Soldiers preparing to leave for Afghanistan visited a mosque to learn about Islamic life and customs.
More than 50 soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh went to the Zakaria Mosque in Bolton, one of the largest in the region.
The visit was requested by the Chester-based unit in January and hosted by Bolton Council of Mosques.
Major Owain Luke, commanding officer of the unit’s B Company, said the visit was designed to give the soldiers a better understanding of Islam and the cultural importance of mosques. The regiment will deploy to Afghanistan in April. Soldiers spent three hours with the mosque’s Imam Rashid. They watched midday prayers and asked questions on Islam, daily prayer rituals and Ramadan, the month of fasting.
Major Luke said: “We are going to an Islamic country and so it is critical that our soldiers understand the faith. The more we do so, through activities like this, the more likely we are to avoid making cultural blunders.
“It has been very useful and we will be able to apply a lot of what we have learned on the ground in Afghanistan. For example, learning how to recognise a smaller mosque, knowing what a prayer mat or the Koran looks like – these are useful things to know when you are on patrol in a Muslim country.”
Imam Rashid said: “It gives each of us a good understanding of each other, and it gives the soldiers a good understanding of our place of worship. It was a good experience.”
Zakaria Mosque was founded 40 years ago and can accommodate more than 3,000 worshippers.