Military Chaplain M. Malak Abd al Muta'ali Ibn Noel, a lieutenant in the Navy, zips around Norfolk Naval Station in a 1995 Nissan Altima whose license plate reads, "IWRK4GD." He wears Islam's universal symbol - a crescent moon - on his shirt collar.
And as a new moon cued the onset of Ramadan last night, the first Muslim chaplain commissioned by the Navy led prayers in the first mosque built on a U.S. naval base. He joins at least 4,000 Muslims on active duty in the U.S. armed forces in observing Islam's annual holy month of fasting and spiritual reflection.
"It's a month of reconnecting spiritually with ourselves and Allah," said Noel, 37, who has been in the Navy for 19 years. "In the Qur'an we are taught that this month is for God, period."
The nation's estimated 3.5 million to 6 million Muslims are becoming more visible in every layer of American society, and the military is no exception. Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when a massive deployment of U.S. troops to the Middle East increased American awareness of Islam, U.S statistics show an ever increasing number of Americans embracing Islam.
A recent graduation ceremony on a Leesburg campus featured an eye-opening statistic: It tripled the number of Muslim chaplains available to the U.S. military.
The Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences is the first school in the country approved by the U.S. military to train Muslim chaplains. The school was established three years ago in a Leesburg office park by a group of prominent Islamic scholars.
A first-of-its-kind group of seven military chaplaincy students graduated Aug. 28, with five slated to be commissioned in the Army and two in the Navy, according to a school spokeswoman. More are on the way. As of now, only three Muslim chaplains serve in the U.S. military, according to Pentagon officials. The military is trying to catch up to the growing numbers.
On November 4, 1999, Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA-11th) introduced a congressional resolution expressing the "Sense of Congress" that a postage stamp should be issued recognizing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. "Welcoming Ramadan" in Congress is undoubtedly one of the clearest signs to date that Islam and the Muslim community have "come of age" alongside other faiths within the great cultural mÃ©lange that constitutes America.
Just as Christianity and Judaism have their holidays recognized nationally, it is important for Muslims to have our holidays recognized as well. One day, Insha 'Allah, schools, universities and workplaces across the country will honor these Muslim holy days as holidays for all, as with Christmas, Easter, and Hanukkah. This requires that the entire Muslim community demonstrate its unity and commitment towards this goal. No one can deny the significance of this resolution; however, we must act now, in unity, to make this a reality for the ummah.
It is now extremely important that we Muslims do our part to see it through. Congressman Davis's office has declared that this resolution remains one of their top priorities; however, they need our help. At present, there are four Congresspersons who have signed in support of the resolution, but as you know, over half of Congress must support it in order for it to be passed.
Write and/or call your elected representative asking them to support the House Congressional Resolution 220, recognizing the holy month of Ramadan. Let them know why it is important to you as a community leader, and how it is significant for the entire American public to recognize and learn about one of the fastest growing religions in America.
"Aysha" Abid Choudry - her given name is Harumi - adopted her Muslim name and faith four years ago, at the age of 26, to marry a Pakistani. Two years later, like many Japanese women married to Muslim men in Japan, she remained reluctant to abide by Islamic laws.
Then one day about two years ago, she decided to act on her own intuition that Islam meant having a personal relationship with Allah. She got on her knees to pray for the first time. Her husband - a devout Muslim who had never asked her to adopt Islam, but had prayed silently on her behalf for years - cried openly at the sight.
Once distant and unknown in Japan, Islam has found converts among Japanese women. Many are married to men who come to Japan to find work from countries such as Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Malaysia.
A hub of Islamic activity in Tokyo, the Islamic center in Setagay-ku registered over 80 new members this year, the majority were Japanese women, according to R. Siddiqi, Director of the Islamic Center in Japan. "Women are attracted to Islam because they want freedom. Islam gives them independence because they do not have to be a slave of any man. Islam is against moral aggression against women. The chastity and honor of women are protected. No illicit relations are allowed. All these things attract women," said Siddiqi.
Japanese women who marry men from Islamic countries often face ostracism from their families and friends; living by Islamic laws requires major changes in nearly every aspect of their lives. The Muslim's daily ritual of prayer, for example, is a major hurdle for anyone who wants to hold a steady job. One young woman who works for a major electronics company in Tokyo prays in the company changing room. This transcriber, a MIT-Japan Program Intern at another company, Sharp, finds that prayer is no problem.
The new Muslim must also make major changes in her diet. Muslims who strictly follow the Quran may not consume pork, alcoholic beverages, and animal products that have not been blessed. Juices and tsukemono may contain preservatives with low levels of alcohol; chocolate, ice cream, cakes and other processed desserts may contain animal fats, and gelatins may be made from animal bones. "At first it was hard to know what foods were permitted, so a group of us called the soy sauce, juice and pastry manufacturers to find out which products were alright. We made a checklist and that information had spread by word of mouth," Aysha said.
Another woman married to a Pakistani says, "It's not a problem. There's a store selling halal food in Saitama and we eat fish. As for cakes and juices, I usually make my own."
The most obvious symbol of the Muslim woman is the head scarf, hijab, that covers her head, and the long sleeves, and pants that cover her limbs.
An energetic face framed within her black hijab Aysha says, "I wasn't born a Muslim, so I'm strict (about Islam). Before I became a Muslim, I was the secretary to a company president so I drank alcohol, played, wore miniskirts, everything. After I became a Muslim, everything changed. I threw away or gave away five bags of clothing. To become a good Muslim takes time, though."
Although strict Islamic life may not be incongruous with lifestyles in Saudi Arabia or Iran, in Japan, Islam means accepting a life radically different from the ordinary Japanese. Perhaps, for some, herein lies the appeal.
"Before I became a Muslim I didn't know what I was put here on earth for. I though that the purpose of working was to make other people think highly of me. I believed that a person's worth was based on what university he went to and how much money he made. Now I know that work is to nourish my body and I am here to live each day to praise Allah," said a woman in her 20's married to a Pakistani truck driver.
Others, like Noureen, a 30-year-old teacher of nursing at a women's university in Saitama, had tried other religions, including Christianity, before finding Islam. She met her husband, a 29-year-old Pakistani factory worker, at study sessions at the Islamic Center and officially became a Muslim before their marriage four years ago.
She and her husband agree that Islam comes first and work comes second. When the nurse's uniform and the hospital environment interfered with the practice of Islam, "My husband told me that I should change jobs if I couldn't be a good Muslim at my own pace."
At present there are no Islamic schools in Japan. Noureen says, "the problem is not just food, it's the concept: In Japan people think their body is their own, and that a child should stay up all night studying and only think about exams.
NEW YORK An X-ray scanner that can see through clothing will be introduced at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and five other major airports around the United States by June of next year. The Body Search device, using low doses of X-rays, is supposed to reveal items such as weapons and packages of illegal drugs. U.S. Customs says the machine does not show physical details, just the body's outline.
But some are raising concerns about privacy. Gregory T. Nojeim, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the scanner can show private parts with clarity and that portions of the display could be enlarged by the viewer.
ATHENS (AFP) The powerful Greek Orthodox Church has given its agreement for the first mosque in Athens to be built in time for the 2004 Olympics in the city, a source close to the church said.
Church officials have proposed constructing a mosque, an Orthodox church, and a synagogue near the Olympic village which will be built in Thrakomakenodes at the foot of Mount Parnis, some 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Athens.
The Greek Orthodox Church has enormous influence in the country and had always blocked any initiative to construct a mosque in Athens, angering Muslims who live in the capital. The staging of the Olympics in the city has brought about a new sense of compromise.
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