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Muslim Service Members Gather at Pentagon

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2002 – The group was quiet. Some people wore military uniforms; some wore headscarves denoting their Muslim faith. After the call to prayer, known as Adhan, they sipped water as bowls of dates were placed on each table.

The Pentagon observance of the Ramadan Iftar had begun for about 100 Muslim service members, Defense Department civilians and their guests.

Muslims fast each day throughout the month-long observance of Ramadan. At 4 p.m., they celebrate Iftar, the breaking of the daily fast, traditionally by sipping water and eating dates. The practice was observed in the Pentagon Dining Room Nov. 14 before a buffet dinner hosted by the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council.

"The purpose of the dinner is to promote fellowship among our Muslim brothers and sisters in the U.S. armed forces, as well as our non-Muslim friends that we work with every day," said Qaseem A. Uqdah, the council's executive director.

Achieving the dinner's goal is particularly important in the midst of the war on terrorism, he said. Initially, the 21-year Marine Corps veteran noted, the terrorist attack affected the Muslim community's religious self-esteem.

"We felt that we were depicted somewhat as the perpetrator of this crime," Uqdah said. "But the president set the tone for the nation. He continued to repeat that this is not a war on Islam, but a war on terrorism. I was privileged to attend the White House Iftar this week, and he echoed this sentiment again."

The retired gunnery sergeant said his ultimate goal is to one day have the commander in chief break fast with some of the nation's Muslim service members.

Muslim Imam (Capt.) Mohammed M. Khan of the 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky., opened the event reading from the Koran, the Muslim holy book. He said Allah had created mankind from a single man and woman and made them into nations and tribes so they would know each other, not despise each other.

Peter F. Verga, special assistant to the secretary of defense for homeland security, welcomed the group on behalf of the Defense Department. He said the group "shares a brotherhood and camaraderie of arms and honorable service dedicated to restoring peace to the world today."

He thanked the group for supporting the war against terrorism and thanked "Muslim allies throughout the world who continue to support the campaign against terrorism in the hopes that people of the world of all faiths will soon know peace."

"Terrorists have no home in any faith," Verga said. "Evil has no holy days."

He noted that according to Muslim teachings, God first revealed his word in the Holy Koran to the prophet Mohammed during the month of Ramadan.

"That word has guided billions of believers across the centuries and those believers built a culture of learning, literature and science," he said. "All the world continues to benefit from this faith and its achievements.

"Ramadan and the upcoming holy holiday season are a good time for people of different faiths to learn more about each other," Verga said. "The more we learn, the more we find that many commitments are broadly shared. We share a commitment to family, to protect and love our children. We share a belief in God's justice and man's moral responsibilities. And we share the same hope for a future of peace."

The United States is a nation where people are free to speak and to worship as they choose, Verga noted. "We live in a country where men and women of all races and all faiths can serve side by side to defend a way of life that, Abraham Lincoln correctly said, 'holds out a great promise to all the people of the world for all time to come.'"

The United States is based upon tolerance where people of all faiths are respected "and we're not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values," he concluded.

Ahmad S. Turkistani, director of the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, also spoke at the event. He said Islam involves employing "the body, the heart and the mind together to make a person a very good person in order to contribute to the well-being of oneself and humanity at large."

He also stressed the need for people of all faiths to get to know each other. He noted that a day earlier President Bush had said that some comments made about Islam do not reflect the U.S. government's sentiments or those of most Americans.

Quoting Bush, Turkistani said, "'Islam as practiced by the vast majority of people is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. The vast majority of the American people respect the Muslim people and the Islamic faith.'"

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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePeter F. Verga addresses Muslim service members, Defense Department civilians and their guests at an Iftar dinner Nov. 14, 2002, in the Pentagon Dining Room. Verga is the special assistant to the secretary of defense for homeland security. Flanking him are Ahmad S. Turkistani (left), director of the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, and Lance Cpl. Mohammed Qureshi of Marine Main Support Squadron 271, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.   
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