Screening of "Three Chaplains" Film Generates Constructive Conversation

Author: Rebekah Go

On Tuesday, March 25, 2024 the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion hosted a screening and panel discussion of the recently released independent film "Three Chaplains." The film explores the experience of three Muslim Chaplains within the US Army who are tasked with caring for any and all members of their unit, even while they sometimes face questions of loyalty from both inside and outside the military.

Charles Powell introduces the panel for Three Chaplains film
Dr. Charles Powell introduces the Three Chaplains film panelists.

The film screening was co-sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, the Notre Dame International Security Center, the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government, the Middle Eastern Law Students Association, and the Law School's Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It was held on the same evening of the Law School’s traditional Interfaith Dinner, which this year falls in observance of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Bahai festival of Ridvan, and in the Holy Week leading up to Easter, just a few weeks prior to the Jewish celebration of Passover.

The film screening was followed by a panel discussion hosted by Ansari Institute’s faculty in multifaith engagement, Charles Powell. The panel included the film's director, David Washburn, and the producer, Razi Jafri. They were joined by Rania Khamees, a second-year law student in Notre Dame’s Law School, Kenneth Heckel, the Director of Notre Dame’s Military and Veterans Affairs, and Christopher Wallace, an Army War College Fellow at the University’s Dame International Security Center. Christopher Wallace is also a Chaplain and Lieutenant Colonel within the Army.

Dr. Rafeet Ansari attends the Iftar - Interfaith Meal - after the Thre Chaplains film.
Dr. Rafat Ansari attends the Iftar - Interfaith Meal - after the Three Chaplains film.

The discussion was broad and varied. Chaplain Wallace shared the hardships and joys of helping soldiers work through morally complex situations, assisting with the chain of command, and the hardest part of being a chaplain (it's the red tape). Rania Khamees said the film introduced her to a topic she had now idea about prior to the event. She talked about her personal experience at Notre Dame, particularly the need for religious accommodations during Ramadan and how - in a majority Catholic space - she has felt isolated as the only law student currently wearing a hijab. Veteran and retired lieutenant colonel Heckel reflected on the value of the chaplains who served his units and spoke magnanimously about the value they add to team cohesion, morale, and purpose. Finally Director Washburn and Producer Jafri were able to provide some context for filming as well as the current moment that this country faces where Muslims within the military - and throughout the federal government - are struggling with the US response to the current conflict in Gaza.

Powell organized the viewing of the film "Three Chaplains" and commented on its importance, “This film helps us move away from the negative feelings of anger, fear, and insecurity that often come from not knowing a Muslim and a lack of understanding about Islam. It moves us towards understanding, acceptable levels of trust, and a willingness to collaborate on shared human values. Indeed, the stories shared in the film help to foster fraternity and social friendship with the 'religious other.'”

Mahan Mirza, Razi Jafri, Rob Stockman at the Iftar Meal
(From L to R): Mahan Mirza, Razi Jafri, and Rob Stockman

One thing that was highlighted in the film - and by Chaplain Wallace - is that military chaplains serve all members of the military regardless of their faith tradition. Wallace says the "Three Chaplains" film by producer David Washburn “gives excellent insight into a critical aspect of the military chaplaincy. The film tells the compelling story of Muslim Chaplains in the military. I'm honored to share with them ministry in the military. What I appreciate most about the film is the portrayal of wisdom and grace the three chaplains exhibited in the face of ignorant criticism and unequal treatment. As a devoted Christian, I see in them an example of how Jesus commands us to love our enemies. I hope lots of people get to watch the film.”

After the film wrapped up,the panelists and audience members were invited to join in breaking the fast at The Law School’s interfaith dinner, featuring Rabbi Karen Companez, Dean Marcus Cole , Dr. Robert Stockman, and Dr. Mahan Mirza representing the Jewish, Catholic, Baha’i and Muslim faiths respectively. The Ansari Institute’s Mahan Mirza provided a brief primer on Ramadan, explaining exactly how Muslim’s mark time during this sacred month, and its spiritual purpose. It was a fitting end to an evening that - as Powell said, was “A force for good; barrier breaking; stimulating; inspiring; courageous; eye-opening; heart wrenching; constructive - all of this and more.”