9/11 Stories: A Hijab And Fatigues

WBUR is remembering Sept. 11 through the stories of men and women from around Massachusetts whose lives were touched that day — those who lost loved ones, those who responded and those whose lives were affected in more unexpected ways.

Two segments of the public may have felt Sept.11′s effect most profoundly: Muslims and soldiers. Shareda Hosein is a Muslim soldier. She grew up in Boston, and joined the service out of high school in 1979. Being a Muslim in the U.S. military was always a balancing act, even before 9/11.

Click to hear Shareda tell her story, or read it below.

Shareda Hosein (Courtesy)

Shareda Hosein (Courtesy)

I’d say the biggest part was wearing the hijab 28 days out of the month and then those two days when I did my reserve duty, having to take my hijab off. I felt a sense of nakedness, there was this conflict: should I leave the military, should I stay in the military?

It was in February 2001, I read an article in The Boston Globe and it said, the article was talking about chaplains in the military and the endorser Qaseem Uqdah, he said, I would love for a female to become a chaplain in the military because it would make such a world of difference for mostly the spouses of the military personnel, who are predominantly male.

And when I read that article I felt, this is it. I’m allowed to bring my Muslim life and my military life together in one profession.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was at seminary, it was my second day. It was around 10 a.m., we were already in session, in class for about an hour, and this one woman got the message on her cellphone that her sister was in New York and did we hear what happened and she was very distraught.

And when we finally got clarity of what actually happened, I would say it was the first time that I experienced fear — as an immigrant, as a Muslim and as a military member.

When I wore my uniform I got, “Thank you very much for serving your country,” I got great smiles. And when I wore my other uniform, my head covering, it was like, “Why are you here? Your people caused this harm on us.” And so, whichever uniform I was wearing was a totally different experience.

“When I wore my uniform I got, ‘Thank you very much for serving your country.’ And when I wore my my head covering, it was like, ‘Why are you here?’”
– Shareda Hosein

My security officer came up to me and he said, “Shareda, I don’t know if you’ve thought about this but since you’re in the military, maybe your Muslim community may not trust you. And because the Muslims are the ones that attacked the U.S., maybe there are people in the military [who] may not trust you.”

So that immediately got me to thinking that I need to help educate people around me. And so I did conduct a few classes for my personnel so they could understand the basics about Islam.

I needed to complete at least two years of seminary before I applied to join the ranks of the chaplaincy. 2003 I put in my application. I was told that I couldn’t because within Islam, women are allowed to lead prayer to women only, but not to both men and women. And the military felt since I couldn’t lead the prayer to both men and women then I’m not fulfilling the duties of how they see a chaplain’s duties should be. So I was not allowed to be accessioned into the ranks of chaplaincy.

A note: Shareda feels that the military fundamentally misunderstands Islamic rituals. Any Muslim man can lead prayer, he doesn’t have to be clergy. So anyone in the congregation could serve that role and Shareda says she could focus on being a spiritual adviser to the soldiers and their spouses.

When they told me that I couldn’t become a chaplain I was very angry. The gender issue, I’ve been fighting that battle my entire life, and I feel like I’m still fighting that gender battle.

I thought long and hard: do I want to sue the government? Because this would be the only way there would be a possibility, and I could lose. And I thought, well I would hate to go into a profession of advocating for people and dealing with spiritual issues with a lawsuit to the government because then it could become a media frenzy and I would be known as the first Muslim woman that fought to be a chaplain, rather than a chaplain that wanted to serve.

And that was one of the leading factors for me not to sue the government. However, what I am committed to is finding a female to break the barrier and allowing her to be the first Muslim chaplain.

Since our conversation with Shareda, she may have found a woman willing to take up the struggle. Soldier Natacha Castelly says she wants to be a Muslim chaplain. And Shareda says she believes the climate in the Army may be more welcoming now.

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  • Mumina Kowalski

    Thank you Shareda for both your military service to our country and your continued dedication to chaplaincy. It takes a selfless leader to make the hard decisions about career and calling that you continue to exemplify.

  • Anonymous

    It isn’t the US govt’s fault that her religion treats her as an inferior.  We will all be better off when people stop believing in myths.

    • M. our

      Islam is not a myth, it is the foundation of the Abrahimic belief in one God. Islam does not consider women inferior , as a matter of fact  Islam respect women and put mothers  on a pedstal. Islam indicates that the doors of heaven is at the feet of mothers.
      As far as leading Islamic prayers there is a good reason for not allowing women to lead or to mingle with men standing in prayers line., In Islamic prayers we bend and prostrate where the sight of a female back could take the concentration of a man upon the purity of prayer to a sextual level.
      You have to study and read about religions in general before you condemen one on the basis of tradions rather than genuine understanding.

      M. Nour

      • Chrismedic49

        Why is it Muslims always blame women for everything they cannot control, like their (mens’) emotions?  Why is it that Muslim men are so weak they want women to cover up? Have the men ever covered up to experience the claustrophobia and extreme discomfort of 120-140 degrees F ? Why are Muslim men such wimps? Why are they afraid of their women’s brains? The men could sure use the help, not to mention some common sense! I’m being polite…

        • Malak

          All of what you have stated here could not be further from the truth.  You need to do more research and educate yourself with information regarding Islam.  Wearing a Hijab is dedication in a nutshell; a personal commitment with God (Allah in Arabic), and a woman herself.  We don’t cover for a man.  It is up to the woman herself to cover.  Not all Muslim women cover and yes men are required to cover too.  All our decisions are our own, woman or man.  Judging is not ever to be done within Christian, Jewish and Islam’s societies, perhaps you are none of these, but I think no one should judge a person based on there religion alone. I have a Muslim husband and again all that you stated is not true!  My husband is THEE most loving, caring, understanding, patient, confident, intelligent and MOST important, believes in full equality in our relationship.  He is, by NO means inferior (afraid) of my intelligence (brains) as a matter of fact he comes to me for my opinion, views and advice whenever he needs to.  We are so fortunate to have each other and I thank Allah everyday for this blessing.  He is a WONDERFUL father to my son too.  It doesn’t matter what ethinic background, what languages you know, what the color of your skin is, it only matter what is within the person, this is how one should base another on merit.  I could go on, but I too am being polite ;) 

          • M.Nour

            Dear Sister Malak
            You stated the facts better than I tried to do reflecting what your name means in Arabic (Angel). Thank you for trying to educate those who attack Islam without knowledge. May God (Allah ) the Almighty bless your family and shine his light on all humanity.

          • Stephanie

             Agreed. My Muslim husband is also wonderful, and I CHOSE to wear the hijab for my own benefit and privacy and respect.

            Also, hijab is NOT hot to wear, your body adjusts to the new temperature very quickly, I am not hot at all anymore and I’ve been wearing hijab for less than two years. people look at Saudis (or other women) with the black dresses and think. “how can you wear that in the desert or in such a hot environment?” Well the answer is, the fabric is incredibly thin chiffon (or other fabrics) that actually cool the body and protect it from the elements. If you look many Australian clothing companies (and others, such as the American company Sun Safe) provide full cover garments for sun protection because they have such problems with skin cancer (because of the ozone hole). Protection from the elements is only ONE practical use for hijab.

            Third, Muslim men are held accountable by God and are disapproved of by the Muslim community if they act inappropriately toward women. Muslim men are required to control themselves, irregardless of how a women behaves. They may get away with in in life, but everyone is judged for their positives/negatives in the afterlife.

            Fourth, Muslim women choose to wear hijab for personal reasons, it was not a fashion created by men  o that  they are not tempted by women. Women created hijab, and define hijab until today. Women are the fashion designers not men.

            Women love feeling cozy and modest and proected. Muslim women love sharing thier personal life with their best friend – their husband. According to many Muslim women, to share yourself with everyone devalues you and makes you less unique.

  • Suzeee

    While I was a grad student (20 years ago) I had a very long conversation with a fellow grad student about Islam. I learned a lot, especially that I knew very little about Islam, and I had many misconceptions.  I don’t think I am unique.

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