FORT SILL, Okla., March 9, 2017 -- Soldiers in the U. S. Army come from a variety of religious traditions, including those of the Islamic faith. The new Cache Creek Chapel here has an area to accommodate them, supplementing a faith community Muslim Soldiers found at the Islamic Center of Lawton, Okla.

Imam Dr. Hassan Ahmed ministers to a congregation of permanent residents and transient Soldiers, including those from Islamic countries who are training at Fort Sill.

Formerly from Somalia, Ahmed is an accounting professor at Langston University in Langston, Okla. He also owns the building housing the Islamic Center, which is across from Community United Methodist Church on SW F Street.

Ahmed said that most religions believe theirs is the one true path to God. "We have to focus on our similarities, not our differences," he emphasized. "We need to work together." He cited the help given by Muslims when Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia were vandalized recently. "We need to be humble, and live in harmony. We are not the ones to judge. Let God do that."

Ahmed donned his traditional vestments for the Friday mid-day prayer service at the center Feb. 24. Standing behind a lectern in a white robe, white cap, and a red-and-white patterned head scarf, he began prayers in Arabic and English. Some men had arrived early to perform the ritual ablution (washing hands, arms, feet and nostrils) and to read the Qur'an. Most trickled in after the service had begun, removing their shoes before joining the prayers. Eventually around three dozen men sat on the red carpet, facing Ahmed, who was in the corner of the room that points to Mecca.

As with many religions, there was an order and ritual to the prayer service. There were also songs and a short sermon. The theme was patience. "Allah mentioned he loves people who are patient. In order to have strong faith, one has to have patience, whether dealing with family or other people. Patience gives humbleness."

He also encouraged them to be righteous by being kind to relatives, helping orphans and the needy, including travelers. Ahmed also said that being silent when offended by another person allows "the angels to talk to him. When you act like him, the angels go away. A person who has patience is full of life, full of happiness."

It is not mandatory that Islamic women attend prayer services, but when they do, there is a room divider they must stay behind. Ahmed said that visitors are always welcome to observe prayer from the cozy couches and armchairs adjacent to the prayer area. "We allow people to educate themselves," he said. "To know and talk to people."

Ahmed knows many Christians don't understand Islam, or its followers. "Come to know me first. See what I believe, and I will see what you believe. Don't just assume what we believe."

He said that the Qur'an accepts the writings of the Christian Bible as well as the Jewish Torah. Muhammed, the prophet who established the Islamic faith, came 600 years after Christ. "These are all the prophets God has sent."

"We believe Jesus is a messenger, a blessed person." He showed chapter 19 in the Qur'an that was about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Immaculate Conception. "The Qur'an speaks highly about Mary. The Angel Gabriel appeared to her as an immaculate human. We love Jesus just like the way we love Mohammed. The same God is sending all these messengers. You cannot be Muslim if you don't believe in Jesus."

He said his religion means obedience to God (Allah) and following his ways. "You are saving people from the calamity of this world, not becoming extremist, not weak, not perfectionist. We are sinners and we should seek forgiveness of God."

Many tenets of the Ten Commandments are also those of the Islamic faith. "Don't steal, don't commit adultery, don't kill anybody," he said.

Several foreign soldiers in uniform attended the prayer service and spoke about their faith afterward. The soldiers are here in training at the International Student Division. They made it known that they are not supposed to discuss politics or religion while they are at Fort Sill, but can answer questions.

"If I explain for a month, I couldn't give a good answer for the Islamic religion," said one soldier, who added his faith stresses kindness to family, and good leadership.

The imam interpreted the beliefs of another soldier, as he is learning to speak English.

"If you have faith, you don't worry for anything. Islam is a religion of forgiveness, good manners, and good character." He said if a Muslim has a disagreement with someone, there is a three-day cooling off period, and then they must forgive each other. All will be judged on the day of resurrection by their deeds, both good and bad.

"A Muslim has to love for his brother what he loves for himself."

Chap. (Col.) John Morris, Fort Sill installation chaplain, said that allowing freedom of religion to all service members is guaranteed in the Constitution, and Army Regulation 165-1 guides the Chaplain Corps in its mission of doing that.

Morris, who is Methodist, said, "My responsibility on behalf of the commander is, whether a Soldier is Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim, they can exercise the right to freedom of religion within the constraints of the mission."

He said he is unaware of any Muslim American Soldiers serving currently, but an air defense artillery officer formerly assigned here and his family are Muslims. His wife, who wears a hijab, experienced some negative interactions on post, said Morris, and they felt more comfortable worshipping at the Islamic Center of Lawton.

Morris has copies of the Qur'an to give to any Soldier who requests it, and said Muslim Soldiers have appreciated that Christian chaplains treat the Qur'an with respect.

Although there are rooms set aside for various religious faiths to worship, Morris said the chapel itself is nonsectarian. "This building can't look like a mosque, church, or a temple," he said, "but they can make the room they're in look the way they want as long as it is put back the way it was when the service is over."

The area in the Cache Creek Chapel for Muslims to worship has prayer mats as well as two ablution sinks which allow them to comfortably cleanse before prayer.

Morris said he tries to know as many of the community's religious leaders as possible because Fort Sill can't meet the spiritual needs of every Soldier, and he also wants to give guidance to off-post clergy on how to minister effectively to Soldiers.

The DoD recently announced new uniform standards to allow religious accommodation in apparel and grooming. For instance, Sikhs have typically not joined the military because they weren't allowed to wear beards and turbans, which will now be permissible.

"I'm confident we'll see female Muslim Soldiers asking for accommodation to wear hijabs," said Morris. "I've encountered a number of very devout female Soldiers over the years who wanted to wear hijabs."

Morris said the military is a reflection of the larger world. "I think we will see the diversity of religions in America manifest itself more visibly in the Army."