FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. - Anwar al-Awlaki. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Three extremists focused on harming Americans through their harsh words and violent actions in the name of Allah.
Azza Meshal. Dr. Rony Shahidain. Muhammad Mizan. Three American-Muslim engineers supporting U.S. Army to equip the Soldier with the capabilities he needs to defeat this country's enemies abroad.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a radical Islamic stereotype, based largely on the words and beliefs of extremists, has formed in the minds of many Americans.
John O. Brennan, President Obama's chief national security adviser for counterterrorism, recently addressed a policy change made by the administration to ban the word "Islam" when describing terrorists.
"Describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al Qaeda and its affiliates to justify terrorism -- that the United States is somehow at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we have never been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America," said Brennan during a May 26 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Muslims working as scientists and engineers for the U. S. Army, as well as an estimated 3,000-plus Muslim Soldiers, couldn't agree more.
"The thing that hurts most is that what you see on TV is all negative. You don't see the normal, regular, day-to-day people, who just want to live life, and raise our children just like everybody else. I don't want to see my children die. I don't want to see anybody's child die," said Azza Meshal, an antenna researcher with the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command's communication-electronics center, or CERDEC.
Meshal has worked for the Army for 27 years. Born in Egypt she came to the United States with her parents and siblings in 1975. Sitting in the corner of her office, she spoke softly beneath a black head scarf, called a hijab, and fidgeted with her pen cap while discussing the "un-Islamic" actions of the extremists.
"[It's] something that we reject so much -- killing innocent people. For whatever cause, you have no right to kill innocent people," she said.
Meshal says she wears the hijab when in public, but that she hasn't always. Though she had wanted to wear the head scarf, she explained that she didn't begin doing so until around 1983 when her desire to be covered finally overcame her fear of discrimination.
"I wear it willingly. It's in obedience to God," Meshal said. "It's not an oppression to women in any shape, way, or form. It's actually a protection for women."
Following the Sept. 11th attack, Meshal said she was somewhat reluctant to wear the hijab to work for fear that her colleagues might associate her, as a Muslim, with the terrorist acts of the extremists, but she could not bring herself to abandon the garb.
"I came to work with my hijab, and I was really surprised with the warm welcome I got from all my colleagues," Meshal said. "A lot of the ladies, came by and hugged me and said, 'we know you had nothing to do with this.' Don't worry if you need to go out, and [let us know] if you need someone to go out with you shopping."
Meshal expressed pride in her research with the Army, not only as an American, but also as part of the core values of her faith.
"As an American, I've been entrusted for this position," Meshal said. "And I have to fulfill the position that I have been entrusted to. Part of being Muslim is, when someone trusts you, you have to fulfill your commitment."
Like Meshal, Shahidain, also a CERDEC engineer, finds no conflict in his service as an American, and his commitment to his faith. He said that as a child in Bangladesh he was taught that extremists have greatly deviated both from what the Qur'an states and what Mohammed was said to have taught nearly 900 years ago.
"There is a sentence in the Qur'an: 'If you kill one person unjustly, it's as if you have killed the whole humanity unjustly,'" Shahidain said.
Shahidain came to the United States 30 years ago. He spent most of his time in academia, and only recently began working as a researcher at Fort Monmouth. An enthusiastic storyteller with lively eyes and a pleasant smile, Shahidain spoke solemnly as he addressed attacks from Islamic extremists.
"Whenever these bad things happen I pray, 'please don't make it another Muslim-sounding name' because these guys claim themselves to be Muslim, but they are not following anything at all," he said.
Shahidain said he literally gives his blood for his country by donating to a blood bank whose receipients are U.S. Soldiers.
"Sometimes there are people who say, 'no, you should not give blood.' I say, 'I'm living in this country: these are my people now'," Shahidain explained.
Muhammad Mizan, former Army engineer currently providing support as a contractor, shared similar concerns of a national misunderstanding of Islam. As he spoke, Mizan never broke his constant gaze forward; his eyes and intonation expressed disappointment that many fellow American citizens did not see the good behind his faith.
"Qur'anic guidance is all good. It's for mankind. It's for peace," Mizan said.
Mizan, also a native of Bangladesh, has worked as an engineer at Fort Monmouth since 1981. While there were originally few stereotypes, and a general acceptance of Muslims immigrating to America, he said, much had changed within the past decade. He said the new perception of Islam is unfortunate, and expressly because the extremists' words of hate and destruction contradict basic beliefs and values of both the Qur'an and Islam.
Mizan added weight to his argument against Islamic extremists' hatred of America explaining the similarity between values outlined in the Qur'an and the values outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
"The majority of the Constitution is consistent with the Qur'an," Mizan explained. "United States is fully consistent with Chapter 2, verse 256: 'Let there be no compulsion in religion; let the truth stand out free of error.' All the fundamental rights that are advocated by God in the Qur'an are being implemented here in the United States."
This overwhelmingly accepting sentiment of the laws of the United States was echoed by both Meshal and Shahidain.
"A lot of people don't appreciate America unless they go overseas and come back and see how people get treated here. A human being here is valued as a human being," Meshal said. "That's the beauty of America."
"You are 99.999% so good, so tolerant about other religions. This freedom of religion, you will not see it in any other part of the world," Shahidain stated.
While all three engineers made repeated appeals to better understand the truth behind Islam, Shahidain summed up a common view with a familiar parable he'd learned as a child:
"A bee can get honey from a flower, and a spider can get venom from a flower. You can get the best thing out of your religion, and somebody can also get the worst thing," he explained.
Then he concluded by humbly admitting his faults, and urging people to get their understanding of Islam from the majority of Muslims living for the good of their faith.
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