NEWPORT NEWS, VA (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy, in partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), afforded a USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Sailor and four other Navy members the opportunity to visit Mecca, the holiest site in the Muslim faith, from Dec. 6-12, 2008, to make the traditional pilgrimage known as Hajj.
Lt. j.g. Rami Islam of the Carl Vinson's Engineering Department was selected from about 75 candidates Navy-wide to embark on the KSA-sponsored pilgrimage, which is required to be completed by Muslims who have the ability to do so at least once in their lifetimes.
"The fact that the U.S. Navy allowed this trip to take place is proven evidence that, in this organization, we are all equal," said Islam. "All religions are respected, and that kind of equal treatment and support are some of the best morale boosters for our Sailors."
The Hajj, dating back to ancient times, symbolizes obedience and loyalty to Allah by the Muslim people. The pilgrimage consists of several individual rituals and is associated with the life of the prophet Muhammad.
"I am very impressed that, despite how busy the crew and chain of command are during this critical refueling complex overhaul (RCOH) period, they still found a way to realize a life-long dream for one of our shipmates," said Cmdr. Hal Scott, chaplain, Carl Vinson Religious Ministries Department. "They extended a ton of support for this cause, and that certainly helped with Lt.j.g. Islam's selection for the program."
Islam agreed, adding that the successful journey was a direct result of the positive military relations and collaboration between the United States and the KSA. While abroad, the KSA provided all security, lodging, and meals, and extended other various courtesies to Islam and the four other Sailors selected for the program.
According to Scott, Sailors interested in such programs must submit application packages through their chain of command and receive an official nomination from the United States Navy Chaplain Corps.
"Both the Navy and its Chaplain Corps are fully committed to providing and accommodating our Sailors and their families - of all faiths -- with opportunities for religious experiences," said Scott. "I'm personally very excited about this milestone for Lt. j.g. Islam, and I hope and pray that this experience was very spiritually motivating for him."
Since his return, Islam has been invited to attend a meeting held by military chaplains in the Hampton Roads, Va. area to share his personal experiences and offer input for future programs. Scott said he hopes Islam will take his energy and experiences gained through the pilgrimage and continue to share them with others around the fleet.
"American Muslims in uniform have fought side-by-side to defend the U.S. Constitution since the Civil War," said Islam. "The Navy's recognition of a faith practiced by a minority group makes that very group proud to be a part of this institution. It's a true example of what America is all about; freedom and equality for all."
Carl Vinson is undergoing its scheduled RCO) at Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard. The RCOH is an extensive yard period that all Nimitz-class aircraft carriers go through near the mid-point of their 50-year lifecycle.
During RCOH, Carl Vinson's nuclear fuel will be replenished and the ship's services and infrastructure will be upgraded to make her the most state-of-the-art aircraft carrier in the fleet and prepare for another 25 years or more of service.
For more news from USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn70/.