Another Muslim soldier
Today's guest blogger is Hannah McConnaughay, an Outreach Education and Training Associate at the Interfaith Youth Core. Hannah graduated in June of 2008 from the University of Chicago, where she studied religious studies and economics and was a member of the Interfaith Youth Core's Fellows Alliance.
Since the shooting at Fort Hood, there have been many reactions to the fact that the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, was a Muslim. But as I consider what happened at Fort Hood, I'd rather focus on those who were shot - Cap. John Gaffaney, Priv. Francheska Valez, Spec. Kham Xiong and 41 other dead or wounded. When I think about them and their service I do think about Islam, but not because of Hasan. It's because the first American soldier I remember was Muslim.
I knew him through his younger sister Nada, a friend since elementary school. He was one of her legendary older brothers, admired as only the older sibling of a childhood friend can be.
Her parents were Bangladeshi immigrants and taught me more about 'melting pots' and a fierce commitment to America than any civics class. They were the only family I knew with an American flag outside their house before September 11. Their son served with pride and her mother was always at our school, baking cakes as Nada worked for the service club. They taught me invaluable lessons about the power of publicly living your values, and voicing pride in American freedom and diversity.
When I was 16 and the Iraq War began, Nada and I went to a local college's anti-war protest, disturbed by what felt like a hurried decision. A passerby screamed angrily "Why don't you support our troops?!" Nada yelled back, "Because my brother's one of them and I want him home!" Her voice cracked, and as I looked at her face I saw something every military family must have been feeling, regardless of their war stance - anguish. In that moment I understood that thousands of my countrymen were facing a pain I knew nothing about.
When I look at the faces of Pfc. Pearson, Capt. Seager, and the other Fort Hood victims, it's that cry I hear. It was the first time I thought about the hardships faced by soldiers and their families here, not just in battle. While I pray for all the victims today, I do believe they're now in a better place. But my tears cannot stop flowing at the thought of their families, the sisters and children and grandparents left behind to mourn unthinkable tragedy.
At times like this, I talk to Jesus a lot more often. I ask Him why evil is possible, pray for His touch and comfort for all in Killeen, Texas. But with the example of Nada's family I also ask Him one last question - how can I help? Like so many Americans , many of my thoughts and prayers are devoted to those in the military. But my deeds have not lived up to my intention.
Today as I remember Fort Hood I commit to not just talk but act, in the spirit of my childhood friends. This afternoon I signed up to volunteer for the USO, and got familiar with the Directory of Veterans Service Organizations. I learned the names and stories of those who served my country, not just the one who attacked it.
As we go forth together, a country of many races, religions, and politics but common mourning, let's all make that commitment. Don't let Maj. Hasan and his attempts to negatively define Islam steal this time. Let's devote it instead to the victims, men and women who supported our troops and served in them, by following their example with heads high, hearts open, and hands ready to help.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.
November 12, 2009; 1:39 PM ET
Religion & Politics
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