Muslim heritage as a teenager, identifying with how Islam advocated the idea of community.

But in the Army, Abdo said, he has found that his fellow soldiers look down on him when he makes time for his five-times-a-day prayer schedule and other Muslim traditions. Once he filed his claim, Abdo said, he was pulled out of a Pashto language class as retaliation. Pashto is spoken in Afghanistan.

Although Fort Campbell employs an imam on base, Abdo prefers instead to seek counsel from his personal circle of Islamic advisers, he said.

"In my experience, they don't know their religion," he said of base imams. "They don't know their faith."

Now, he said, he wants out of the Army so he can spend his life combating what he called Islamaphobia and advocating Islam as a peaceful religion.

"I want to use my experience to show Muslims how we can lead our lives," he said. "And to try and put a good positive spin out there that Islam is a good, peaceful religion. We're not all terrorists, you know?"