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More than 3,000 Muslims are on active duty in the U.S. military. Their experiences and backgrounds are diverse. They include one of the few Muslim chaplains, who well hear from in a moment. Now after the shootings at Fort Hood, many of those Muslim servicemen and women fear theyre in for some unpleasant scrutiny, as NPRs Jamie Tarabay reports.
JAMIE TARABAY: It was 1:30 in the afternoon in Texas. It was 10:30 at night in Iraq. Specialist Naveed Ali Shah, based at Balad Air Base, was online with his wife, who was at home with their 18-month-old son.
Specialist NAVEED ALI SHAH (U.S. Air Force): My immediate reaction was, oh, my God, you know, where is this happening? Fort Hood is such a big place. But, you know, at that moment, not knowing where the shooters were or, you know, where this all was happening, I felt like they were in my own backyard, you know, that my - I told my wife that she should go lock herself in the bathroom.
TARABAY: Meanwhile, he scoured news Web sites for details. Eventually, the alleged shooter's religion was revealed. Debate filled the airwaves over the tension American Muslim soldiers face fighting in Muslim countries. But for Shah, there is no contradiction.
Mr. SHAH: When I joined the military, I put the uniform on knowing that I'm an American first, and my religion has nothing to do with it.
TARABAY: Speaking on a satellite phone, he told me he didnt see the U.S. militarys war in Iraq as a war against Islam.
Mr. SHAH: I see it as I'm fighting for American freedom and for American ideals to succeed. And I just don't think that this is a religious war in any sort of way.
TARABAY: There's been little reaction from non-Muslim soldiers at his base, said Shah. He thinks most of them understand that whatever the shooter's background or beliefs, he doesn't represent all Muslim soldiers. Shah says hes more concerned about how to raise his son without having him influenced by negative Muslim stereotypes.
Mr. SHAH: I think that with this incident, there are going to be a select few who will object to Muslims in the military and Muslims in America. And for my son's sake, that's the only reason that, you know, I worry.
TARABAY: Irfan Nourredine is a contractor for the department of defense in Washington, D.C. He was traveling at the time of the shootings, but his wife, a devout Shiite Muslim, had to go to the government department where she works.
Mr. IRFAN NOURREDINE (Contractor, U.S. Defense Department): So, I get a call, and the call was basically, should I go to work? If I go to work, should I take off my veil? And, you know, for someone of her position to wear a veil, it's not common.
TARABAY: It was echoes of the aftermath of 9/11. When Nourredine finally made it into his office this week, he went over talking points in his head.
Mr. NOURREDINE: I was very apprehensive, you know, in the morning. I was definitely nervous walking in, especially, you know, working on a base and -you know, it's just one of those things you have to go through and you have to kind of persevere through.
TARABAY: But for him, it was obvious what to say, and Nourredine wasnt going to package it into tidy slogans. He believes this attack, which left 13 people dead, had something to do with Islam.
Mr. NOURREDINE: To say it has nothing to do with the faith of that individual would be dishonest. It may not represent the faith of the millions of Muslims around the world or American Muslims, and thats a fact. It does not represent. But it does represent his faith and probably people of a like-minded - the fringe of our community, you know, people who are on the outskirts who we may, as a community, not pay as much attention to as we need to.
TARABAY: There are extremist Islamist elements in America, he says. And he wishes Muslims would accept that and begin dealing with it. For too long, some Muslims have stayed silent about radical beliefs they may not endorse because they don't want to appear un-Islamic, he says. For some Muslims in the government or in the military, that's a battle that can't be won.
Mr. NOURREDINE: You're going to be looked upon as being suspect within your own society, and then you're looked at being as a hypocrite in your own community.
TARABAY: Thousands of Muslims have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least seven have been killed. But many also question their country's foreign policy. They seek guidance on what the Koran says about fighting in Muslim lands. And at the same time, they feel the constant need to prove their patriotism. The shootings at Fort Hood now only heighten all those concerns.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.
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