For serving personnel, life in the British armed forces is both rewarding and challenging. Not least for the hundreds of Muslims who help defend our country and safeguard its interests overseas. The Armed Forces Muslim Association was set up in 2009 to recognise the contribution Muslim personnel make across all three services, both in the regular and reserve forces.
AFMA provides advice for service chiefs on religious policy, spiritual guidance to serving personnel, and has helped the armed forces to be a welcoming place to work for Muslims. It also organises social get-togethers, which bring Muslim personnel together from each branch of the armed forces, and helps foster a sense of belonging and community.
In a historic first for the British Military a Muslim Padre has joined the Chaplain’s branch of the Royal Air Force. Flight Lieutenant Ali Omar, the first Muslim Padre, graduated at RAF College Cranwell in December after completing his reservist officer training. Flight Lieutenant Omar, originally from Mombasa, Kenya, received a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from Oxford Brookes University in 2004 prior to completing a masters degree in translation studies at Portsmouth University.
Omar will be responsible for providing spiritual and welfare support to soldiers and members of the RAF—along with their families—of Muslim faith. Following the graduation ceremony, Padre (Flight Lieutenant) Ali Omar said: “My role in the RAF as a flagbearer of the Muslim Chaplaincy will see me work with the RAF Chaplaincy branch to negotiate and establish the place of World Faith Chaplaincy within the RAF.”
As the number of Muslim prisoners in the UK rises, alongside the number of prisoners converting to Islam, the agency and importance of Muslim Chaplains working within Her Majesty’s Prison Services is becoming more important than ever.
The Muslim Chaplains’ Association is an organisation that aims to support Muslim Chaplains, to work towards the resettlement of prisoners and prevention of re-offending upon release and to engage with the Muslim and wider communities.
One part of the HMPS wider programme of work is to ensure the
religious needs of prisoners from all traditions can be properly met. HMPS has a HQ chaplaincy which provides a professional oversight and policy role. All prisons have multi faith chaplaincy teams, which include a Muslim chaplain. The team together, and with volunteers, provide prisoners with religious and pastoral care, provide pastoral support to staff, and contribute more widely to the prison. Full-time Muslim chaplains were appointed for the first time in 2003.
Investment into the recruitment of Muslim chaplains has been significant, leading to one hundred and ninety seven Muslim chaplains currently working in prisons in England and Wales. The sector is clearly well advanced. Faith Matters conclude that HMPS has well developed processes for the recruitment and training of Muslim chaplains.