Saleha Jabeen is a multi-lingual theologian, social justice advocate, and interfaith professional. Here, she shares her story in her decision to join the US Army, and preparing for an astounding journey ahead.
I’ve joined the United States Army Reserves as a Healthcare Specialist.
A decade ago I came to Chicago as in international student, following my heart. Thought I would study MBA and make a mark in corporate world. That quickly changed when I experienced bigotry and prejudices first hand. During the first two years at North Park University, I truly found myself as a Muslim. It all started when an international student from Russia asked me something which I believe marked the entire course of my journey in America. Out of a genuine curiosity, she inquired about my religious identity and I said, I’m a Muslim. Then she asked the question: “are you a practicing Muslim or a namesake?” In that moment I knew something in me had changed, for good.
The path took me to Catholic Theological Union, where I studied Inter-religious Dialogue. I wanted to learn about my religion so I can own it when I practice it. As part of my seminary experience, I was presented with many models of practicing Islam in a Western society, staying true to my skills. I could finally relate to them. I then switched gears from theology to psychology. I wanted to be a counselor and facilitate healing. That was a result of my theological education. However, with just one semester in at Trinity Christian College, I was faced with another challenge: finances. My father has been gracious in supporting me all along. But there is only that much he can do…
This left me with two options: self sufficiency or going back to India. Going back like this to me would mean emotional, spiritual, and intellectual suicide. So, I tried all my options and after three years from first begin introduced to the idea of joining the Army as a route to U.S. citizenship, I decided to take this noble route. I am proud to be serving the country I have been calling my home.
In the end it boiled down to who I truly am, and how do I want to live. The answer was simple… I’m a Muslim woman and I want to live like one. This for me meant thriving for self-sufficiency. From my graduate school learning experience, I took away two gems, one of them was – if Islam is to be fully realized, Muslim women ought to be economically independent.
I felt empowered when I found Islam in Western Muslim Communities. I want to take that to India. I want to lead by example. Being a Muslim woman is not a weakness like the culture would like for us to believe. The only way to change that culture is by being the change itself.
I’m grateful to everyone who continues to be my extremely crucial support system all along. I need mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual strength to take the next steps. All I ask of anyone reading this is to keep the faith and never give into darkness. Please keep me and everyone in prayers who don’t believe giving up is an option.