IN A PLACE ONCE SHATTERED, SERENITY
A little before 1400 hours on Friday, Faisal Rana and Umar Abdul Wahhab prepared the Pentagon chapel for worship.
Fridays are always busy at the chapel, on the Pentagon’s first level, E-ring, fourth corridor, about where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building that awful morning five years ago. The chapel hums all week, but settle into one of the seats on Friday and you’ll get a survey course in the great religions. There’s a Catholic Mass at 11:30, a Jewish service at 12:30 and an Islamic service at 2.
The pulpit was moved from one side of the chapel to the other so worshipers could face Mecca, the position of which was determined with military precision after the chapel opened in 2002. The altar was lifted and carried over against a wall, and two large green Persian rugs were unfolded on the floor.
Faisal spread out some handwritten notes on the pulpit. A retired Marine from Burke who now is a contractor at the Justice Department, he would be delivering the day’s khutba, or sermon. The topic he’d picked: “The Purpose of Our Existence.”
Men began to come in. Most were in civilian clothes, shoeless now, their hard plastic photo IDs hanging from around their necks. There was a sailor. And a soldier in desert camouflage — 13 men in all. The soldier unlaced his tan boots, slipped them off and padded onto the green carpet.
Umar, an Air Force veteran who’s now a civilian Defense Department employee in Crystal City, gave the call to prayer in a strong tenor voice. Then Faisal started talking. Allah, he said, created humans only to worship. “That is the whole reason for existence in the world,” he said.
The chaplains who serve the Pentagon have always wanted a chapel. It took Sept. 11, 2001 — and the approval of the president — to finally get one, said the Pentagon chaplain, Col. William Broome , a former Vietnam helicopter pilot.
“Here is a place on the site of disaster where faith has sprung to bring hope,” he said. “There is hope in this building.”