Marine Corps' First Islamic Prayer Center Dedicated
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 7, 2006 Calling freedom of religion a principal right in "a nation of people from all races and creeds who believe in liberty and freedom," Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England helped the Marine Corps dedicated its first Islamic prayer center here yesterday.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee unveil a plaque to dedicate the new Islamic prayer center at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., June 6. Photo by Lance Cpl. Kara L. Coonrod, USMC
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
England offered his congratulations to the Corps and the leadership of Quantico and the chaplain corps for seeing the need for the center, and working to establish it.
The Navy has two Islamic facilities; however, neither is a dedicated facility similar to the one at Quantico, a Defense Department official said. The Air Force has similar centers at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and Ramstein Air Base, Germany, according to Air Force public affairs officials. Army information was not available.
Quantico is considered the crossroads of the Marine Corps. The prayer center will help educate many about the Islamic faith while it serves the Islamic community here, England said. Quantico is host to a mixture of U.S. and foreign servicemembers, as well as civilians, Gen. Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, said.
"This Islamic prayer center, the first of its kind in the Marine Corps, is really an extension or our ethos, (the) ethos that we take care of one another," Hagee said. "It is going to provide our Muslim Marines and their families, Muslim Department of Defense civilians and Muslim international military personnel serving with us a proper place for religious services."
Spiritual devotion is an important component of the profession of arms, as well as important element in quality of life, Hagee said. He added that events like the dedication of the prayer center strengthen the ties that bind.
"I believe that we all share some very important basic values; the respect for human life, the respect for truth and the respect for personal property," he said.
Rear Adm. Louis Iasiello, chief of Navy chaplains, lent his support to the establishment of the center with a story of Marines and local Iraqi leaders who had gathered in a train terminal south of Baghdad. A Navy chaplain offered a prayer that, "Betrayed neither himself, nor his country, nor his God," Iasiello said. In fact, the prayer served as an icon of religious respect that united the two groups.
"Today ... religious respect takes the form of a center, an Islamic center established to afford those of the Muslim faith the opportunity to pray and worship God in a manner that honors and respects their religious heritage," he said.
Twenty-four of the 426 Muslim Marines currently serving are stationed at Quantico. This center is a welcome haven for them, Lance Cpl. Mehreena Ahmad said.
"There haven't been a lot of centers to pray at, but this one's solely dedicated to us," she said. "So, we're just happy that we have a place."
Staff Sgt. Madyun Shahid echoed her sentiment. "The Marine Corps is recognizing diversity in the Marine Corps, and I'm just happy to have a place ... to go worship."
The prayer center, which was established in an existing structure on the base, is only temporary until an extension to the existing Marine Memorial Chapel is complete. Ground-breaking for the extension is scheduled for fall, and completion is expected in 2008.
Before touring the center with Hagee and Navy Lt. Saiful Islam, Headquarters and Service Battalion chaplain, England acknowledged the long history of Muslim servicemembers defending the United States.
"Their service continues a long and noble tradition," England said. "Muslim-Americans served in the ships of our Navy and in the U.S. Army in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Grenada, Panama and the 1991 Gulf War."
Some of those veterans of past conflicts were present for the dedication. England acknowledged Army Sgt. Nazeem Abdul Hakeem who fought on the beaches of Normandy in World War II, Air Force Sgt. Gath Noor Kas-Heef, who served during the Korean War, and Army Maj. Christopher Bell who served at Cam Ron Bay in Vietnam.
Also present was Army Sgt. 1st Class Mujaheed Muhammed, who was a Korean War prisoner of war. Captured by Communist forces while assigned to the 15th Infantry's reconnaissance patrol, he was held from 1952 through 1954.
"Your example of service continues today with the thousands of Muslim Americans in uniform," England said, recognizing the more than 4,000 Muslims who serve. "These men and women represent the best of our nation."