Marine Corps Base Quantico, VA --
As the sun slowly peeked through the late morning clouds, volunteers scurried around setting up chairs and tents in the grass next to the Marine Corps Base Quantico (MCBQ) Chapel Religious and Family Services Center. By 1 p.m., two charcoal grills were smoking and tents were shading seating for the approximately 30 or more people who were expected to arrive shortly. MCB Quantico’s Muslim community, consisting of a mix of military personnel, base civilians and their families, gathered on Aug. 19 for a cookout. One of the Muslim volunteers, Jason Gregoire, described the event as “simply an opportunity to get the community together and have fun.” Although Muslims hold communal prayer every Friday at 1:15 p.m. at the MCBQ Islamic Prayer Center (Building 3019 on Embry Loop), their busy schedules make getting to know one another outside of religious services challenging.
But, on Aug. 19 they did get a chance to spend time together. Within an hour, kids were gleefully jumping up and down in an inflatable house as their parents looked on. Gregoire, with spatula in hand, was skillfully cooking hamburgers and hotdogs over a charcoal grill. Adults sat under the tents and discussed everything from politics to the best way to travel to New York City. One of the most striking aspects of the group is its immense diversity. Among the attendees at the event, more than half a dozen nationalities were represented and collectively they speak an even greater number of languages. This is partially due to the inclusion of foreign military students, who arrive every summer to spend a year aboard Quantico studying at one of Marine Corps University’s professional military schools.
MCB Quantico’s Islamic Prayer Center, officially dedicated in 2006, remains the only prayer space reserved specifically for Muslims on a military installation in the National Capital Region. Beyond being a place for Muslims to fulfill their prayer obligations, the Islamic Prayer Center also functions as something of a community center where Muslims on base can hold potlucks, religious study sessions and other faith-based events. According to the Muslim volunteers, the center gives Muslims on base a place to find fellowship with other Muslims.
As the afternoon wound down, adults said their goodbyes to one another while kids piled into waiting minivans, marking the end of a successful community event. The cookout could have been one held by any faith group, highlighting one important aspect: That Muslims, like other faith groups, form another thread in the underlying social fabric of the Marines, the U.S. military and the larger Department of Defense community.