WASHINGTON: Inside the Pentagon 9/11Memorial Chapel, a female air force sergeant unlaced her combat boots, set them under the pews and slipped her black veil around her hair and over her camouflaged uniform.
The men pushed back the altar for Christian services to make room for their large, green prayer rugs; then moved the podium from one side of the room to the other so that the congregation would be facing Mecca.
''Allahu Akbar,'' called out Ali Mohammed, a contractor who works at the Pentagon, raising his hands to his face as he chanted the call to prayer. ''Allahu Akbar.''
While politicians in an election year may be debating the propriety of building a Muslim centre, including a mosque, two blocks from the World Trade Centre site in New York, there's no such debate at the Pentagon.
Instead, about 400 worshippers, including Muslims, attend prayer services every week in the chapel, a non-denominational facility built over the rubble left when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon.
Opponents of the New York mosque, including the former House speaker Newt Gingrich and the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, say it would be disrespectful of those killed on September 11, 2001, to allow Muslims to pray near the World Trade Centre site.
That's never been an issue at the Pentagon, where 125 people who worked there died that day. Muslims have been praying at its chapel since 2002, gathering every day at 2pm around the time of the second of five prayers Muslims are supposed to offer daily.
According to army statistics, of the more than 1 million serving in the army, there are 1977 active duty Muslims, 603 Muslim reservists and 464 National Guardsmen. But there are only six Muslim chaplains.
The chapel, which was dedicated in November 2002, allots time for nine faiths to worship, including Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus.
Army officials said no one had objected to Muslims worshipping at the Pentagon chapel. Before the chapel was dedicated, those of any faith who wanted to pray gathered in various conference rooms because there was no chapel.
On September 11, 2001, 189 people were killed at the Pentagon, 64 of them on Flight 77. At least 27 people killed in New York were Muslim.