EXIT of the DAY:
Exit 31b I-95s to Silver Spring, Maryland and I-495, Capital Beltway
Silver Spring, Maryland is a nice place to grow up. It is most notable as the hometown for trail blazing environmentalist, Rachel Carson, who wrote SILENT SPRING about the town’s namesake DDT polluted water source. Rachel also wrote a book called THE SEA AROUND US in which she became the first scientist to question the concept that science only brings good things. Plastics and chemical pollution did not easily melt away in the seas that were getting unsustainably polluted even in the early 1960's. Rachel discussed how -- as a rare lady scientist in the US Navy during World War Two --along with the benefits of science we have an obligation to be responsible with the fruits of science. The potential and threat of Nuclear Physics proved her thesis exactly and Rachel would go on to be one of the founders of the environmental movement.
Sadly, the first University of Virginia student to die in combat since the Vietnam war was also from this DC suburb.
Before going to UVA, he attended and graduated in 1996 from nearby John F. Kennedy High School. There he taught swimming to disabled children. This was not surprising because his father was both a lawyer and a humanitarian. As a young child, this student read extensively about Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. ” His Dad, the lawyer, even kept a mini version of that document in his pocket at all times.
Perhaps this was not surprising either. His family were immigrants from repressive regimes in the Middle East. Civil Rights? Forget about it. In America, his Dad carried a pocket copy of the Constitution everywhere he went. Also not surprising was that the immigrant child would enroll at UVA — the college created by Jefferson himself.
Muslims have served in every American war since the Revolution. An African American Muslim named Peter Salem was at the Battle of Bunker Hill near Boston. He is credited with shooting a British Major sending the redcoats into retreat.
Muslims have fought in the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War.
At UVA, the Muslim student from Silver Springs signed up to join the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Upon graduating in 2000, that UVA grad, Humayun Saqib Muazzam Khan, was commissioned as a Captain in the United States Army and was deployed to Iraq.
Only 6 years previous, the US military had commissioned its first ever Muslim Chaplain. Military Chaplains are empowered to support all faiths. Still, it took roughly 200 years before a Muslim got ordained to perform the same duties as countless Protestants, Catholics and Jews had before them.
In military modesty the occasion was discreet. And meaningful. The Frocking Ceremony for the Navy's first Muslim chaplain, was conducted by his colleague Navy Chaplain Arnold Resnicoff. Chaplain Resnicoff attached shoulder boards with a Muslim crescent insignia to the uniform of Imam Monje Malak Abd al-Muta Noel Jr.
It was 1996, the same year that Monaj Khan graduated from John F Kennedy High. While new Chaplain Monje Noel was a Muslim, Chaplain Arnold Resnicoff was himself a Rabbi.
At that time Imam Noel was just one of 2 Muslims to serve the military's growing Muslim community which numbers around 10,000. Noel, a native of Salem, New Jersey, said the unique epaulets on his uniform are a positive sign for Muslims. ``I think it's good for the Muslim community to be able to see them in the service. It lends an air of legitimacy and credibility. We are represented. We are here.’'
Later, at a reception including military brass and Muslim leaders, Noel tried to shy away from the Limelight. Said he: ``This is the Navy's night. This is God's night.'' Now new Muslim Soldiers or Chaplains are hardly newsworthy.
Fast forward to 2004. Captain Khan was inspecting a guard post in Iraq when a suspicious vehicle approached. Ordering his troops to stay back, he stepped forward. The car stopped. Then detonated. Later it was determined to have been carrying more than 200 pounds of explosives.
Captain Khan’s father, Khizr Kahn, still carries a miniature of the Constitution in his pocket. He also has a wall dedicated to his son’s service. It’s hung with medals, flags, and photographs.
Despite or perhaps because he is an immigrant and a Muslim, he knows intimately the sacrifices so many other military families have suffered through our history — and other of his countrymen still take for granted.
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