Chaplains following U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf face not only the rigors of life on the combat line, but the unusual requirements of life in a Muslim land. Approximately 200 chaplains have been stationed with the more than 100,000 soldiers in Saudi Arabia, where Islam is the only state-recognized religion in the country.

According to Saudi law, Christians who use wine for Communion or Jews who say a Sabbath prayer over wine are violating prohibitions on alcoholic drinks. U.S. Air Force chaplains in cities where American troops are stationed at airports among Arab civilians and soldiers do not wear their insignia—a cross or a star of David. Some unit commanders have issued orders eliminating the display of large crosses or other religious symbols outside tents or hotel meeting rooms used as chapels.

Normally, Christian clergy would not be allowed to conduct religious services in Saudi Arabia. But under the current conditions, chaplains will be allowed to work among the U.S. troops. “As long as chaplains exercise tact and diplomacy,” said Cliff Weathers, coordinator of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, “being in an Islamic country shouldn’t interfere with their duties.”

Nevertheless, American military personnel are cautioned not to carry out missionary activities such as distributing Bibles or other religious literature among Saudis or others. “We were not invited there to change the Muslim way of worship,” noted Col. Thomas Heather, command chaplain of the Tactical Air Command in Virginia. “It is important to understand that our job is not a missionary one. As long as people understand that, things seem to work pretty well.”

The Persian Gulf ...

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