Parents of fallen service members spoke at a press conference on Thursday morning, an event during which they accused the U.S. government of complicity in the deaths of their sons. The families highlighted a number of grievances, including the notion that military brass invited a Muslim cleric to their children's funeral in 2011 -- an imam who they claim "disparaged in Arabic the memory of these servicemen."
Three families of fallen Navy SEAL Team 6 special forces members and one family of an Army National Guardsman held the event at the National Press Club to make this startling allegation, among many others. Their children perished during the fatal Chinook helicopter crash that occurred in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. The presser was an effort, as noted in a press release, to corroborate the notion that the U.S. government is "as much responsible for the deaths of their sons as is the Taliban."
Photo Credit: AP File Photo
As for the claim about the Muslim cleric, the families believe that the faith leader attempted to intentionally sully the memory of their sons by "damning them as infidels to Allah." The group showed video of the prayer to prove their contentions, complete with translation.
Audio from the ceremony, which has been circling for at least a few months, includes a U.S. soldier speaking in English; he begins the ceremony by appealing to the "almighty and awesome God" and goes on to honor the fallen, speaking directly to God and invoking Christian scripture in doing so. After the presiding officer concludes, the imam's purportedly controversial prayer begins; it is this latter portion that has sparked outrage among the families.
See the American prayer, below:
On Wednesday, TheBlaze spoke with attorney Larry Klayman who is representing the grieving parents to learn more about the Arabic comments in question. Noting that he has consulted with a certified translator, he paraphrased the meaning of the imam's words as follows: "That the fallen seals should be damned and go to hell as infidels."
If this translation is valid, the notion that it was spoken over U.S. service members bodies at a funeral is potentially problematic, although it should be noted that the prayer may have been intended only for the Afghan soldiers who perished. Let's first explore what the Muslims leader said during his sermon. Here's one translation that has been given of the cleric's comments (this is the version that Klayman showed at the press conference along with video of the prayer):
"Amen I shelter in Allah from the devil who has been cast with stones. In the name of Allah the merciful giver. The companions of the fire are not equal with the companions of heaven. The companions of heaven are the winners. Had we sent this Koran to a mountain, you would have seen the mountain prostrated in fear of Allah. Such examples are what we present to the people; to the people, so that they would think. Blessings are to your God, the God of glory of what they describe. And peace be upon the messengers and thanks be to Allah the lord of both universes."
And here's the audio, with subtitles:
Another translation that was commissioned by Islam expert Stephen Coughlin is somewhat less pointed:
"I announce the evil by all-aha. By the name of the merciful all-aha. People of hell and people of heaven are not equal (even, not the same), people of heaven are the winners, if we [unintelligible word] the Koran on the mountain, you will see, you will see him in submission and humble of alla-aha's fear. Those (who are in submission) are examples for the people (the public) may these people (the public) remember, praise alla-aha. Alla-aha God of glory, of the people behaviors (he is wondering or questioning the people's behaviors). And peace to the Prophets, thanks to alla-aha, please (asking alla-aha) to forgive him, comfort him and accept him in paradise. [The prayer ends, however this subject was talking to some audience he was telling them I LOVE TO....then the audio ended]."
Here's another version of the imam's comments without subtitles and in Arabic:
In his interview, Klayman described the prayer as "the straw that broke the camel's back" in his mix of his clients' claims against the Obama administration. In the attorney's view, the purported slight on behalf of the faith leader was intention.
"My personal reaction was that this was a Muslim cleric who was laughing internally at the Christians and any Jews that might have been there -- he pulled a fast one, because no one could understand what he was saying," Klayman said, noting that the video was initially brought to his attention by one of the fallen service member's family members. "That was my personal impression."
Overall, the lawyer said that he found it odd that a Judeo-Christian funeral for American servicemen was mixed with a Muslim funeral for Afghanis, especially considering the questions that some have raised about just how loyal the Afghanis were to the mission in question. But it is entirely possible, of course, that the joint funeral was conducted as an exercise in bridging divides and bridging ideological differences.
"All these families have left is the memory of their sons and his memory now has been trashed and desecrated by the Muslim -- and the very fact that this Muslim was even allowed to go to the funeral is another example of Obama's so-called Muslim outreach," he continued. "He's more concerned about placating Muslims than he is our own people."
But not everyone agrees
In contrast to Klayman's strong views on the matter, Coughlin noted that he's not entirely sure that the prayer was an overt attempt to offend American servicemen and their families. His explanation -- one that is based on interactions with two Coptic Christians who know Arabic and who helped him translate the prayer -- is a multifaceted one.
Coughlin claims that the funeral rite that was delivered over the dead soldiers is "a standard funeral rite among Muslims." Naturally, non-Muslims may be surprised by this claim, but the Islam expert expounded in detail:
"Even a standard prayer is actually a little bit offensive because ... it comes from a book of the Koran or a chapter of the Koran that's basically about defeating the infidels. And [in exploring the issue] I basically showed that there were two verses quoted in the funeral rite.
If you back it up one verse, it gives you the greater context of the fact that the people who are not Muslim are condemned to hell, by those prayers and so I basically showed that. So my point isn't that the imam was deliberately inflammatory -- my point was that it's inflammatory even when they're not trying to, because it goes to the issue of the fundamental and irreconcilable difference between Islamic orientation and a non-Muslim orientation."
Prior to his interview with TheBlaze, Coughlin provided an extensive explanation of the prayer, highlighting scripture from the Koran to show where the imam was pulling his commentary from. It seems verses in Surah 59:20 - 59:21 were employed in the cleric's commentary, but the Islam expert argues that one must also consider Surah 59:19 to properly understand how to interpret the subsequent verses shared in the prayer.
Using the Yusuf Ali translation of the holy book (one of the most known and used English translations), Coughlin provided the verses to TheBlaze:
And be ye not like those who forgot Allah; and He made them forget their own souls! Such are the rebellious transgressors! (Koran 59:19)
Not equal are the Companions of the Fire and the Companions of the Garden: it is the Companions of the Garden, that will achieve Felicity. ?(Koran 59:20).
Had We sent down this Qur'an on a mountain, verily, thou wouldst have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for fear of Allah. Such are the similitudes which We propound to men, that they may reflect. ?(Koran 59:21)
While the Muslim cleric's words have, thus far, been described as a collective "prayer," Coughlin notes that they extend beyond mere invocation, mostly because the faith leader's comments also involved reading out of the Koran. In citing scripture from the holy book, the Islam expert noted that the verses had a specific meaning -- one that focuses on the victory of Muslims over non-Muslims.
"We don't know what he was thinking"
Rather than taking aim at the Islamic leader, Coughlin claims that the imam's intentions, simply based on audio of his words, cannot be known. More dissection and discussion would certainly be warranted and considering that this may be a standard funeral rite, nothing may be amiss.
"We don't know what he was thinking. He could have known ... and it was a dig to get in," he posited. "But it's also possible that he was going through the [typical] motions that an imam would go through at this point."
One of the individuals that Coughlin consulted with about the video, a native Egyptian, seemed to believe that the cleric's words were likely inappropriate, but not intentionally so. The individual, someone well-versed in Islam and Islamic law, called the imam's comments "standard fare at a funeral rite" and reiterated that a slight may not have been intentional.
Coughlin said that responsibility should fall on the generals who purportedly did not call for a translator beforehand. "That general should have known what that guy was saying [and what it meant]," he added.
We'll have more information later today about the additional charges that the families are waging against the U.S. government. Read our report from Wednesday night that highlights their grievances and stay tuned later today for a recap of the press conference. What do you think about the families' claims about the prayer? Take the poll, below.