Representatives of the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs met Thursday with Fort Carson military leaders at the Army base to discuss ways to improve cultural awareness and an understanding of Islam among deploying soldiers.

Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division, initiated the meeting in hopes of developing a better cultural-awareness program for the thousands of soldiers already at Fort Carson and the hundreds expected to arrive this summer.

"We want to talk to (soldiers) about this beautiful religion," Hammond said at the one-hour meeting, attended by local Islamic leaders Arshad Yousufi, Farouk Abushaban and Dawud Salaam; 4th Infantry Division cultural adviser Al Azim; and four other Army leaders.

Yousufi, who has participated in previous cultural awareness programs at Fort Carson, told the general those programs weren't taken seriously enough.

"The weakness of those programs was that they were informal and occasional," Yousufi said.

Yousufi also brought up what he sees as a tendency among some military leaders to turn the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into a holy war between Christianity and Islam.

"If you approach this as a crusade, you will stir up trouble," he told Hammond.

Hammond agreed with the Muslim leaders that greater cultural sensitivity is needed, and he said he wants the Army and Muslim leaders to continue working together to teach soldiers about Islam.

He hopes to have a revised cultural-awareness program in place in about a month.

"The soldiers go off (to Iraq) with a common mission, to protect the people," Hammond said, "But you can't protect the people without understanding the people."

Abushaban praised Hammond for his efforts.

"This is a great step forward," he told Hammond. "We have more in common than we know."


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