News | June 18, 2015

"Our difference is but the thickness of this line." NSA's Pre-Ramadan Lecture & Luncheon

On Tuesday, 2 June 2015, Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity's Islamic Cultural Employee Resource Group (IC ERG) partnered with the Religious Affairs Office to host Chad Jones as keynote speaker for this year's annual Pre-Ramadan Luncheon. The event provides an opportunity to learn from one another and about NSA's rich and diverse culture.

Jones, who is the Director of Public Affairs at Fort Meade, also serves as the Secretary and Director of Communications for the Anne Arundel Muslim Council, Islamic lay leader at Fort Meade, Co-Director of an Islamic summer camp, and a youth sports coach.

NSA's Chief of Staff Elizabeth Brooks introduced Jones to the audience of civilian and military personnel of NSA/CSS and U.S. Cyber Command.

Hearing Jones' story, she said, "is helpful for all of us to understand challenges he has had personally, but also those that many members of our workforce may have experienced."

"I respect and appreciate what NSA does for our country," Jones said. "With the NSA being our largest tenant organization, I am very proud to be able to talk about the great things they do as part of the Fort Meade community."

Jones told his story: Raised Baptist, he joined the Army and was introduced to Islam while deployed in Kuwait. The more he learned about Islam, the more Jones agreed with the historical story told of a ruler who drew in the sand with his finger, saying the differences between Christians and Muslims were no thicker than that line.

"There is no better place to be a Muslim than America," Jones said. "I do not think any organization teaches and accommodates difference better than the Department of Defense. They practice what they preach, and that is why I am so happy to be in the DoD."

"Here at NSA, we emphasize the importance of learning from each other and our diversity of culture, backgrounds, experiences, thought," the Chief of the Office of Diversity Outreach said. "Diversity and inclusion are essential to the mission that each of us accomplishes every day."

As of December 2013, NSA changed policy regarding lunch periods to make the workday more flexible for all employees. This accommodates those who fast, including during Ramadan, which begins this year on June 17 and ends on July 18.

At the Halal lunch following Jones' presentation, members of the IC ERG discussed additional religious accommodations provided to personnel working on NSA's campus:
Employees are permitted time off for religious observances; NSA's campus features two inter-faith meditation rooms for prayer and quiet breaks while at work; and NSA is one of the few Intelligence Agencies that accommodates a traditional weekly Islamic Friday Prayer on site.

Also, NSA's Religious Affairs Office has incorporated an interfaith calendar into the Agency's conference room scheduling system, helping managers consider timing of religious observances when planning meeting and events.

"Together we contribute to making the NSA workplace inclusive, one where culture and practices, often very different, are understood better and valued as positive contributions," said NSA's administrator of NSA's Religious Affairs Office and a founding member of the IC ERG. "Our diversity strengthens us in our work and deepens our relationships with one another."

Jones, too, hopes to deepen relationships and understanding of his faith: "I want non-Muslims to be able to say they know a Muslim, and that hopefully when they are confronted by some of the negative stereotypes regarding Islam, [they]… can say, I know a Muslim, he was a pretty nice guy, kind of funny, likes baseball, and believes in defending our country just like I do."