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Zainab bint Younus writes a book review of Mantle of Mercy: Islamic Chaplaincy in North America – edited by Muhammad A. Ali, Omer Bajwa, Sondos Kholaki, and Jaye Starr

“Mantle of Mercy: Islamic Chaplaincy in North America” is a collection of essays on the topic of (obviously) Islamic chaplaincy in North America.

The Editors’ Introduction is detailed and discusses how Islamic chaplaincy in North America requires professional training and certification, rather than being open to just anyone with a “religious” background. This is important to note, as several writers emphasize that chaplaincy is very different from the types of da’wah we are usually accustomed to (i.e formal teaching, intra-Muslim services etc).

Reflective and Insightful

The book itself is a mixed bag. There are some amazing essays that truly stand out – Sohaib Sultan and Azleena Azhar’s contributions made me tear up; Tricia Pethic’s essay had valuable advice about chaplain self-care; Fiazuddin Shuayb’s “Islam at Alcatraz of the Rockies” was a fascinating glimpse into Muslim inmates in a high security prison.

I genuinely appreciated “A Chaplain’s Call for Pastoral Care in the Masjid,” which explored the role of a chaplain -not an imam- within a masjid. While the author, Joshua Salaam, ended up leaving that position, the lessons he brings up are powerful; the role of a community chaplain is truly very distinct from that of an imam or shaykh, or that of a social worker. Rather than providing religious rulings or issuing formal Islamic knowledge, a community chaplain’s role is to “compassionately accompany people as they journey and explore their spiritual struggles.”1 To see the author’s articulation of chaplaincy and pastoral care within a masjid context provided significant food for thought, and I consider it a valuable read for anyone involved in da’wah and community work.

Many of the essays were reflective, imbued with spiritual lessons, and had me thinking about my own role in da’wah and gaps in services within the community. Those which were related to oft-forgotten demographics such as incarcerated Muslims, or patients in hospitals and long-term care, were particularly moving. It became all too clear that unfortunately, despite Islamic exhortations to visit the sick and care for the needy, our communities tend to fall into the mindset of “out of sight, out of mind.” The essays by hospital and prison chaplains were a stark reminder of how spiritual work never ends, not even -and especially not when- a Muslim is incarcerated or ill.

Problematic Essays and External Agendas

Mantle of Mercy
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Then there were the truly problematic essays, which should never have been published in my opinion, but the fact that they were highlights how much corruption has seeped into our community and been normalized in the name of “inclusivity.”

Jamal Bey’s entire essay is  American military propaganda, and it is appalling that the editors allowed it into this anthology, without even a disclaimer or editorial note or commentary. His less-than-subtle attempt at painting himself as a victim -not of the military imperialistic complex, but of Muslims who find his position and support of the American military despicable- is utterly loathsome. Not only does he openly talk about how he literally compromised fasting in Ramadan for his military training, but even attempts to justify it: “the reason I could not do what my Creator instructed me to was because I was in a place that I thought would improve my life and my din (faith).2

Bey makes a point of creating a false scenario where “immigrant Muslims” are those who object to his position in the military, while the Warith Deen Mohammad community -which he holds up as an indigenous community to the United States- is portrayed as supportive to military service. He pointedly ignores the fact that many African Americans strenuously object to joining the American military on ethical as well as spiritual grounds; most notably, and ironically, Muhammad Ali (pre-Islam, at that!). Nowhere does he acknowledge the many evils of the American military and its imperialist operations overseas, including and especially in Muslim lands where the US army is infamous for committing crimes against humanity.

Indeed, Bey insults readers further with statements like “military life as a Muslim over the past decade has often left me feeling isolated, unjustly distrusted, and alienated from my Muslim community and my military community.”3 Never does he pause to reflect as to why other Muslims have every valid and legitimate reason to distrust him, considering his active involvement in oppressive, unjust invasions of Muslim lands.

He continues to demonstrate his complete lack of connection with reality by talking about the “moral injury” experienced by “Muslim service members” “by observing the actions of residents where the U.S. military operates. The practice of those residents may be viewed as heretical or against what the service members view as a sound religious practice, such as suicide bombings, the use of civilian spaces (including masjids), schools, and hospitals for waging combat, or the prohibition of female students.”4  Certainly, all those actions are indeed antithetical to Islam – but so is the unjust invasion of Muslim lands, and the murder of fellow Muslims.

While Bey waxes lyrical in claiming “moral injury”, he never stops even once to acknowledge the very real, often fatal, physical injuries of the Muslims IN those Muslim lands, who are being invaded, raped, and tortured by U.S. military members. Bey’s entire essay is nothing more than American military propaganda, and it is appalling that the editors allowed it into this anthology.

El-Farouk Khaki was another individual whose submission should not have been included. Khaki is most known for being openly gay, an LGBTQ+ activist, and the “imam” of el-Tawhid Juma Circle and the founder of Salaam Queer Muslim Community. His essay was little more than telling Muslims who do not accept that homosexuality is acceptable in Islam that they MUST validate the sexual orientation of LGBTQ+ Muslims in order to be good chaplains.

Khaki spends a significant amount of  time not just encouraging Muslim chaplains to be welcoming to all Muslims -regardless of their sins-, but rather explicates upon “Vivienne Cass’s framework for understanding the process of gay and lesbian identity formation”5 in order to inform Muslim chaplains how they must support LGBTQ+ Muslims in pursuing and living in accordance to their queer identities.

There is a far cry from saying that someone cannot be Muslim because of their sins -indeed, all Muslims agree that sinful actions by themselves do not take people out of Islam- and that someone must be affirmed and encouraged to take their desires as a point of literal pride and identity. One of the foundational principles of Islam is the jihad an-nafs in pushing back against our baser desires, especially those which push us into prohibited actions. To demand the opposite goes far beyond being empathetic or compassionate towards Muslims who are sinners (as in, every Muslim!); rather, it is a clear rejection of Allah’s

subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)
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Finally, Khaki ends his essay by attacking “A Joint Muslim Statement on the Carnage in Orlando” issued by hundreds of imams and Muslim community leaders: “When this not-so-joint statement declared ‘most Muslims adhere to a strict Abrahamic morality,’ it failed to define what such morality means, and inaccurately presented the Abrahamic traditions as monolithic and exclusionary of LGBTIQ people.”6  Khaki makes it clear: if any Muslim leader, imam, or chaplain dares to uphold the belief that homosexuality is haraam, they are to be considered as harmful to the well being of queer Muslims in general – regardless of how else they are engaged with or approached.

While there were some other problematic essays, Bey and Khaki’s submissions were absolutely the worst, and represent the dangerous ways that even something as seemingly harmless and wholesome as “Islamic chaplaincy” is being actively poisoned by external agendas – whether that be enforcing acceptance of American military invasions in Muslim lands, enforcing acceptance of homosexuality and other queer identities amongst the mainstream Muslim community and leadership, or others.


All in all, “Mantle of Mercy” is certainly an interesting read, with wonderful advice in most of the essays.  I would recommend this to Muslims with a solid Islamic background who are involved in da’wah work, but I would not recommend it to the average layperson.


Related reading:

Book Review: Better, Not Bitter by Dr. Yusef Salaam

Book Review: Better, Not Bitter by Dr. Yusef Salaam

Muslim Chaplains In An Evolving Profession

Muslim Chaplains In An Evolving Profession



1    Kholaki et al., 2022, pg 155
2    Kholaki et al., 2022, pg. 187
3    Kholaki et al., 2022, pg 189
4    Kholaki et al., 2022, pg 190
5    Kholaki et al., 2022, pg105-107
6    Kholaki et al., 2022, pg 108

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Source: Muslim Matters