By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Wagdi Mabrouk was in the United Arab Emirates working as a contractor on Nov. 5, 2009. He remembers reading about that day's events at Fort Hood in the newspaper.
He wanted to take the next flight home, he said. First, the FBI was knocking on his door, wanting to gather information about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged shooter who was a fellow worshipper at the Islamic Community Center of Greater Killeen. But Mabrouk also wanted to defend his faith and denounce Hasan's blasphemous actions, he said.
"I don't know anybody that would bring harm to, let alone take someone's life," he said in a recent interview at Fort Hood's Ohana Place, where he has been leading Muslims in prayer each Friday since late spring as the post's Islamic Distinctive Faith Group leader.
"That is absolutely forbidden." Taking one life is akin to killing all of humanity, according to Islam, he added.
The events also upset Muslim community members, who gathered weekly on post for prayer. In the following months, they stopped coming, Mabrouk and Garrison Chaplain Col. Frank Jackson said.
In the absence of a Muslim chaplain at Fort Hood, Hasan had become the group's lay leader, Mabrouk said. His detention left a gap in leadership.
The community may have also grown wary of the media that converged upon Fort Hood, he said, some who raised questions about the presence of Muslims in the military.
Within the Fort Hood community, however, that concern was never voiced, Jackson said.
"There was nobody who said, 'I'm nervous,' or 'I'm anxious,'" he said. "We never got any of that."
As far as Jackson was concerned, he said, the shooter's actions were isolated.
But the concern of some civilians over Muslims in the military agitates Mabrouk, a native New Yorker who felt devastated, he said, as he watched the World Trade Center towers fall from Germany, where he was stationed on Sept. 11, 2001. His brother worked at the center and could not be reached for three hours. Mabrouk also spent 26 years in the Army.
"I'd have to go back to the individual," he said. "And ask, 'Why do you feel that way?'"
"Maybe I would tell them my personal story."
Born in 1957 to Egyptian parents living in Queens, N.Y., Mabrouk joined the Army in 1979.
He was stationed in Korea and Germany, among other places, and gradually watched the "green Army" turn sand-colored, he said.
He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the 4th Infantry Division. Being a Muslim at war in a Muslim country did inspire "jihad," the Muslim idea of inner struggle that has been perverted by certain individuals, Mabrouk said, but he focused on his immediate mission and bringing each soldier in his unit home.
His knowledge of Arabic and certain Arab customs also helped him help his unit in other ways. He worked unofficially as a translator and consulted on civil affairs projects in the communities around Tikrit.
"I hope I was part of a group of people that helped defend the nation," he said.
In the spring, Jackson and members of the Killeen Muslim community asked Mabrouk to become Fort Hood's Islamic Distinctive Faith Group leader.
The appointment is not directly related to the events of Nov. 5, 2009, Jackson and Mabrouk said. The Garrison Chaplain's office has arranged for meetings of five distinctive faith groups, in addition to Catholic and Protestant services, on post for some time.
Mabrouk does want to use his position to create an open dialogue between Muslims and people of other faiths at Fort Hood, however.
"I want people to ask the tough questions," he said. "I welcome the opportunity to kind of set the myths and rumors and misrepresentations straight, in my limited capacity."
He's also dedicated to ensuring that nothing like last year's tragedy happens again.
"If somebody thinks this individual is a martyr," he said, shaking his head. "If someone is on the border, maybe when they hear folks like me speak out that this was absolutely extreme ..."
There are 180 Muslim soldiers stationed at Fort Hood. Between 10 and 20 now attend weekly prayer at Ohana. Having Mabrouk as a garrison-approved, identified leader makes all the difference, Jackson said.
Mabrouk has only heard of one minor, short-lived conflict between a Muslim soldier and a colleague following Nov. 5, 2009, he said, adding that awareness and cultural education are key to preventing such misunderstandings.
Actions like the shooting are indefensible and deplorable, he said, but have "only made a guy like me, and others much smarter than me, speak out more."