WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 20, 2011) -- From April 7-9, 32 cadets taking the class "Winning the Peace," visited Jersey City's many different ethno-religious communities to develop their understanding of and ability to interact with a myriad of other cultures and religious groups.

The three-day trip concluded with a moving visit to the World Trade Center tribute museum in lower Manhattan-an experience which provided context and meaning to the three-day cultural immersion capstone event for the Department of Social Sciences' "Winning the Peace" course members.

In its seventh year, the program aims to prepare future officers for their roles in creating a stable environment in the wake of conventional operations. The program provides the opportunity to engage a diverse population and better understand the precursors to stability among different ethnic and religious groups.

The experiences from the Jersey City trip provided cadets with invaluable knowledge regarding the methods required to develop and sustain a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community peacefully.

After being graciously invited into Jersey City's Christian, Coptic-Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish communities, the cadets were able to engage community leaders on key questions about their respective cultures and volatile issues about the relationships between different groups in the community.

To many of the cadets, the visit to the Alghazaly Islamic Cultural Center of Jersey City seemed more like a trip to Egypt than to New Jersey.

As is customary in mosques, the female cadets donned traditional head coverings called hijabs-all for the first time. The cadets had a chance to discuss this tradition with women from the Muslim community.

During the question-and-answer session April 7, the hosts of the event with Islamic community leaders implored the cadets to ask any question, including those on controversial topics such as women in Islam or Sharia law.

Hany El-Banna, Ph.D., fielded questions from the cadets ranging from Islamic history and tradition to broader theological topics and the American role in the Libyan conflict.

As the founder of a network of Islamic charities and an Islamic scholar in his own right, El-Banna gave great insight on Islam to the cadets. While the atmosphere was tense at times, it was a candid, open discussion that swelled the cadets' senses of rapport and understanding.
Later in the trip, at a Pakistani mosque, the cadets had the opportunity to engage Imam Hafiz Ghulam Yasin Qadri Rizvi over a traditional Pakistani spread covering multiple tables that included lamb sausage, kebabs, basmati rice with vegetables and other delicacies.

A question about Ijtihad, or Islamic legal interpretation, generated a lengthy discussion with the Imam about Islamic decision-making. After the conversation, the cadets received a competing perspective from a different school of thought regarding the practice.

The three-day experience gave the cadets a deeper understanding of the nuances of different cultures and religions-a critical skill that they will use as officers in today's operational environment.

The cadets' interactions with members of the Jersey City community demonstrated how people with different perspectives and beliefs can peacefully live and work together.