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Muslims in North Texas find Girl Scouts a 'safe place' for celebrating their faith, culture


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Rifat Malik, Dallas Morning News

When Troop 647 starts reciting the time-honored Girl Scout Promise, it is closely followed by another invocation, this time in Arabic.

It is from the Fatiha — the sacred first chapter of the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

These Scouts are part of the growing number of mosque-based troops sprouting across the nation. Although there are under 500 girls in all-Muslim troops in Northeast Texas, many more are among the 25,000 Scouts in integrated troops throughout the region’s 32 counties.

When Troop 647 starts reciting the time-honored Girl Scout Promise, it is closely followed by another invocation, this time in Arabic.

It is from the Fatiha — the sacred first chapter of the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

These Scouts are part of the growing number of mosque-based troops sprouting across the nation. Although there are under 500 girls in all-Muslim troops in Northeast Texas, many more are among the 25,000 Scouts in integrated troops throughout the region’s 32 counties.

Jennifer Bartkowski, CEO of the Northeast Texas chapter, confirmed Scouting's secular roots and says that while she does not have exact numbers, the Girl Scouts do have “a robust representation of Muslim troops.”

Scouting offers girls a “safe place to build their confidence, develop their sense of self and celebrate who they are,” she said, adding that, “within Girl Scouts, we offer a number of ways for girls to foster their faith in alignment with the Girl Scout Law.”

On a recent Saturday, Zaidi’s troop met at one of the Dallas area’s oldest mosques, Islamic Association of North Texas in Richardson, where Arabic was translated for the non-Muslim visiting sister Troop 882, there to earn a badge called Finding Common Ground.

Troop leader Kristen Holland Shear was delighted with the combined project.

“It’s about getting to know each other, to become friends and reduce barriers. Most of the girls have never been to a mosque, so I sent a message to their parents asking that girls don’t wear short skirts and are properly covered,” she said. “We really wanted to be respectful to our sister troop.”

Holland Shear, herself a life-long Girl Scout, said it's “wonderful” to see this whole new tradition of Scouting. “You can see these girls are open, they don’t recognize race issues, they’re just learning and having fun,” she said.

The troop leaders devised exercises to see how the girls can negotiate and compromise with each other. For instance, the group of 30 or so sixth- and seventh-grade Cadettes is asked if they favor wearing school uniforms.

The outcome? The teenage instinct for individualism transcends religious and racial barriers, with all but two voting against uniforms.

Another exercise splits the girls into five groups to organize their own three-day camping trip. In one of these subgroups, an immediate stumbling block arises when 11-year-old Lauren Harper, from Richardson’s Yale Elementary, suggests bacon for breakfast.

The four Muslim girls sitting beside her gently reject this option, with 12-year-old Assiya Hayredin, from Westwood Junior High in Richardson, saying: “We can’t eat pork or pepperoni or anything that has pig meat in it. In Islam, it is not considered a clean animal.”

As a compromise they suggest turkey bacon, a popular substitute loved by Muslims the world over. Lauren, who says she hadn’t known Muslims don’t eat pork, happily agrees.

Lauren is sitting next to Redda Hassen, and both are in the same class at Richardson's Yale Elementary. Lauren said she hadn’t known that her friend was in a Muslim Scout troop.

Redda said she gets positive reinforcement from her Muslim troop and that religious differences are irrelevant to her. “It’s people and personalities that matter. Lauren and I are good friends, and I think after today we will be even closer because we have learned a thing or two about each other. It’s been a bonding experience.”

The Muslim girls and their parents in this troop agree that being a Girl Scout is compatible with their faith and makes them feel more American.

To underscore this, Zaidi points out that three historically Islamic survival skills of archery, horseback riding and swimming also happen to be core Scouting activities.

“This gives being a Girl Scout so much more significance.”

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