Engendering American Values
For almost one hundred years the Girl Scouts of America have been asking this question with smiling faces and you would be hard pressed to say “no” to one of these uniformed diet busters! Today, the apple pie has been replaced by the “thin mint”, which according to the Girl Scout website is America’s favorite Girl Scout cookie.
As a veteran girl scout leader, I expect to have more than my share of (un)necessary calories each spring, but the remuneration of scouting has also been more than I expected. For a homeschooling mom of three boys and one girl, my daughter and I have found girl scouting to be the time that enhances our bond with each other and brings us closer as women while giving her the opportunity to make friends with young girls who come from families with similar values and priorities. It is of utmost importance to me that my children be around people who implore them to strive for good against all that’s out there, be they Muslim or of other faiths, and that’s what I’ve found in the world of scouting.
Scouting helps girls gain confidence, character and a “can do attitude” while developing strong bonds of friendship and sisterhood in an environment conducive to learning and free from competition. In a world that’s been telling women for centuries how much they cannot do, girl scouting provides a safe avenue to realize how much they can! My goal of nurturing in my daughter’s innate feminine qualities while not compromising her strength and conviction in what she chooses to do, is realized through programs that came to fruition while in scouting. As home schoolers living in a litigious society, we’ve all run into the “sorry, but for liability reasons” excuse when trying to give our kids a real world education, but being part of an organization such as boy or girl scouts, I’ve been able to unlock doors and show my kids newspapers printing, tv studios programming, assembly lines making things, and even police stations booking criminals.They’ve also been able to give back by organizing food drives, clothing drives, and shoe drives for people locally and internationally. They’ve helped in environmental cleanups and cooked behind the kitchen doors of a restaurant. They’ve learned about animal care as well as social etiquettes for high tea. Basically, through scouting we’ve found a missing link in the education and training of our young men and women: the real world experience.
Since scouting has become part of the American fabric, Muslim girls in a girl scout uniform are seen as a part of it as well. As obsequious as this may sound, in today’s socio-political climate, it’s wise to be seen in friendlier terms than not. For young girls, like Asma Haidara of MN, the green sash of her junior troop with its numerals and flag, “reduces the number of glowering looks she draws from people otherwise bothered by her traditional Muslim dress”.1 Today, Muslims in mosques all over the country are starting their own boy and girl scout troops to “mix traditional scout activities with ones that are specifically designed for Muslim children.”2 According to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, the number of Muslim Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops in the nation are on a rise. Nationally, Muslims are seeing the benefits of belonging to an organization which has been around for decades and has the infrastructure in place to help engender American values in our children. What better way to teach our young ones the beauty and diversity of this nation while immersing them in their own religious and moral values?
Unlike the programs put out by American Heritage Girls who are an offshoot of GSUSA, but have a very Christian statement of faith with no room for arbitration, the Girl Scouts of America lets each troop or scout family decide their own version of faith and spirituality. Faith and spirituality are paramount in scouting and always have been as can be seen in their charter from 1912, but the definition of the term has been broadened to allow for girls of all faiths to be included. For Muslim troops, nothing could be better! Today, there are estimates of about 115 troops, dens, and crews nationwide with over 2000 Muslims on roll.3 The numbers of Muslim Girl Scout Troops is hard to calculate as unlike Boy Scout Troops which needs a charter organization like a Mosque or Islamic school to begin, a girl scout troop can be started by a dedicated mom and her friend. Nevertheless, according to the National Islamic Committee of Girl Scouting, the number of merit badges that girls earn for fasting, praying jummah, memorizing surahs and doing other Islamic activities has been on a steady rise each year. The National Islamic Committee on Boy Scouting which presents the highest religious award a Muslim boy scout can earn, has also seen a rise in the applications for the Bismillah emblem and the Allah o Akbar award.
Scouting provides a secular yet moral platform for all to join in on common grounds: honesty, integrity and building community leadership. Infused with Islamic values and pure goodwill, Muslims will be able to participate and produce a generation of Americans who pledge, on their honor, that they will do their duty to Allah and their country. In other words; they pledge to be a better Muslim.