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MWSS-371 Marines learn cultural awareness from Islamic advocates

25 May 2006 | Lance Cpl. Megan Angel

A team of Islamic advocates from Phoenix and Tucson spoke to Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 at the station theater May 25.

In preparation for MWSS-371’s upcoming deployment, the speakers talked about basic Islamic beliefs, Islamic gender roles, and how Islam relates to current world events. After each presentation, the Marines were allowed to ask any questions.

Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness that should not be associated with acts of violence against the innocent.
Training and education on the culture and beliefs of the countries troops will be serving in and the importance of knowing about and respecting their customs is essential. It helps troops become more informed of what’s going on in the area of operations in the Middle East.

The presentation began with Omar Shahin, a resident of Tucson and the Imam and director of the Islamic Center of Tucson, which is an institution established by a couple of University of Arizona students to create a mosque for other Muslim students to gather for prayer and fellowship. Imam is a religious leader who leads a congregational prayer.

Shahin talked about the basic practices and beliefs of Islam and the importance of friendly relations and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Education is the answer and many people misunderstand Islam and who Muslims really are, said Shahin. When people think about Islam, they relate it to Arabs and terrorism. We are not connected to any of those terrorist people. Only about 18 percent of Muslims are Arab.

“Islam is about saving all life,” said Shahin. “Killing innocent people -- all human beings -- is forbidden. It’s like any other religion; based on peace, love and forgiveness.”

Unfortunately, the media gives a bad image of Muslims and Islam, Shahin said. They target and criminalize Muslims sending a message to Americans that Muslims are criminals. The media never talks about real Muslims.

“Once people sit down and actually understand the true faith of Muslims, they see that Islam a beautiful religion,” said Shahin.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group and is America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group. The mission of the organization is to enhance and promote a mutual understanding of Islam in America.

“We hope to create a better understanding with the non-Muslim community,” said Nure Elatari, the program and media director of CAIR. “As an American-Muslim woman, my aspiration is to represent what a Muslim is and what a Muslim should be.”

We don’t aim to convert people to Islam, said Elatari. We simply share our religion with others to help them understand.

The belief that Muslim women are oppressed is completely false, Elatari said. Muslim women are actually encouraged to fulfill their obligations to society like going to college and voting.
Under Islamic law, women have always had the right to own property, receive and education and take part in community life, said Elatari. Men and women are to be respected equally. The Islamic rules for modest dress apply to both genders equally.

“The more people know about Muslims, they will think positively about Muslims,” said Mohamed El-Sharkawy, an airbus instructor at US Airways and chairman of CAIR. “Our main objective is to educate people about Islam because we want them to know the truth.”

“People will take any religion and pervert it,” said Lt. Jennifer L. Bixby, station chaplain. “The important bottom line is that people are people. There are so many who want to do good things and be good to each other. When people understand different beliefs and cultures, it doesn’t matter what religion they are.”

Troops undergo an array of training when preparing for deployment. The majority of the training is related to weapons, tactics and mission objectives. In the world today, the importance of cultural awareness is vital to the safety and effectiveness of deploying troops and their operations as well as preserving the beliefs and cultures of foreign countries.

“If we are not familiar with that culture or religion, no matter which they are, we may desecrate what they value and create a new enemy forever,” said Lt. Col. Phillip W. Woody, MWSS-371 commanding officer.

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