aneesha_and_c.b._hanif_2_web.jpgSheriff Ric Bradshaw, in a bid to improve diversity, recently named C.B. Hanif of West Palm Beach the first Muslim chaplain of the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.

“The Sheriff’s Office has and will continue to strive to reach all segments of the community, both in our community policing efforts and our correctional facility, where we have a responsibility for the safety and well-being of all within our community,” Bradshaw said in a statement.

“In addition, we strive to have a balanced approach to our organization and want it to reflect our community and its demographics,” he said.

The 25 chaplains in the department include a diverse group drawn from various religious denominations and ethnic groups and include women.

As part of their voluntary role, the chaplains may be called out to a serious car crash or may have to tell a family of the death of a loved one.

Lead chaplain, the Rev. Jim Shackelford said they try to meet the needs of those they are serving. The chaplains are also charged with ministering to PBSO staff, which, Shackelford said, has also been diversified.

“We have nearly every religion represented at PBSO,” he said. “We needed a Catholic priest, we needed a Jewish rabbi and we needed a Muslim cleric, so the search went out. We have Muslim deputies and we have a Muslim faction in the community. So we just felt the time is now.”

William Gralnick, chaplaincy manager, said when he joined the staff, he was given instructions to diversify and he reached out to Hanif, whom he described as a friend for 20 years.

Hanif, a former ombudsman and editorial writer for the Palm Beach Post, is a perfect fit for the department, Gralnick said. While their mission in the department is to reflect society, he conceded that, in these times of controversy over Islam and Muslims, not everyone would welcome the appointment of a Muslim chaplain.

Gralnick said Hanif, whom he describes as a man of great character, was the ideal person to deal with any fallout.

Hanif, 58, agrees. A Muslim since the early 1970s, he has spent much of his adult life trying to foster interfaith understanding and runs the website

His appointment as a PBSO chaplain, he said, “seemed a natural with what I’m doing.” He applauds PBSO for bringing on a Muslim cleric.

“I think this appointment is significant but I don’t think it’s about me. It’s recognition that we’re a part of the American fabric too. We’re part of American society, too,” he said.

Pew Research Center data show Muslims in the U.S. numbered 2.5 million  in 2009. Some Muslim organizations put the number at 8 million.

Hanif’s duties do not include ministering to the inmate population.

The Rev. Clarence Ellington, coordinator for the chaplains for the inmates, said Muslim inmates have asked for such a person and he is looking into the request.

Whatever his role at PBSO, Hanif said he wants to be available to offer words of comfort when the need arises. An Imam or Muslim prayer leader since the 1990s, he said his wisdom and experience would be valuable and even in difficult situations he would like to be of help.

“We need someone to be able to talk to them,” he said.

But sometimes it’s not just a shared religious faith that might resonate with someone facing tragic circumstances but also gender, said the Rev. Denise Hudspeth.

An Episcopal priest, Hudspeth was the first female chaplain to join PBSO. Her appointment was also significant, she said, because women offer a unique perspective for someone in need.

“It was very important because women relate very differently to other men and women,” she said. “We have different gifts and talents that our male brothers of diverse faiths don’t have. So I think we are an incredibly important aspect to the PBSO chaplains unit, as well as our own churches, synagogues, or any other religious or spiritual affiliations.”

Shackelford said the department recently interviewed a female rabbi who, he hopes, will join the chaplaincy and join a growing list of diverse clergy who will help PBSO staff and the community get through their most difficult moments.

Pictured Above:      Aneesha and C.B. Hanif