CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq - When I arrived in the United States seven years ago, I read the Constitution and found this document guarantees whoever lives within our borders freedom of religion, despite what I heard in Arabic media. I joined the U.S. Army and swore to protect and defend this document and I was surprised to find I enjoyed those same freedoms while in the Army.

My first stop in the Army was Fort Jackson, S.C. I found a flier hanging on the walls for publications in all languages urging you to exercise your constitutional right to practice your religion - any religion. I was also surprised to find there is a group of Army officers dedicated to promoting religious freedom, education and fellowship.

Chaplains ensure clean places for prayer and for Soldiers to congregate. They provide Muslims the Holy Quran, prayer carpets and head scarves for female Soldiers. Our prayer room was provided with a compass to determine the direction of Mecca. The Army provided us with transportation to and from mosques and religious classes. The Army even designated a place for cooking Halal (Islamic appropriate) food. Not only did the Army guarantee me the freedom to practice my faith, it gave me the opportunity to do so as well.

At the Fort Jackson Training Center, the leadership consulted with Muslim trainees to determine the best way to accomplish training while accommodating us during the holy month of Ramadan. School officials put together a special program for Muslim Soldiers to ensure we had the right atmosphere for fasting, suhur (pre-dawn) meal, opportunities for prayer and a meal, Eid al Fitr, to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

What can I say about a country that allows you to freely and openly practice your religion' Not enough. This freedom speaks to the greatness of a country and a constitution that calls for equality for every individual.

Our constitution shares this virtue with Islam. As the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "You all are equal like the teeth of a comb." I hope for Allah to watch over our country and protect it from all evil and be an example to the world for peace, religious partnership and the elimination of religious hatred in which terrorism is used to kill innocent people to weaken the country's resolve.

The religious freedom I found in the U.S. Army had a huge impact on me as a Muslim, and it strengthened my spiritual and psychological attitudes as a Soldier.

I want people of Iraq to find the same strength in their religious freedom as I have found. It is my hope that those who aren't allowed to exercise their legitimate religious beliefs be freed from the evil of fear, intolerance and oppression.

Iraqis can be proud their constitution also guarantees religious freedom and the freedom to express it, regardless of whether they are Shiite, Sunni or Christian. It is this constitution that guarantees them the right to express their faith as they choose and not as extremist groups would dictate. I swore an oath to protect and defend my constitution, and I am proud to be here to help the people of Iraq protect theirs.

Editor's note: Spc. Hesham earned a master's degree in Arabic language and Islamic religious studies from the University of Tanta, Egypt. He worked as an Imam at Al-Azhar Mosque University teaching Islamic Law, Quran and Arabic language studies. He serves in the U.S. Army Reserve as a linguist with the 34th Infantry Division.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16