Published September 02, 2010
A Muslim soldier from Texas who joined the U.S. Army last year now wants to leave the military, claiming he is a conscientious objector whose devotion to Islam has suffered since he took an oath to defend the United States against all enemies.
Pfc. Naser Abdo, a 20-year-old infantryman assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., filed for conscientious objector status in June because his faith and the military simply don't mix, he told FoxNews.com. The Army has deferred his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan.
"Islam is a peaceful religion, it's not a religion of warfare," Abdo said. "And it's not a religion of terror. As a Muslim, we stand against injustice, we stand against discrimination, and I feel it's my duty as an individual to do this."
Abdo, the Texas-born son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, said his relatives and wife stand by his decision and that he will likely refuse to deploy if his application for CO status is denied.
"I was more faithful to God before I joined the military and that's what kind of stirred me," he said. Military duties have really consumed every part of my day and did not allow me time to involve myself with the Islamic community to maintain what duties I felt that I owed God. This is really what made me come to the conclusion that I'm not ready to die....
"I knew that if I went to Afghanistan and, God forbid, something were to happen, that my faith was so weak that I wouldn't be admitted into heaven….
"The conclusion I came to is that I can't participate in the U.S. military, including any war it's involved in or any war it will be involved in in the future," he said.
Fort Campbell spokeswoman Kelly DeWitt said Abdo's deployment has been deferred, but according to Army regulations he may be deployed to Afghanistan at any time like other members of his unit.
"The Army recognizes that even in our all-volunteer force, a soldier's moral, ethical or religious beliefs may change over time," an Army statement read. "The Army and Fort Campbell has procedures in place for soldiers who declare themselves to be conscientious objectors and who apply for conscientious objector status."
According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, Abdo cited Islamic scholars and verses from the Koran as reasons to seek separation from the Army.
"I realized through further reflection that God did not give legitimacy to the war in Afghanistan, Iraq or any war the U.S. Army would conceivably participate in," he wrote.
J.E. McNeill, an attorney and executive director of the Center on Conscience and War, a Washington-based group that defends the rights of conscientious objectors, said it's difficult to predict the chances that Abdo's application will be approved. But on the surface, she said, it appears Abdo's case meets the standard for conscientious objector status.
"What he has to show is that he's opposed to war in any form," she said. "So the question is, is he opposed to any war or is he opposed to [Iraq and Afghanistan]?"
Applications for conscientious objectors -- defined by Army Regulation 600-43 as a person who is "sincerely opposed, because of religious or deeply held moral or ethical (not political, philosophical, or sociological) beliefs, to participating in war in any form" -- can take up to six months to process. Approval rates in the Army over the last seven years have averaged 58 percent. Across all U.S. military branches, 53 percent of conscientious objector status applications were approved from 2002 through 2006.
Of the 1.4 million enlisted U.S. military personnel as of Sept. 30, 2009, less than half of 1 percent identified themselves as Muslim, according to military statistics, and roughly the same rate of U.S. Army soldiers identified themselves as Muslim. Religious affiliation for military personnel currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan was not available since servicemembers are not required to disclose that information.
Citing Army regulations, Abdo's attorney, James Branum, said Abdo will be interviewed by a chaplain and a psychologist prior to an informal hearing with an investigating officer, who will recommend whether to approve or deny the application.
If the claim is denied, Branum said Abdo could re-file with new evidence; seek to take the matter to a federal civilian court; refuse to deploy or drop the matter altogether. He acknowledged that Abdo could go to jail if he refuses to obey orders to deploy.
"We're trying to avoid that kind of showdown," Branum told FoxNews.com. "At this moment, Abdo is in a place where he's not going to violate his conscience."
Branum said he's received a "fair number" of emails regarding Abdo's case, some of which he said included death threats against the soldier and suggestions that his citizenship be revoked.
Abdo, for his part, said he has endured harassment, discrimination and intimidation due to his religious beliefs since joining the military, particularly during basic training at Fort Benning in Georgia. He also claimed to be the target of "resentment" from fellow soldiers due to his prayer schedule.
"Some of them would say I hate Jews, some of them even asked me, 'Would you kill your own family? Are you sure you're not on the wrong side?'" Abdo said. "It was daily. It was daily for sure."
A website detailing Abdo's situation has resulted in roughly 15 donations totaling about $250 for his legal defense. He's also received dozens of messages protesting his decision, which he said were "disgusting and hateful."
"You make me sick," read one message. "You make everyone I know sick."
Another message read: "I am not sure why you joined the Army to begin with, but as an Army Wife here at Fort Campbell, KY, I wouldn't want someone like you deploying with MY husband. It's good to stand by your religion and beliefs and I would be lying if I said I understood what they are, because I don't."
Abdo said he understands the dissension.
"By no means am I expecting a standing ovation," he said.