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Marine, chaplains, fellow Muslims reopen mosque

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 4/29/2004

Story by Sgt. J.L. Zimmer III

AL ASAD, Iraq(April 29, 2004) -- A center of Islamic faith here was reopened for Muslims looking for a place to worship April 25.

More than 20 private contractors, all workers of Muslim faith, teamed up with Lance Cpl. Mohammad U. Qayyum, security augment to Charlie Company, 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, to restore the mosque in order to afford Muslims living and working here a place to worship.

Upon hearing about the mosque, Qayyum wondered whether or not he and his fellow Muslims would have the opportunity to pray there since the mosque has been closed for an unknown period of time.

"They informed me before we deployed that there is a mosque here, but it (was) not open," said the 19-year-old Sacramento, Calif., native. "A few weeks after we arrived I asked to speak to a chaplain about getting the mosque opened."

The chaplain he spoke to was Navy Lt. Clifford A. Stuart, chaplain for Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rdMAW and 37-year-old Riverside, Calif., native.

"Lance Cpl. Qayyum requested to use the mosque for worship several weeks ago," he said. "Several of the private contract workers also requested to use the mosque."

Stuart explained that the military mayor of Al Asad, Col. Michael A. Thorsby, officer in charge, air base staff, and Navy Capt. Donald F. Lerow, chaplain, 3rd MAW, worked together to come up with a plan to reopen the place of worship for the Muslims here.

Lerow, a 53-year-old Randolph, N.Y., native, feels opening the mosque is just one way we can show our respect for the people who live and work here.

"I think it is important for people to have the right to religious conviction and devotion," he said. "It was a good move on the part of the (military) community to allow those people who work and live on this base to have a place to pray if they are Muslim.

"Certainly if this were a cathedral, chapel, or church here we would probably be doing anything we possibly could to get the doors open," he added. "This is equal treatment for all. People should have the right to express their spiritual life (in their place of worship)."

According to Qayyum, the plan was to get as many Muslim volunteers as possible to help clean and repair the mosque. The speed and the determination of the workers were self-evident after the second day of work.

"After only two days of cleaning we were able to use the mosque for prayer," said one man. "I have not been able to pray in a mosque in nearly seven months. Most of us have not prayed in mosques, only in our rooms and outside."

Working to restore the mosque with his fellow Muslims is enough gratification for Qayyum.

"By the time we leave here, we will have (the mosque) as close to it's original (condition) as it was before (it was closed)," he said. "This is something that I wanted to do. To get something like this started makes me feel really good."

Another man added that he is very grateful for the Marines' contribution in assisting them with opening their house of worship.

"I am very pleased that I can pray in a mosque," he said. "This makes me happy to know the Americans help us in such ways. I thank the young Marine that was in charge of this for thinking of us in this way."

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