MARJAH, Afghanistan --
Marines and sailors with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, gathered with a group of local Afghans to celebrate the grand opening of a newly renovated mosque, Aug 20, in Marjah.
Community restoration projects such as soccer fields, wells, community restrooms and solar electricity, are some of many projects set up by 3rd Civil Affairs Group, 2/9.
The mosque, being the most recently completed, attracted an astounding number of people and proved to be another stepping stone in the unit’s effort to build community relations and relieve local’s fears fueled by Taliban propaganda that Americans are here to force their beliefs and religion on them.
Sgt. Steven Lucero, a civil affair Marine with 3rd CAG, 2/9, said that the renovation and opening not only helps the locals build trust but in the end gives them hope for the future.
“A lot of the people are scared to come to us and ask us for help,” said Lucero. “Everyone is really happy about the project. It shows the people that we’re not here to occupy their country, it shows them that we are here to help rebuild their infrastructure and get rid of the Taliban.”
The freshly painted bright-white mosque glistened in the early morning sun as the small crowd quickly grew to nearly 100 spectators.
The gathering which consisted of young and old Muslim males concentrated at the mosque’s doorstep while onlookers peered over surrounding canals. Village elders addressed the crowd with fiery speeches pointing out the political climate of the region and expressed their thanks for the Americans help improving and stabilizing the area.
Kawa Hamidi, an interpreter attached to 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, said that the main theme of the speeches was to convince locals to cooperate with the government.
“The elders were all trying to convey a message to help the people understand that they need to work together in order to develop their area,” said Hamidi. “They explained that other areas in the country are being renovated and transformed but because of their ignorance nothing changes here.”
Haji Muhammad Hanif, a highly respected village elder, voiced his gratitude and stressed the corrupt views the Taliban portrays on Americans and how the Taliban disrespect their holy-month of Ramadan.
“We are grateful to the Americans for this great improvement,” Hanif passionately voiced to the crowd. “We pray that during this holy month of Ramadan that the patrols and firefights stop somehow. The Taliban shoots rounds, run away and we suffer. The Taliban will do anything in their power to make the Americans look at fault, but who is here opening the Mosque with us?”
Ramadan is a month-long religious holiday practiced by Muslims where they fast during daylight hours to honor their faith. According to Hamidi, a practicing Muslim himself, the Mosque opening couldn’t have happened at a better time.
“The timing for the opening was perfect,” said Hamidi. “Not only was it opened on a Friday, which is a holy day for Muslims, but it was opened during Ramadan, listening to the people talk everyone is very happy.”
Capt. Daniel Nilsson, commanding officer for Golf Company, 2/9, ended the ceremony with a heartfelt speech voicing his commitment and hopes for the future
“As shopkeepers, elders, Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police all try and work together to make this area a bigger and better place we are here to help,” Nilsson said to the crowd. “Let this Mosque symbolize one of the many steps for people in this area! With god’s blessing may this be a sanctuary for people to come and may it stay for many years in the future.”