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Pvt. Naveed Ali Shah and Pvt. Angela McKenzie arrived at their post in South Korea last week as newlyweds, having met during advanced individual training. McKenzie adopted her husband's Islamic faith in July and is fasting during her first Ramadan.
Pvt. Naveed Ali Shah and Pvt. Angela McKenzie arrived at their post in South Korea last week as newlyweds, having met during advanced individual training. McKenzie adopted her husband's Islamic faith in July and is fasting during her first Ramadan. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Say this much for Pvt. Angela McKenzie, a newlywed, recent Muslim convert and new arrival to South Korea: She’s not afraid of change.

McKenzie married Pvt. Naveed Ali Shah after meeting him at advanced individual training and arrived with him at their 2nd Infantry Division public affairs post this month.

She converted to Islam in mid-July and is now fasting during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan for the first time.

“So far, it’s been a long, thirsty day,” said McKenzie, of York, Pa. “But surprisingly, it hasn’t been that hard … it’s worth it in the end. On a religious level, it makes me feel closer to God, and on a personal level, it’s about strength.”

McKenzie, who was raised Baptist and confirmed as a Lutheran, said she studied Islam thoroughly before making her decision.

“When I met [Ali Shah’s] family, they were very welcoming,” McKenzie said. “They never pushed me to convert.”

Most people are very surprised when they hear McKenzie is a Muslim, she said. They have their misconceptions, and she does her best to answer questions.

Ali Shah has heard those misconceptions periodically throughout his life. He is a native Pakistani born in Saudi Arabia. He moved to the United States when he was 2 and grew up in Springfield, Va.

Ali Shah says it’s better to be with family for Ramadan, but he’ll be able to attend services at Yongsan Garrison.

“Islam is a religion where if you have a big group of people, it’s enjoyable to practice together,” Shah said. “But even if it’s just you, or you and your wife, you can practice in your home together.”

His command has been very supportive, he said.

Their supervisor, Master Sgt. Kanessa Trent, held physical training for the two soldiers before dawn so they could still eat and practice their faith before work.

Ali Shah does his best to be observant, though sometimes it requires creativity.

During advanced individual training, Ali Shah found a corner near his bunk, rolled a towel out and prayed.

Ali Shah said people sometimes make jokes about terrorism to him, but he hasn’t directly experienced any serious accusations or slurs.

“They ask, ‘How do you feel about going to Iraq and fighting your Muslim brothers and sisters?’ And I say, well, America is my country.”

More often he’ll get questions about the nature of Islam, dietary laws and other lifestyle aspects — many of which he’s had to correct.

“Can you have four wives? That is a negative,” Ali Shah said.

“Definitely,” McKenzie quickly replied.

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