In 2003, Terry Holdbrooks, an Army specialist, arrived at Guantanamo Bay as a 19-year-old who was essentially atheistic. But he left just one year later, having converted to Islam and with an entirely different worldview than he held previously.
For Holdbrooks, who has now left the military, observing the detainees was inspirational.
“One of the things that kind of amazed me about Guantanamo is that the detainees could wake up each day and smile,” he told CNN Radio.
Initially, though, he wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived at the infamous U.S. prison.
“I’m expecting Lawrence of Arabia. I’m expecting prolific men with giant beards and huge swords and — I’m worried,” Holdbrooks said of his initial reaction to arriving at the prison.
But what the former soldier inevitably saw were men who seemed content, who prayed five times per day and who were deeply entrenched in their faith.
“How can you guys believe that there’s a God?,” he said he asked the detainees, dumbfounded by how positive they seemed, considering their circumstances.
When detainees said that being held at Gitmo was merely God testing their will, he became intrigued. And after becoming close with one of the prisoners, who later gave him a copy of the Koran, Holdbrooks changed his life. He stopped smoking, drinking, eliminated pork — and he later decided to become a Muslim.
“Religion should be a personal thing and it should help strengthen you and it should help strengthen the community and it should help strengthen the family,” the former soldier told CNN, noting that he believes Jesus, Moses, Abraham and Muhammad all said the same thing — “be excellent to each other.”
Listen to the CNN report, which includes an interview with Holdbrooks, below:
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