Soldiers visit with Islamic center’s members as cultural lesson
By Josh Jarman The Columbus Dispatch
They arrived in Humvees and military fatigues.
They left carrying free copies of the Quran.
If their mission was successful, the 30 or so Army Reserve soldiers from B Company, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), also left the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard yesterday with a greater understanding of Islam and experience interacting with people from other cultures.
The soldiers spent about three hours at the center eating traditional Indian and Middle Eastern foods and talking in small groups with members of the mosque, many of whom were born overseas.
Capt. Patrick Seaman said it was his idea to take the troops to the center because no amount of training can replace real-world experience talking to, and gaining the trust of, people from different cultural backgrounds.
Seaman said the soldiers who took part are paratroopers with special-operations training. But their missions aren’t about blowing up bridges or capturing strategic locations; they serve as cultural liaisons between fellow soldiers and residents, he said.
“Our job is to win the hearts and minds,” Seaman said. “I don’t want the first time they are talking to someone from another country or faith to be (while deployed).”
Asim Haque, a member of the center’s board of directors, said the event was as good for the members of the mosque as it was for the soldiers.
Part of the center’s mission, Haque said, is to be a clearinghouse for information on Islam in the Columbus area.
Haque said the center has a duty to help U.S. troops become more comfortable interacting with Muslims and people born in countries where the troops could be deployed.
“There’s a lot we can offer,” he said. “If we don’t help with this in Columbus, Ohio, who will?”
Spc. Curtis Hale said the event helped both the soldiers and the mosque members to break down stereotypes and cultural barriers. Being able to sit down and strike up an hour-long conversation really shows the groups’ commonalities instead of the differences, Hale said.
He said he gained a new appreciation of world affairs after talking with a man who grew up in Syria and is concerned about 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.
Mohammad Naiyer, a 15-year-old high-school sophomore, took advantage of yesterday’s event to corner a sergeant major and quiz him about military-career options.
Naiyer, who wants to be a doctor, asked about medical training and how joining the military could help pay for college.
He was impressed that the soldiers would take the time to visit the center. “When you want to learn about something, it’s best to go to the source,” Naiyer said. “I think it’s a good thing for the Army to come to a mosque.”