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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 17:13 GMT
Striving for "truly British" armed forces
John Reid and Imam Asim Hafiz
The four new chaplains were welcomed at the MoD
As the Armed Forces' first Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh chaplains are officially welcomed to their positions by Defence Secretary John Reid, the BBC News website looks at their hopes for their new roles.

In welcoming the four, Mr Reid told a press conference at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that "spiritual, moral and pastoral support" was now be available for service men and women of all faiths.

"One of the important things about service men and women is the importance that is attached to morale.

"It is not just a matter of being happy, it is not just a matter of trust and comradeship, it is also a matter of spiritual fulfilment."

FORCES RELIGIOUS PERSONNEL
Christian - 183,000
Muslim - 305
Hindu - 230
Buddhist - 220
Sikh - 90
Jew - 65
Source: MoD

But he said the new appointments would also encourage more people from non-Christian faiths to join the Armed Forces.

"We want to make sure that people of all faiths in this country recognise that the British Armed Forces really truly are the Armed Forces of Britain," he added.

The four new chaplains were also welcomed by the Rev David Wilkes, the British military's chaplain general, and honorary officiating chaplain Rabbi Malcolm Weisman - the military's only chaplain for 65 Jewish service men and women.

The forces have 300 regular commissioned Christian chaplains serving 183,000 Christian personnel.

The four new recruits have all spoken of their hopes for their new roles:

BUDDHIST CHAPLAIN DR SUNIL KARIYAKARAWANA

"Mutual respect and understanding amongst religions can bring about immense happiness to our life."

Dr Sunil Karikayakarawana
Dr Karikayakarawana has taught at universities for the last 20 years

Dr Sunil Kariyakarawana sees the MoD's decision to recruit chaplains from minority faiths as "a significant step forward within the equality policy of the government".

He will be based at Wellington Barracks.

He says his past work with people of all faiths, including caring for detainees at the immigration removal centre at Harmondsworth, will translate well to his new position.

His experience in Buddhism, thought by many to be synonymous with pacifism, was not contradictory to being a chaplain in the Armed Forces, he said.

There are currently 220 Buddhist servicemen and women.

"Though you may, at times, not like what service personnel are called upon to do, they deserve our care and compassion as much as anyone else," he said.

SIKH CHAPLAIN MANDEEP KAUR

"I would like to articulate my great bliss and honour at being appointed as the first Sikh civilian chaplain - it will be an honour to provide specific faith advice."

Mandeep Kaur
Mandeep Kaur began her career as an agricultural engineer

Sikh chaplain Mandeep Kaur will be based at HQ5 Division in Shrewsbury.

She says that being a woman makes her new position "a great challenge".

"Sikhism has given equal opportunities to women and I am privileged," she added.

As well as providing religious advice to members of the forces, she says she also hopes to "educate Sikh civilians about the Armed Forces".

There are currently 90 Sikhs in the Armed Forces.

"History speaks about the glorious contributions of practicing Sikhs in the Armed Forces as their honesty and truthful living was exemplary," she said.

MUSLIM CHAPLAIN IMAM ASIM HAFIZ

"As a British citizen, I hope that I can promote a better understanding of Islam and address the issues that may lead to disaffection."

Imam Asim Hafiz
Asim Hafiz was the first full-time Muslim chaplain at Wandsworth Prison

Imam Asim Hafiz, who will be based at Wellington Barracks in London, is the only new chaplain taking on the role full-time with the others working on a part-time basis. The MoD says that is to reflect the "anticipated workload" of the Imam.

He says he is "not at all concerned" that the figure of 305 Muslims in the Armed Forces is not representative of the estimated 1.6 millions Muslims in the UK.

"The fact that there are 305 Muslims in the Armed Forces is a sign that Muslims want to get involved just as they have done so in all sectors of the community," he said.

"A few years back, there were no Muslims in the Armed Forces and now there are 305.

"It's more than predictable that in the very near future we'll have more."

HINDU CHAPLAIN KRISHAN ATTRI

"Hindu personnel in the Armed Forces will now be able to seek religious advice and guidance where, in the past, they were not able to do so. I look forward to making a positive contribution."

Krishan Attri
Krishan Attri is the chairman of the National Council of Hindu priests

Krishan Attri has worked as the Hindu priest in charge of the North-East's Hindu community since he arrived in the UK from India in 1986.

Mr Attri will be based at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire.

He says he is going into the new role with an open mind.

"I will see what kind of problems there are and what kind of problems are being faced and then see how best I can help."

He too would like to see more people of his faith in the military.

"There are only 230 Hindus in the Armed Forces at the moment but Hindus have served for a long, long time in the Armed Forces," he said.




SEE ALSO
Kirk faces army chaplains drought
20 Apr 04 |  Scotland
A man of God in the Army
13 Mar 03 |  UK

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