A ‘West Point Grad Rare in His Class’


Faraz Bala, 22, wears a West Point ring after finishing his studies in May. He will spend the next five years serving in the US Army

A Muslim American born of Pakistani parents has recently graduated from West Point. He is Faraz Bala, 22, whose parents migrated from Pakistan about 20 years ago. “It is a very positive feel-good story on Muslims after all the bad news we seem to get every day,” says Shabbir Bala of Snohomish, WA, in a message emailed to Pakistan Link. “Back in 2004 you printed an article on him when he was starting at West Point. Now he has completed his 4 years. Is it possible to print these articles in your paper?” asks the father as he forwards two articles highlighting his son’s achievements in the local papers. Here is what the Seattle Post Intelligencer writer John Iwasaki wrote about Faraz Bala on May 26, 2007.
On Saturday afternoon, in the 209th commencement at a historic campus dotted with monuments to famous generals, Faraz Bala will graduate from West Point.
The Snohomish man is a rare Muslim in his class of 900 cadets, whose four years at the U.S. Military Academy overlapped with the war in Iraq.


His father, Marysville restaurant owner Shabbir Bala, thinks the government unnecessarily targets American followers of Islam. In the fight against terrorism, the elder Bala said, "The people you really want on your side is a Muslim."
But Faraz Bala -- a 22-year-old distance runner who enjoys snowboarding, bowling, cliff jumping and watching foreign films -- views himself as "just a normal guy like all the rest of my classmates," not the face of Islam in the military.
That sentiment is embodied in one of his sayings: "I'm an American, I'm a soldier, and I just happen to be a Muslim."
Bala knows of four other Muslims in his class at West Point, where Islam is accepted along with other major religions. When the academy in New York opened a new interfaith building last fall, it included a prayer room -- designed to face Mecca -- for Muslim cadets and their volunteer imam.
A West Point spokesman said the academy has about 30 Muslims among its 4,300 cadets, including some from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. No official count is available because the academy does not ask cadets their religion.
"All cadets know about Islam since it is essential to understanding the war we are fighting," Bala said this week from West Point.
"There are those who do not know any Muslims, so they see Islam as pretty foreign, whether in a positive or negative light," he said. "Then there are those who do know a Muslim and see that we are regular people who think and act like everyone else."
Bala said some cadets made insensitive comments about Islam in class, not knowing he was a Muslim. "Things like Islam being violent or being suspicious of the religion," he said. "But no one ever said anything derogatory to me personally."
He fit in his five daily prayers and managed to observe Islamic holy days, which initially caused him some difficulty because Muslims use a different calendar.
"But these issues were resolved within the chain of command," said Bala, adding that he experienced "no real problem" in the past two years.
He fasted during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan, which he said amazed his teammates on Army's cross-country team. He also competed in track.
With no halal or kosher meat served in the mess hall, Bala changed his diet to include lots of fish and vegetables.
"He made good friends with a Jewish cadet so they could (go out to) eat kosher meat," said Bala's mother, Ruqqy.
His parents, who each emigrated from Pakistan more than 20 years ago, hold more liberal political views than their California-born son.
"We don't talk about politics," said his father, who is not thrilled that West Point's commencement speaker this year will be Vice President Dick Cheney. President Bush spoke last year.
Faraz Bala, who considers himself a moderate, said West Point has "definitely given me an opportunity to get information straight from the source. I've been taught by people who have worked in the White House and others who have firsthand knowledge of the war, so that gives an inside perspective most people don't get.
"What West Point has taught me is that the answers to political decisions are never simple, and if anyone has a simple solution, they are most likely wrong," said Bala, who won awards for maintaining a high grade-point average. "There are always good reasons on each side of the argument."
Bala's mother expressed happiness about her son's graduation, but "at the same time, I'm scared, too, because now he's coming out of the safety net," she said. "That always worries the mom -- all the possibilities, ending up in a war zone."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in international studies and a commission as a second lieutenant, Bala will enter the military intelligence branch of the Army and study at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., until February.
He then will be stationed in Vilseck, Germany, with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a Stryker Brigade formerly at Fort Lewis.
"I'll serve where my country needs me," Bala said. "This is not a crusade, so we are not fighting Muslims per se. When I go ... my mission will be to provide security and stop the bloodshed in Iraq." (Courtesy Seattle Post Intelligencer)


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