Sunday, October 21, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Chad Jones and his wife, Laila Jones, discussed their
Muslim faith recently. "It's tough," Chad Jones
acknowledged. "It's not just because I'm in the
military. Sometimes, it's just me."

Isle muslims in
military service keep
faithful to their religion

Many say their peers are sympathetic
and few have experienced any harassment

By Gregg K. Kakesako

At first glance, Army Spc. Chad Jones, with his blue eyes and light skin, doesn't fit the American stereotype of an adherent of Islam.

Jones and Pfc. Lana Sbitany, both stationed in Hawaii, are among the more than 15,000 Muslims in the U.S. armed forces.

Neither believe they are different from anyone else in the military in these uncertain times. Their main concerns are preparing to carry out their commander-in-chief's orders if they are called into battle and the welfare of their families.

Despite the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the anti-American rhetoric of Osama bin Laden, neither soldier has experienced harassment because they are Muslims.

"Maybe it helps because I am white, and people know me," said Jones, who is the sports editor for Hawaii Army Weekly.

However, Jones acknowledged that after Sept. 11, he does close the blinds in his home at Schofield Barracks when he and his wife pray several times a day as required by their religion, "just as a precaution."

Spc. Chad T. Jones, Headquarters and Headquarters
Company, 25th Infantry Division (Light), prays with his
wife, Laila Jones, during Mosque, at Schofield Barracks on Friday.

His wife, Laila Jones, said some of the Muslim women she knows, who wear the traditional robes and cover their hair as required by their faith, have had "people gawk at them more."

Sbitany, a military policewoman, said her Army friends sympathize with her situation.

"They feel badly for me," said Sbitany, 22. "They know that being an Arab and being a Muslim now is hard."

Jones, 27, became a Muslim last year when he decided to marry Laila, 25, whom he met while working as an Army journalist in Kuwait in 1999. Fluent in French and Arabic as well as English, she was working for the Kuwait Times. They were both covering a news conference held by a military general.

Until then, Jones said his dog tags listed "no religious preference."

"I might have been a Baptist or Pentecostal. ... I have nothing against them, but they didn't make a lot of sense to me."

Jones said he had been toying with the idea of converting and became serious about it after meeting Laila. "She opened the gates. She showed me the whole religion. It made me feel a lot better about myself and what I did."

They have been married for a year.

Both Chad Jones and Sbitany don't always have the time to do all of the five mandatory prayers Muslims must recite daily as part of the salah, one of the five pillars, or requirements, of their faith. The salah requires praying five times a day while facing Mecca, Islam's holiest city where Allah and his words were revealed to Muhammad.

But Laila Jones, who isn't working at the moment, does. That is the only time she wears the traditional hijab to cover her hair to maintain her modesty as required under Muslim custom.

"It's tough," Chad Jones acknowledged. "It's not just because I'm in the military. Sometimes, it's just me."

In the past, he has been able to balance his religious obligations and military duties.

He prays before physical training in the morning, sacrifices his lunch hour to rush home to pray and prays at the end of the day.

Muslims believe that Allah, the Arabic word for God, revealed his message to a 7th-century merchant named Muhammad. He is said to have received these revelations through the angel Gabriel. Those scriptures were recorded in the Muslim bible, or Quran, the literal words of Allah.

Muslims are encouraged to pray five times a day to maintain their relationship with God. In addition to salah, the five pillars of Islam include shahadah, which is declaration that there is no other God besides Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet; and sawm, or fasting, during the ninth month of the lunar year.

Then there is zakat, or taking care of the poor or less fortunate. And hajj, making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, if finances allow.

Jones said halal MREs are available for Muslim soldiers at Schofield when he is required to go to the field to train. Like the Jewish faith, Islam requires that meat has to be processed according to specific religious guidance.

Friday is considered a holy day for Muslims, and Jones and his wife meet with about 20 other soldiers and their families to worship at Schofield at an Army religious center. There is no Muslim chaplain at Schofield.

Qaseem Uqdah, a retired Marine and president of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, said there are 15,000 Muslims in uniform, with African Americans making up the largest group, followed by Indo-Pakistanis and Arabs. Caucasians account for the smallest Muslim population in the military.

Uqdah, who has helped recruit Muslim chaplains for the military, said the average age of U.S. Muslim troops is 21. Feedback he is getting from Muslim troops in all services seems to indicate that commanders are supporting a zero-tolerance policy against harassment of Muslims.

Islam, which gets its meaning from the Arabic word for "submission to God, peace and purity," considers murder to be a sin. It is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, ranking second behind Christianity.

Although the Quran says that a person taking another person's life is as same as taking the life of mankind, Laila Jones said bin Laden doesn't represent the formal Muslim faith.

"They (bin Laden and al-Qaida) are not following any rules of warfare," she said. "They are just using that term to take over Afghanistan."

Her husband is angered by what bin Laden, a Saudi-born Islamic radical and America's key suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks, has been doing.

"He is using religion to get away with his lunacy," he said.

Both Chad Jones and Sbitany said their religious beliefs will not interfere with their duties.

"There is no conflict," Sbitany said. "I believe in defending my country."

Sbitany, who worries about her mother now living in Washington, D.C., said she joined the Army because she "believes the values of the Army and my values are parallel."

Chad Jones is more emphatic: "I swore to defend this country even before I converted. As a Muslim I am well within my rights to defend my country. ... I have a job to do first and foremost. I am extremely angry at what happened. ... I think every Muslim brother is going to do the same."

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