79th SSC PAO
Every Army unit is required to complete equal opportunity training of some kind at least semi-annually, but it’s not often the training causes a buzz amongst a room full of Soldiers.
January’s training; however, has created quite a positive stir, and is just the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with the Army Reserve and the Islamic community in Southern California.
“It’s important that as Soldiers and citizens of the United States, we are cognizant and understanding of one another’s culture,” said Maj. Aaron Wilkes, equal opportunity advisor, 79th SSC.
Wilkes said he wanted to bring in a guest speaker who could fill in the gaps between true Islamic faith and negative stereotypes.
Army Reserve Soldiers called up for deployments are expected to work hand-in-hand with local people, and many of them are practicing Muslims.
Mr. Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, spoke about Islamic faith and practices. He represents the more than 500,000 Muslims living in Southern California.
“I came by choice to the United States because it’s the only country in the world that welcomes any type of person from anywhere in the world,” said Syed, who was born and raised in India.
His work in the community crosses all faiths, and he stressed the importance of every person understanding other religious beliefs so there are no negative consequences due to ignorance.
Syed explained how prayer rugs and other objects are used during Islamic practices, the five pillars of Islam, and the five prayers performed by Muslims every day. Syed also explained the similarities and differences between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
“It is critical that we learn about different cultures and understand the environment we are operating in from a military perspective,” said Wilkes. “We need to be astute, and aware of cultural differences we may encounter.”
Wilkes pointed out that Soldiers are often called on to perform in various jobs overseas, not knowing when they’ll be working hand-in-hand with people of Islamic faith.
“U.S. citizens have an awesome collective responsibility and opportunity to be able to undo those [negative] myths,” said Syed.