Islam: (n) Arabic. 1. Judeo-Christian faith founded in 7th century CE. See
Muhammad. 2. An act of submission.
Our first mission took us to a remote patrol base south of Baghdad. We were
there to collaborate with a small infantry element, who've been providing
security to outlying farming communities. Though Engineers are not the same
as Infantry, we often find ourselves in the same situations, and so the two
groups have a good working relationship.
We worked 12-hour days, from 6 to 6, and slept in what i suspect was an
abandoned schoolhouse. We were just up the road from several Iraqi
farmhouses, and on many occasions, I found myself watching small families
work their tiny plots; picking lettuce or leading scrawny cows through
pasture much as they have for generations. Occasionally, some would look up
at toss us friendly waves. Still others regarded us balefully, or tried to
The living conditions were austere at best, but to be honest, I didn't mind.
We slept on marble floors under a pillared awning--rucksacks were our
pillows, and our lullabies the thump of outgoing mortar rounds. I ate MREs
and pounded dozens of bottles of water. I pulled two-hour guard shifts at
night, on the turret of a Humvee. I didn't shower.
On the third night, a hard thunderstorm hit us, and the rain left many
soldiers soaked to the bone. I pulled up the waterproof cover on my
sleeping bag and went back to sleep. In the morning, amid the cries of
roosters and baying dogs, a staticky voice wailed across the countryside,
tinny and desperate and beautiful:
"Allllaaaaaaaaaaah'u'Akbaaaaaaaar..." God is great. God is merciful.
My buddy Brooks hates the calls to morning prayer. They emanate five times
a day from the mosque up the road, and he says they creep him out more than
anything. I can't say I understand. To me, there is no greater expression
of faith than through a culture's music, and the faith of this culture is so
deeply wrapped in emotion that I can't help but be moved. I may not speak
Arabic; I may never have read the Qu'ran; but when I heard those ululating
songs of devotion, a shiver runs up my spine, and for a moment I, too, felt
compelled to close my eyes,
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