London, Asharq Al-Awsat- A US guard at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba has announced his conversion to Islam, saying that he discovered the sweetness of faith after saying the Shahada [Muslim declaration of belief in the oneness of God and acceptance of Muhammad as his Prophet]. After long debates with detainee no. 590, Ahmed Rashidi, US Specialist Terry Holdbrooks – who has taken the name Abdullah Mustafa – converted to Islam.
In an interview with “Newsweek” the former guard said that he resolved to convert to Islam after countless discussions on religion with the Moroccan detainee Ahmed Rashidi, who is known among his peers as “The General.” Holbrooke converted to Islam in December 2003, noting the time as being at 12:49 am.
US Navy Commander and Pentagon spokesman Jeffrey Gordon informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “We in the US believe in the freedom of religion. In the US military there are Muslim preachers, as well as Muslim soldiers fighting on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan. What the guard has done is part of his personal freedom.”
Former US soldier Terry Holdbrooks said “There are no rules that define how to get close to God and embrace religion.”
When he first started working at Guantanamo Bay Holdbrooks told Newsweek that “There were a couple of us guards who asked ourselves why these guys are being treated so badly and if they’re actually terrorists at all.”
The former guard said that his interest in Islam was sparked by listening to the conversation of the detainees on the history of the Middle East, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Islam.
Explaining the reason that he listened to the detainees, Holdbrooks said that there was not much to do while guarding the detainees during the night. This is how Holdbrooks got to know Rashidi saying “In this prison I saw people living under the worst conditions possible in the worst place possible, but this did not undermine their faith and their hope for the future.”
Holdbrooks added “A lot of Americans have abandoned God, but even in this place, [the detainees] were determined to pray”
In the beginning, Holbrooke tried to hide his conversion from his colleagues, for when they did find out the officers treated him badly, accusing him of betraying the US. Holdbrooks said “They started yelling at me, asking if I was a traitor, asking if I was switching sides.”
Holbrooke was later honorably discharged from the US army two years early.
Al-Rashidi, who spent 5 years in Guantanamo Bay and was released in 2007 and now lives in Morocco said in an e-mail to Newsweek that “The detainees used to have conversations with the guards who showed some common respect towards them. We talked about everything, normal things, and things [we had] in common”
The Newsweek article ends “Holdbrooks, now 25, says he quit drinking three months ago and began attending regular prayers at the Tempe Islamic Center, a mosque near the University of Phoenix, where he works as an enrollment counselor. When the imam at Tempe introduced Holdbrooks to the congregation and explained he’d converted at Guantلnamo, a few dozen worshipers rushed over to shake his hand. “I would have thought they had the most savage soldiers serving there,” says the imam, Amr Elsamny, an Egyptian. “I never thought it would be someone like Terry Holdbrooks.”
Holdbrooks is now in contact with his old friend Rashidi, saying that the Moroccan former detainee had “inspired” him. He has signed a contract with a publisher and is currently writing a book on his experiences in Guantanamo Bay, hoping to earn enough money to “change his life” and leave behind his job at the University of Phoenix in order to dedicate himself to “helping the families of the Guantanamo detainees” saying “Islam is the religion of life.”