April 11th, 2008
11:53 AM ET

West Point – Eastern Faith

Five years after seeing images of the US military inside Iraqi cities, the idea of observing the US Army inside a mosque in Jersey City, New Jersey seemed novel. 

A year ago, I saw an article in a newspaper about West Point cadets visiting a mosque and other areas in multi-ethnic Jersey City. I was too late to do the story, West Point authorities said. After a year of waiting, the opportunity came up again.

It was called “Winning the Peace”  -  30 cadets touring a mosque, a Hindu Temple, the 9/11 memorial in Jersey City; a synagogue, and a Coptic Christian church.

The most interesting aspect of the two-day shoot was the interaction between the cadets and the Islamic faithful. Some of the conversation was over dinner, Egyptian cuisine. One cadet asked if the shaving of a beard of an Islamic man meant he was more likely to be a suicide bomber. The response: “No, the beard had no relevance.”

One Muslim woman asked a female cadet if she knew, “Why do Muslim women cover up their heads?” The cadet responded, “I assume to be modest."  The woman explained it is to show herself only to her husband. She said at home she would not have the hajib headwrap on her body.

The cadets even slept over. Men and women cadets bedded down in separate quarters in the mosque on the prater floor in blankets. One cadet was spotted reading a book called, “Warfare in the Western World.”

US Army major Rebecca Patterson said, "The Jersey City experience is the first time that they can take what they've read in books and heard from speakers and see it in a real-life situation.” 

The community welcomed the cadets warmly. This was their fourth tour of duty, you might say, in the city.

One Cadet who took part in the Muslim service, kneeling and bowing, was Jewish. He said he did it because he could be a future platoon leader in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And that's the point: The Islamic Center's director, Ahmed Shedeed, said, "we know that these cadets, they going to go to some of the Islamic countries and they want to know something about the mosque, how to respect the mosque, how to live in a mosque, what they will do in a mosque.”

– Joe Vaccarello, CNN Producer

Filed under: Faith • Islam
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Karen Fulster

    Kudos! The only way to end the bitterness is to understand other points of view, including religions.
    Karen Fulster

    April 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm |
  2. Merrill E.

    I am impressed with the variety of religious organizations the cadets visited – hindu, coptic, muslim, and Jewish. I wish all of us would take the time to do this and learn about the varieties of faith in our world. It would probably help us all to understand some of the religion and to respect it and its followers.

    Montgomery AL

    April 11, 2008 at 8:54 pm |
  3. Hadiya

    I think its a great idea. I think people shouldn't be invading any country with only the knowledge they hear on the street and the media. To be able to enter the sacred place of Muslims and to be able to ask questions first hand to those who experience Islam day to day basis is an excellent way. As a Muslim, i would like people who are, we can't deny, going to be overseas fighting in the land of the majority of muslims, find this a great oppurtunity for them to know that they aren't entering 'rutheless, savage, and violent peoples land' but are entering humans land that have a beautiful religion, that have families, and lives. Knowledge is better known beforehand, because as much as we can deny it, knowlege and tolerance will end up being the soluntion not war, even for these soldiers who are going to end up in the battlefield.

    April 11, 2008 at 6:40 pm |
  4. Slater

    If you read the Koran, you will learn so much about the Islamic culture that you did not know that you will wonder why you never read it to begin with. The cadets going to mosques is a terrific start, however Islamic people feel more so respected when you have taken the time to really learn about their culture.

    Take it from someone who knows the culture first hand.

    April 11, 2008 at 4:10 pm |
  5. J.R. USA via Canada

    Education on all levels is the best tool understanding. Meeting and interaction is of the highest level. Kudos for all who are involved with this and any interaction on education the current and future generation. This will build a better and stronger community, which includes all races and faith. The willingness to be open doored will succeed beyond ones own expectations.

    Peace and Compassion, to all who seek the Truth

    April 11, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  6. Jesse

    That is a really great bit. I did not know West Point did things like that – exposing their kids to the real world, at least the one we live in. I am surprised at the cadet that asked about the shaved beard, but I am sure he was sincere. I am also really glad to hear that the community was so welcoming... I cannot wait to see this piece on TV.


    April 11, 2008 at 12:06 pm |