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Keith Cherry grew up a Pentecostal Christian in small-town Louisa, Va.

“I was raised going to church every Sunday,” he said.

A technical sergeant with the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Cherry, 34, converted to Islam in 1999.

The journey toward Islam began after he joined the military. For a few years, he “fell out of the spiritual realm,” before he began looking for a connection “with the Almighty,” he said.

That’s when the questions came. He believed Jesus was an important prophet but not part of the Holy Trinity.

In 1999, while stationed at Yokota Air Base, near Tokyo, he had a chance meeting with a Muslim Air Force civilian working on base.

They started talking religion.

The man said that in his faith, Jesus was not considered God, either, though he’s believed to be one of the greatest prophets.

“He said, ‘We believe in all the prophets, angels and only one God,’ ” Cherry recalled.

Cherry researched Islam and read the Quran “every day after I came home from work like it was a best-selling novel,” he said.

“Three weeks later, I called him back and told him I wanted to be Muslim.”

Cherry made his shahada — declaration of Islam faith — at a Tokyo mosque. He took another given name — Abdulnasser — but he kept his name Keith out of respect for his mother.

Muslims cannot change their family (or last) name in order to carry their father’s name, Cherry said.

His mother was supportive. “I don’t cheat; I don’t drink liquor; I don’t steal; I don’t lie,” he said. “That’s the way she raised me, so she’s happy,” he said.

Cherry doesn’t mind answering questions about his faith.

He’s heard: Allah’s not God, or what God is that? Why do all Muslims believe in fighting and killing?

To the latter, he answers: “Islam is a peaceful religion. There are Muslims whose actions aren’t Islamic.”

Cherry has deployed to Iraq twice and feels no conflict between faith and duty downrange.

“The government that we’re helping setting up is a Muslim council,” he said. “As far as I was concerned, I was there helping my brothers and sisters.”

Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Hafiz Camp, a building administrator for Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron One, First Marine Aircraft Wing, on Okinawa’s Camp Foster, was a Baptist before converting to Islam in 1994.

“I saw a lot of things that didn’t strike me too well, growing up in the church,” he said.

“I compared Christianity and Islam. I talked to the Muslims, and I talked to the Christians [and thought], you know, this is what I need to be doing,” he said.

Camp was drawn by the faith’s discipline — of the mandatory five prayers a day, of giving up alcohol.

He changed his given name from Michael to Hafiz Naim Ali, which means preserver of tranquility.

His wife is Muslim and so are three of his five children.

Of the two who aren’t — a 21-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter — Camp said, “I tell them it’s their choice. You can’t force them to be” Muslim.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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