Duty, honor, country and Islam

Faraz Bala wore the gold ring on the third finger of his left hand.

Three words chiseled in the ring read: “Duty. Honor. Country.”

That’s the motto of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, Bala said.

Bala, 22, of Snohomish earned the 2007 class ring with fewer than 1,000 graduates in May.

The ring is evidence of his hard work, struggle and achievement over the last four years. Bala, a Muslim, balanced his religion with the rigorous academic work at the Christian-dominated institution.

“The schedule is not based on Islamic schedule. You have to work your religion around your schedule,” Bala said.

The ring is also a reminder of how far Bala, a Snohomish High School salutatorian, has come since joining some of the nation’s top young people.

“Even four years later, I can see the difference that going to West Point has made in my life, rather than going to a different college,” Bala said Thursday at his parents’ restaurant in Marysville.

In Snohomish, Bala was a highly rated cross-country runner. He was an A student.

As a freshman at West Point, Bala became a “plebe,” short for plebeian. That meant that he was one of the common people.

Bala held on to values he learned “from my parents, from my teachers, from my coaches and from friends I hang out with” in Snohomish.

That helped him mature fast and thrive at West Point, as more than 300 students dropped out of his class before graduation. While earning his degree in international relations, Bala made good friends and met people such as presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Bala said he was one of about 10 Muslim graduates in his class. His four years at West Point have been overlapped with the war in Iraq.

“I didn’t face any prejudice personally,” Bala said.

Religion is a personal matter; people should be judged by their actions, he said.

“People with good intentions who do good things are good people,” he said.

Bala, who received free tuition for four years, is required to serve in the Army over the next five years. Bala, a second lieutenant in the army’s intelligence branch, is set to take on basic training in Oklahoma in September.

Although he doesn’t speak Arabic, his knowledge of Islam will be a boon in his service, Bala said.

“No matter where I am, it will help me,” he said.

Until then, Bala will spend time in Snohomish with his parents, Shabbir and RuqqyBala, immigrants from Pakistan.

When her son brought up an idea of going to West Point, Ruqqy Bala didn’t know what the institution was. Now she knows that her son made a right decision attending the school.

“He has matured a lot,” Ruqqy Bala said. “He has grown a lot. He has become a very nice gentleman.”

At their restaurant, longtime patrons have been congratulating their son’s achievement, Shabbir Bala said.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it.”

Faraz Bala said that he has yet to decide what to do after his service in the Army, but he knows he’s capable of whatever will come along in his life.

“I believe in myself,” he said.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@ heraldnet.com.

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