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Muslim Army Chaplain Seeks to Bridge Gaps Between Cultures

Republican Presidential Candidate Trump kicked up a media storm when he found himself in a feud with the family of a Muslim soldier who died fighting for his country. But hidden away from the spotlight, thousands of American Muslim soldiers, sailors and airmen are quietly serving their country.

Inside the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial chapel, built where Islamic extremists attacked the building nearly 15 years ago, the Muslim call to prayer goes out.

Dawud Agbere is one of five Muslim Army chaplains. Since being stationed at the Pentagon, he leads afternoon prayer there, giving fellow Muslims a chance to connect with their creator.

“It’s about the community that he has built here, providing us with a venue where we can come to say our daily prayers, which is a big thing,” said Habiba Heider, a Pentagon contractor.

Agbere is not your typical Lieutenant Colonel. For one, he was born and raised in the West African nation of Ghana.

“My dad was trying to get me commissioned in the Ghanian army as a chaplain. Then I won the U.S. Visa lottery,” said Agbere. “When you are growing up in Africa - not just in Ghana, America is the land of prosperity. It’s a place you go and do well.”

But after months teaching some unruly high schoolers, he felt he needed more discipline and order.

"So the military was very easy for me to just be part of it. And that felt home," said Agbere.

His Army career has taken him to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oftentimes the only Muslim in his unit, Agbere says he works to bridge the gap between cultures.

"And they see me in this uniform. They’ve never fathomed that there is a Muslim in America, especially in the U.S. Army. Then they see one, they are shocked, but then they are happy,” said Agbere.

At home, Agbere teaches his children the values of Islam and the importance of character.

“He tells us that we can get the good grades, but without the character, it means nothing,” said Agbere’s son Tilahta.

With the political controversy surrounding a proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S., Agbere teaches his family to remain kind to others.

As an Army chaplain, he’s spent about two decades in service to America, but he doesn’t judge those who have sought to vilify his faith.

“Definitely some of these things are based on ignorance, and I always see this as an opportunity to teach people,” he said. “I want to move on. I want to be able to define my story. I don’t want my story to define me.”

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.