Manal Ezzat ran from the burning Pentagon building on September 11, 2001. She didn’t know what had happened, but soon would. Terrorists crashed the plane into the Pentagon and murdered 184 people.
The very next day, Ezzat started work rebuilding the site. She is an Army Corps of Engineers employee who was project manager for the Army’s space in the Pentagon at the time of the attack, The Washington Post reported. Ezzat and her team knew that the space shouldn’t be offices again. They wanted to build a chapel.
And so, they did.
At the site of the mass murder is the Pentagon Memorial Chapel with cushioned blue seats, a blue carpet, prayer books from various denominations and stained-glass windows. Next door is a memorial where every victim’s name is written on a wall and their life stories are compiled in two books.
The interfaith chapel and memorial are a testament to the inclusivity, tolerance and compassion that most Americans continue to feel toward others, regardless of their religion or race. It’s an example that many different religions and creeds can exist and pray in the same blue-carpeted room.
In the chapel, Episcopal and Lutheran services are held every Wednesday, Hindu services and Jewish study sessions every Thursday, Greek Orthodox services every Friday and Buddhist prayers twice a month. And that’s just the beginning.
The two most frequent users, according to The Post, are Catholics and Muslims.
Some Muslims who pray five times a day use the chapel when they need a private space to do so. As a group, Muslims pray daily in midafternoon in the chapel and host a service with a sermon every Friday.
Ezzat feels that the chapel she helped design is a way forward to continued healing and understanding from the initial hate and bigotry toward Islam after 9/11.
“On a personal level, I heard things, negative things. … You’d hear it in the hallways and the corridors. ‘Oh, those idiots did this and did that.’ It hurt me,” Ezzat told The Post. “I’d hear it and get upset over it, and a minute later, I’m done with it.”
Qawiy Abdullah Sabree, a Muslim cybersecurity expert who has worked at the Pentagon for 27 years, uses the chapel at least once a day. He was there on 9/11 and watched many of his coworkers perish.
“It gives me that escape from the daily routine of work, to have a place to come and just reflect on your beliefs, reflect on the creator that gave us life. It’s a very good thing to have,” he told The Post. “It’s a privilege to have a place for prayer.”