Ramstein center is Air Force's first designated Jewish-Muslim prayer space
September 21, 2005
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Just weeks after Air Force policymakers issued guidelines limiting public prayer, officials at Ramstein Air Base threw open the doors to a unique new chapel dedicated to interfaith worship and understanding.
The new Kaiserslautern Military Community Interfaith Chapel, which formally opened Tuesday, is an unusual hybrid by any religious standards: It’s the Air Force’s first designated Jewish-Muslim prayer space.
The project is the fruit of seven months of work and collaboration by an unlikely pair: reserved, contemplative Chaplain (Capt.) Hamza Al-Mubarak, a Muslim imam; and outgoing, ever-smiling Chaplain (Capt.) Donald Levy, a Jewish rabbi. The two helped design the center: an airy, light-drenched building with two identical chambers, each decorated for Muslim or Jewish services. Both chaplains delivered opening prayers at the center’s dedication Tuesday.
Al-Mubarak also personally thanked the Air Force for building a home for the 70-some Muslims in the Kaiserslautern military community. Before the facility was built, local Muslims met at Pulaski Barracks to worship. The area’s Jewish worshippers — who number about 60, Levy said — met at a social hall.
“Honestly, I never thought this day would come,” Al-Mubarak said, choking back tears. “To have a partial place at this table, and to have a home for my community … thank you.”
Air Force Chaplain Service chief Maj. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, a Southern Baptist chaplain, said the collaboration sends a powerful message to all airmen. Baldwin flew from Washington for the day to attend the dedication ceremony.
“We built this building for freedom’s sake,” he said. “We want to thank people of all faiths and traditions for serving our country.”
Speakers of both faiths also attended and praised the new center.
“We are very, very happy that we have a place where we can worship,” said Army civilian Durdana Siddiqi, a pharmacist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “We really appreciate that the Air Force did this for us.”
Rabbi David Lapp, executive director of the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council, said he hopes the center will send its message of unity and understanding beyond Ramstein Air Base and into the civilian world.
“If the civilian community could just take a little advice from what we’re doing here … wow,” he said. “What a different world it would be.”