Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan

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Colin Powell spoke in his MTP interview of being moved by a photo essay he saw in a magazine:

It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.

Here’s more about that young man, who was killed with three other soldiers on Aug. 6, 2007, at Baqubah, Iraq:

When it came to a post-high school career decision, there was nothing Kareem R. Khan wanted to do other than join the Army.

Spurred by the Septermber 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Khan, a 2005 graduate of Southern Regional High School, wanted to show that not all Muslims were fanatics and that many, like him, were willing to lay their lives down for their country, America. He enlisted immediately after graduation and was sent to Iraq in July 2006.

So when his father, Feroze “Roy” Khan, saw three soldiers walking up to his door on Monday, he knew what it meant.

Specialist Kareem Khan, 20, was killed with four others earlier this week when a blast destroyed a house he and members of his division, the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, were clearing in Baqouba, Iraq.

An interpreter and 12 soldiers were also injured in the explosion, the Army said.

“It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” Feroze Khan, 49, said Thursday night at his home in the Ocean Acres section of Manahawkin.

Khan’s faith in Islam is important now to his father and stepmother, Nisha Khan, because they want to make sure people in America know that Muslims like Kareem were willing to fight for their country.

“His Muslim faith did not make him not want to go. It never stopped him,” said Feroze Khan. “He looked at it that he’s American and he has a job to do.”

The last package Nisha Khan, 40, sent her stepson included a necklace that had Kareem’s name in Arabic, next to the word “Bismillah,” which means praise to Allah.

In the Islamic tradition, last rites must be within a few days of death. Khan’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is scheduled Thursday. The family will perform traditional Islamic rites at home and have a full military burial.

“Hopefully Allah will understand,” said Nisha Khan.

Though his father “spoiled him rotten,” according to both his dad and stepmom, Kareem was always a polite teenager, who respected his elders.

“For a teenager, he was a very obedient child,” said Nisha Khan.

Feroze Khan’s favorite memory is when Kareem used to wake up at 5 a.m. on weekends to accompany his dad at work at a local marina.

“Not many kids would get up at 5 a.m.,” he said.

Khan was a football fan, rooting with his father for the Dallas Cowboys when games were televised. He also used to challenge his little stepsister Aliya, 11, to video games.

“He’s really funny,” said Aliya. “We used to play video games and sometimes we would play with my birds.”

Nisha Khan said the two would spend hours sprawled out on the living room floor and sometimes Kareem would try to show Aliya how to do certain moves, and ended up taking over the controller.

Aliya said she looked up to her stepbrother and she was “really happy,” when he came with her to class at Southern Regional Intermediate School during his leave last September. Afterward he accompanied her to the school book fair.

“I was proud,” she said.

Kareem was a “total goofball,” said Feroze Khan. The family used to send two large bags of Starburst candies in his care packages, because Kareem would pick out all the orange ones and leave the rest for his Army buddies.

He was also a big fan of the Disney World theme parks, as was the entire family. They would take at least one trip a year to Orlando, Florida, and the living room and dining room of the family’s split-level home is filled with souvenirs from those trips, like a wall hanging of Cinderella, figurines of Mickey Mouse and Disney-themed snow globes.

Kareem was so crazy about Disney World that when he had a two-day leave following his graduation from Fort Benning, Georgia, the family immediately drove to Florida.

As a freshman at Southern Regional High School, Kareem enrolled in the district’s Air Force Junior ROTC program. During his one year in the program, he proved to be a solid student and citizen, said Col. Michael Mestemaker.

“He was a good kid. He did whatever we asked of him,” he said.

Stafford Mayor Carl Block said his “heart goes out to the family. We have been very pro-veteran in the past, and we’ll surely follow this up immediately” by planning an official memorial for Khan.

Representative Jim Saxton, R-New Jersey, received word of Khan’s death through Army officials on Thursday. “I express my deepest regrets for the family of Specialist Khan. His service to the Army and the 2nd Infantry Division is truly honorable. It’s a sad loss for us all,” he said.

Khan went to Iraq after spending a year at Fort Lewis in Seattle. He came home for two weeks in September 2006 and was supposed to be home permanently last month, but his tour was extended through the end of September 2007.

He was considering re-enlisting or going to medical school. He worked with a medic unit when he first got to Iraq, Feroze Khan said, and liked what they did.

When he came home to visit, he was happy to stay at home, even asking his mother, who lives in Maryland, to come up to New Jersey to visit.

“He has so much promise, he could’ve done anything with himself,” said Joe Hawk, 42, of Bayville, who Feroze Khan described as a very special friend of the family.

Hawk said he saw Kareem grow from a little 10-year-old boy into a man.

“When he joined, his dad was devastated,” said Hawk, “but I told him you can’t fault him for that. His father raised him to give, and he gave his life.”

Nisha Khan said seeing the soldier come to tell of Kareem’s death was like nothing she’s ever experienced.

“You see it in the movies, but you wouldn’t know the emptiness of seeing them in your driveway,” she said. In her grief, she blindly hit out at those bringing the news, she said. “He promised me he’d come home,” she said, as Aliya held her mother close to comfort her.

“His dad is devastated,” said Hawk. “Kareem was his life. A father shouldn’t bury his child.”

The most important thing to know, Nisha Khan said, is that Kareem lived up to the meaning of his name.

“Most excellent,” she said.

UPDATE: And here is another story about him.