November 24th, 2010
08:19 AM ET
Editor's Note: By CNN's Robert Howell in Killeen, Texas. In March, CNN's Soledad O'Brien will be premiering a documentary about being Muslim in America, looking at the controversy over the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. See more here.
When Wagdi Mabrouk heard the news about the shootings on Ft. Hood he remembers thinking how close he was to the alleged shooter.
"Nidal Hassan, I knew him very well. I prayed right beside him."
Mabrouk, a retired command Sergeant Major was overseas for work on Nov. 5, 2009 when Major Nidal Hassan allegedly opened fire on this base of over 50,000 soldiers. Though so far away, the news hit very close to home.
"It happened right outside our backdoor, it was unbelievable, it was just unbelievable. It just took us by surprise," Mabrouk said.
The deadly shooting of fellow soldiers by one of his own Muslim brothers is something he has struggled with. Something he knows tore at the fabric of this tight-knit Army town.
"Those were folks who wore the same uniform, put it on the same way he did for the same reasons, " said Mabrouk who served in the military for 26 years.
Mabrouk recalls how members of the tiny Muslim community in Killeen were not only shocked but also concerned about what they feared would follow the terrible event.
"There were some people, individuals, who were just running away and did not even want to identify themselves as Muslims," Mabrouk said. He noted that although they had never had problems in the past, the women who normally proudly wore their hijab or headscarf in public, changed their habits.
"Unfortunately many of them were hiding, staying in the house, including family members of my own. They were afraid of the repercussions," he said.
As a board member at the Islamic Community Center of Greater Killeen, Mabrouk has tried to do his part to combat any negative stereotypes and remain a positive voice in the community. Mabrouk points out that after all the media attention and shock wore off from last year's events, his own family continued to feel welcome and comfortable in this town of over 100,000 people.
Walking through a small subdivision, tucked away behind Killeen's only mosque, Mabrouk points to street names like Medina Drive and Hamza Circle as an example of the Muslim community's established roots.
The land for this neighborhood and the nearby mosque was once owned by a member of the Muslim community, Dr. Idrees Khan. Mabrouk explains how Khan donated some of the land for the mosque and developed the rest into the subdivision, naming the streets after some of the holiest cities and icons in his religion.
Mabrouk estimates there are approximately 10 families who live in the subdivision and walk to Friday prayers at the mosque.
As the one-year anniversary of the Ft. Hood shooting approached, Mabrouk faced many of the same questions about one of the mosque's other regular attendees, Major Nidal Hassan. A judge has recommended a court martial– or military trial– for Hasan, who faces 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. Officials are awaiting a military board's report on Hasan's mental competency.
"I certainly cannot tell you, I don't think anyone in this world can tell you why this particular incident took place," said Mabrouk.
Hoping to help heal the emotional and spiritual wounds that still remain from the tragic events of last year, Mabrouk now serves as a Distinctive Faith Group Leader on Ft. Hood, leading Friday prayers at the interfaith chapel on post.
"We have practiced this peaceful religion for over 1400 years and nothing in the past, since the beginning of Islam, would give us any idea that this is the right thing to do for whatever reason," he said.
Born in New York to Egyptian parents, Mabrouk says he now has an opportunity to reach out to other Muslim soldiers who may be concerned about openly expressing their faith while they are stationed in this Texas town.
While he admits certain events in the past year have not helped to improve the image of Muslims in America, he feels the only way he can help to bring people together is to start a dialogue in his own community.
"It makes our job now as Muslims, as former soldiers, as having to speak out, because there are a lot of folks, even Muslims themselves, who weren't sure which side to stand on."
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.