October 15th, 2010
11:30 AM ET
CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr filed this report from Logar Province, Afghanistan:
As the call to prayer is heard over loudspeakers in eastern Afghanistan, devout Muslim men hang their weapons up on the wall and kneel to pray.
But these men are not who you might expect. On the NATO's Forward Operating Base Shank, a highly trained Jordanian Ranger Battalion has established its own mosque for both its own soldiers and for Afghan troops so that, amid war, they can stop and answer the five-times-a-day call to prayer.
I have the opportunity to meet the Jordanian Imam Sheikh Mohammed Najem, who is based here. He leads the troops in prayer, but he is also the number one weapon of the Jordanian forces.
The Jordanians' main task is counterinsurgency. The troops offer help and aid to fellow Muslims, trying to encourage rural Afghans not to embrace the Taliban. It's part of an effort to bring a moderate Islamic voice to remote regions of Afghanistan where the Taliban and insurgents, preaching radical fundamentalist ideology, are often the only voices.
As we speak through a translator, I learn Najem had a radio broadcast to local villages, and that he often visits mosques and schools in the area. He tells me he knows the Taliban are here, and that he believes he could be a target but that his faith will protect him and his religion.
We convoy to the village of Sayedan with Jordanian, U.S. and Afghan troops. The imam climbs into an armored vehicle wearing battle fatigues, combat boots and a bulletproof helmet and vest. When we arrive, the helmet is replaced by a religious cap of white and red cloth.
We try to enter a school compound full of women and children. But the elders guarding the compound gate are nervous. At first they will only let in three female Jordanian soldiers and two American Army women. I accompany them.
The compound gate slams behind us. Soon the Jordanians have convinced the elders they are only there to help, to offer school supplies and talk about aid projects. But we are not allowed to stay for long. The elders are nervous that local Taliban sympathisizers know we are there.
When we leave to join the imam as he and the others walk a short distance to the village mosque, surrounded by dozens of smiling and laughing Afghan children. A small boy comes alongside and asks for a Quran. In fact, the imam is bringing several new Qurans to the village.
The holy books are kissed by the elders as they handle them for the first time.
So will the strategy of offering a moderate version of Islam to this one village help? Maybe just here in Sayedan.
The elders ask the soldiers for help in fixing the crumbling roof of their small mosque, but throughout the entire visit we are encouraged to leave. Nobody in the village wants to look too much like they are cooperating with U.S. or Jordanian troops.
We return to base in time for prayers. The soldiers hang up their weapons on the wall of the mosque, and kneel for devotion before the next mission.
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