CAIRO - A group of American army soldiers have visited a mosque in Ohio to get a better understanding of Islam and different cultural backgrounds they might encounter in their future missions overseas.
Our job is to win the hearts and minds, Capt. Patrick Seaman told The Columbus Dispatch.I don't want the first time they are talking to someone from another country or faith to be (while deployed).
Thirty or so Army Reserve soldiers from B Company, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), visited the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard on Saturday.
During the visit, the soldiers met with member of the mosque, many of whom were born overseas.
They spent about three hours at the center talking with small groups of mosque members as well as eating traditional Indian and Middle Eastern foods.Capt. Seaman praised the visit, saying training can replace the real-world experience of talking to and gaining the trust of people from different backgrounds.
The soldiers who took part are paratroopers with special-operations training.
But their missions do not include fighting or capturing strategic locations as they serve as cultural liaisons between fellow soldiers and residents, he said.
The visit was welcomed by the mosque members, who saw it a way to help their army.
Asim Haque, a member of the center's board of directors, said the event benefited Muslims as well, helping the center to perform its mission as a clearinghouse for information on Islam in the Columbus area.
There's a lot we can offer, Haque said.
If we don't help with this in Columbus, Ohio, who will?"
The event helped both the soldiers and Muslims to break down stereotypes and cultural barriers.
When you want to learn about something, it's best to go to the source, Mohammad Naiyer, a 15-year-old high-school sophomore and a member of the mosque, told the Dispatch.
I think it's a good thing for the Army to come to a mosque.
Spc. Curtis Hale agreed.
For him, setting down to strike up an hour-long conversation really shows the groups' commonalities instead of the differences.
During the visit, Hale also gained a new appreciation of world affairs after talking with a man who grew up in Syria and is concerned about the unrest there.
It's easy to see events on the news and not be affected, but getting his views about what was going on over there really brings it to life, Hale said.
Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.
Anti-Muslim frenzy has grown sharply in the US in recent months over plans to build a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, resulting in attacks on Muslims and their property.
Moreover, US Muslims have sensed a growing hostility following a hearing presented by representative Peter King on what he described as radicalization of US Muslims.
Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes.