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    Islam Afloat

    The only sound that could be heard from the chapel was that of chairs being pushed to the front of the room to make way for prayer mats in the back. Master-at-Arms 1st Class Alex Marron Diaz carefully aligns the red, orange, green and purple fabric mats so that their frilly edges touch, with his being in front in order to lead the upcoming lay service. Usually, those in the ship’s chapel have to compete with deafening aircraft and steam catapults on the flight deck above for aural peace, but Marron Diaz situates the mats with ease in relative quiet.

    Marron Diaz, from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) Security department’s urinalysis coordinator, but on Sunday evenings he is the ship’s Muslim lay leader, in charge of facilitating prayer services for followers of Islam aboard the ship.

    “I was born Roman Catholic to devout parents, but had my eyes opened to Islam while I was stationed in Bahrain in 2012,” said Marron Diaz. “I was drinking a lot, forgot about a lot of my responsibilities, both at home and at work, and then one morning, I decided I needed a change. I happened to live near the Grand Mosque of Bahrain, so I walked inside, got a tour, and started asking a lot of questions about life. I converted after about three months of research by declaring a testimony of faith in Arabic. Islam helped rebalance my life.”

    Becoming a lay leader, charged with guiding followers, is a big step up from merely practicing the faith.

    “I noticed that there are many faiths practiced aboard the ship,” said Marron Diaz. “During one of the times the ship went underway in 2017, I heard over the [ship’s announcing system] that different lay services were being held in the ship’s chapel, but I didn’t hear one for Muslims. I spoke with a chaplain then, Lt. Cmdr. Tavis Long, about becoming a lay leader, went through the qualification process, and have been leading fellow Muslims for over a year now.”

    Being a lay leader is more than a title to Marron Diaz, who takes pride in leading his brothers and sisters in a weekly service, called a ‘salat,’ while using a copy of the Quran on his phone.

    “I’ve never been harassed about my faith in the Navy,” said Marron Diaz. “Sailors are generally more curious than anything else and I think that’s a testament to our modern, Naval diversity. 9/11 was a tremendous tragedy for all Americans and Muslims. [Muslims] are now painted in a bad light because of some bad actors. The religion’s reputation has been brought into question and has been tarnished.”

    After greeting everyone who enters the chapel with an outstretched hand and a warm pleasantry, Marron Diaz instructs the practicing Muslims in attendance to remove their heavy, black boots and position themselves on their prayer mats with a quiet gesture. An initial call to prayer gets followers in the right mindset to pray, which Marron Diaz describes as an expression of faith, a submission to god, and a face-to-face interaction with their deity, Allah.

    “I think many non-Muslims know that we pray towards Mecca, the holiest site of the religion,” said Marron Diaz. “Being on a ship makes that difficult because the ship changes course constantly. We decided to face the back of the chapel, a blank wall, so there wouldn’t be any distractions while we pray, instead of trying to find and face Mecca before every salat.”

    Like Marron Diaz, some practicing Muslims aboard the John C. Stennis converted to the faith from other religions and have found their own peace.

    Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 3rd Class Morgan Smith, from Detroit, a Sailor assigned to the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department’s IM-1 division, said she converted to Islam approximately 8 years ago from Christianity.

    “I was curious about Islam,” said Smith. “I had some Muslim friends back home and after looking into it, I made the decision to convert. Praying brings me peace, calms me down, and reinforces me to be modest in all that I do.”

    Being deployed sometimes makes practicing a faith not offered by the ship’s chaplains difficult, but with lay leaders, the devout and dedicated persevere.

    “Lay leaders, fully-supported by the John C. Stennis chaplains and U.S. Navy instructions, are key to the command’s religious ministry program’s ability to meet identified religious needs,” said Cmdr. David Dinkins, from Hurst, Texas, the John C. Stennis’s command chaplain.

    Aviation Ordinanceman 1st Class Tyrah Garvin, from Manchester, Connecticut, a Sailor embarked aboard the John C. Stennis with Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, feels she made the right life choice to convert to Islam.

    Practicing Islam helps keep my mind on the right track, said Garvin. She said she interacts professionally with the people around her and feels she does her work better the days after the lay service, when she’s calmer and re-centered.

    After chants extolling God, Marron Diaz leads followers to conclude the service by granting peace to the two good angels that they believe sit on everyone’s shoulders. Another Muslim lay service concludes, leaving the Sailors in attendance better-focused, calmer, and revitalized for another work week.

    “Everyone wants to practice their faith without persecution,” said Marron Diaz. “Anyone curious about us or the religion in general is more than welcome to come. They might have more in common with us than what they’d expect. We’re all Sailors, after all.”

    Joining the Navy is a commitment to one’s country, and the Muslim Sailors aboard the John C. Stennis committed to their faith have an avenue to practice it.

    The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

    For more news on John C. Stennis, visit www.stennis.navy.mil or follow along on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stennis74.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 03.06.2019
    Date Posted: 03.06.2019 03:33
    Story ID: 313083
    Location: PACIFIC OCEAN

    Web Views: 108
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    Islam Afloat