A ‘West Point
Grad Rare in His Class’
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
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
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
"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
"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