OPENING REMARKS FOR GENERAL ROBERT B. NELLER
Sir, you are amongst Patriots! I’m deeply honored today to extend my welcome to General Neller, in absentia, to our mosque. Whether it be visiting troops in the field or in garrison, it inspires me as a Soldier, whenever I see leaders taking the time out of their busy schedules to better understand their troops.
The principles that this mosque has instilled into me as a young man, such as love of God and country, are the very same values that inspired me to serve our nation to this very day and has served as a source of inspiration that guided me through an enduring 4 years at the Citadel, and through a year of combat in Iraq. -Dr. H. A. Abbasi, US Army
His visit offers an amazing opportunity for a highly influential government/military official to see what true Islam means, and for us to convey our concerns. As the War-Against-Terror rages throughout the world (US included), it is important for the Government and especially the high ranking military officers, to discern between peaceful Muslims and those gone astray (terrorists). I am thankful and greatly appreciative of General Neller to take the bold step of visiting a mosque. –Amjad Qureshi, US Navy
I’m elated to discover that the commandant of the Marine Corp is attending an iftar dinner at our mosque. This is an opportunity for the local Muslim community and the Commandant to break bread together and see how each party is committed to upholding the founding principles of this nation. It means a lot to see leadership of our armed forces engaging with the public at such a minute level to show a minority American Community that we serve and represent you you as well. -Hiba Tur Rafiq, US Air Force
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No, I didn’t forget the Coast Guard but I just couldn’t find anyone. But there is a reason why there is no Marine quote; because that Marine, also known to some as “MuslimMarine” stands here before all of you extremely honored today to be a part of what feels quite historic, standing, sitting next to the Commandant of the US Marine Corps in my house of worship, my mosque, Masjid Bait Us Samad.
It was the year 2000, coming from being raised in a broken home without much support or guidance from a mother or father, going from once a top student to grades depleting, shoveling snow to earn a little cash to my first real job at the age of 14 – McDonald’s, I was now finally 18, a young kid trying to figure out his path in life in an attempt to become his own man. And that’s where another journey starts to take shape, my entry into a new home, the United States Marine Corps.
It’s important to note here, not once did I ever think I was doing something wrong, something un-islamic against the teachings of my faith or belief system, in fact quite the contrary. Islam according to the its founder, Prophet Muhammad (saw) taught, required, demanded, loyalty to the Nation of one’s residence; in my case the United States of America. In fact, as I recall it, no one, with the exception of my mother (even though it was a challenging relationship) tried to stop me, I was her only son; this I’m sure is something most mothers can relate to. Nonetheless the journey started, and on October 31st, Halloween night, I ended up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
I’d seen movies, heard stories, friends talk, replicating what Marine Corps boot-camp was like, the recruiters even helped by giving us some physical training and kind of, sort of preparing us. But I can tell you personally, all the stories, all the conversations, all the movies in the world, couldn’t prepare you for something like that. It was a rude awakening to say the least. My biggest fear, the fear of failure, what if I didn’t comeback graduated with the title of US Marine. How would I face everyone?
Alhamdolillah (all praise belongs to God), I graduated and became a United States Marine.
But it was not too long after, a very saddening, heart-wrenching atrocity takes place – 9/11. I recall myself on base at MCCSSS Training Command, Camp Johnson, NC. We’re processing paperwork/orders for new Marines in a classroom setting, and in the center of this classroom was this television, right there before our very eyes, planes are crashing into towers. It was literally a surreal moment for all of us. No one knows, no one understands what’s going on and our base goes on high alert, if memory serves me correctly, we shut down.
Days later, we’d all know the names of the perpetrators. But now coincidentally the country we are about to go to war with borders the very same country I was born in - Pakistan. Not knowing all the facts, the details, etc. I notify pretty immediately my leadership, at my own personal willingness, wanting to be utilized, to be deployed if necessary, to defend and protect the Nation I took oath for – America. I felt that considering my cultural understanding, perhaps my language skillset I would be positioned to be an asset for my country, for my Marine Corps. That was what I call my nature love (without anyone saying or asking anything of me), dedication, compassion, the attitude everyone must feel when such an atrocity takes place. That when my Nation bleeds, I too bleed.
Today, however things have gone in what seems to be in an extremely odd direction, and the natural love that I just described begins to become for some convoluted, and understandably so. I mean, how many beatings can one take? Over and over and over again? We are disgusted as a Nation anytime we here of bullying. But isn’t that exactly what takes place today, where someone stronger picks on someone smaller, Muslims by the way make up less than 1% of the US population.
And what it makes it worst is the psychological factor that begins to eventually set in for some, at some point you really do begin to feel like the “other” and as I began compiling question for the Commandants visit, questions like: how do American Muslim children grow up to love their country when they are told by others that they aren’t real Americans? Come up. A question for the Commandant later by Amjad Khan, National Director of Public Affairs of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who resides in California.
This is unfortunately the reality we live in where a guy who has brown skin, a black beard, professes the Islamic faith begins to feel as if he’s not American enough regardless of whatever he does, even it be after having put on the uniform.
But luckily it was a conversation that took place right here at this Mosque nearly 3 years ago, a few feet outside these doors. Mansoor, as I’m standing outside, “you need to come out of your comfort zone.” Sort of confused, really didn’t understand the coded language, but the conversation doesn’t stop there, it goes further, “Mansoor I’m a Muslim doctor but you’re a MuslimMarine, they will listen to you.” Not too long after, the person says, do you have a twitter account, “yes, but I barely know how to use.” “Let me see your phone.” I hand over my phone, “do you have a picture in uniform?” Yes, I do. I pull up a picture, hand back my phone, and as he’s doing stuff, he says, you are now “MuslimMarine.” Alright. About two weeks later, June 1 to be exact I bought the domain MuslimMarine.com and the rest as they say was history, that person by the way was Dr. Faheem Younus, my dots, my purpose were somewhat connected.
Though of course I didn’t understand it at the time, my service of those 4 years was too comeback full circle, in service to my Nation once again, to unify through conversation and dialogue to help bridge the gaps between my Islamic faith and loyalty to my Nation. In nutshell, share another narrative often gone noticed, that a guy with brown skin, black beard was not a terrorist but could be your greatest friend, a US Marine.
Its ironic that was almost exactly 3 years ago, and today my Commandant sits here in this Mosque with me. Don’t know what to fully make of it just yet, but nothing happens by chance. My dots are still connecting.
So sir, by you coming here today, to my city, to my home, to my mosque, you’ve not only personally given me one of the greatest honors any Marine could ever ask for but also much hope, fulfillment of purpose and inspiration to continue to working harder to make my America better then how I found it. And sir, you’ve proven the old adage, “once a Marine, always Marine. The audience may not know but I haven’t been on active orders for over 10 years, but when I reached out to you, you listened, and most importantly you came, because Marines always take care of Marines. And for that I’m forever grateful.
Ronald Reagan once said, “some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference, but Marines don’t have that problem.” Sir you are living proof today. Thank you for being here again sir. I now welcome the 37th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps to take the stage.