US Scout troop balances Muslim faith with American values
In a bus taking them to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – site of the US Civil War's most famous battle – the members of Boy Scout Troop 114 are all ears.
"Listen up during the trip! This is a rewarding trip – if you pay attention, it will help you get the merit badge," booms one of the Scout leaders.
"We are going to Gettysburg!" says one of the 20 teenagers excitedly. "Alhamdulillah!" he cries, Arabic for praise God.
Troop 114 is like any other in the Scouts, except in one important respect: They are Muslim. For these boys, combining their Islamic faith with an organisation that was long a rite of passage for many young Americans is the best response to growing Islamophobia in the United States and the rhetoric of Donald Trump.
The Republican presidential frontrunner wants a ban on Muslims entering the United States in the wake of attacks in Paris in November and the one that followed in California one month later.
Like all scouts, the members of troop 114 – created in Fairfax, Virginia in 2012 – pledge: "On my honour, I will do my best." But these scouts also hope they can "serve the Muslim community and help the kids become better citizens," says Abdul Rashid Abdullah, who is in charge of the troop of 35 Scouts, most of who are Americans of Arab origin.
"Muslim Boy Scouts are not common, it's true," concedes the 43-year-old American, who converted to Islam in 1990. "But there are more and more of us. We get lots of support from the Boy Scouts. The only difference is how we pray."
The Saturday outing to Gettysburg aims to drive home to the scouts the turning point in the American Civil War. And the goal is not just to underscore the importance of American history – but to hammer home that American history is also their history. "It's important to transmit the American values, the values Lincoln fought for," says Rashid.
"They have to learn the history of this land. You have to get them concerned by American history," chimes in Jamal Amro, the owner of the bus and a Palestinian who emigrated to the United States in 1977.
Troop 114 had the chance to attend the second inauguration of Barack Obama in 2013 and the Scouts hope to be present again in 2017 when the new president is inaugurated – even if it is Trump.
But Rashid cannot disguise his anger at the provocative billionaire real estate tycoon, who leads in the polls among likely Republican voters. "Those boys are born here, they are American. They can't take it away from us. The one who is anti-American is the one who says such things," he says, referring to Trump's ban call.
Izzuddin, his 17-year-old son, will vote for the first time this year after turning 18. "Trump scares a lot of people. But also, he motivates people – you have to do something about it," he says, defiantly.
After visiting the museum and the Gettysburg battlefield, the teens head back to the bus for lunch – fast food. Along the way, Rashid distributes postcards. "Write a postcard for the veterans, they'll like it," he tells his charges.
After eating, the group stops at a mosque on the edge of a highway to pray. Then it's on to Amish Country, the community of traditionalist Christians in Pennsylvania known for their simple living and reluctance to adopt modern conveniences. It's a chance for Amro to grab the microphone once more and to describe to the teenagers how the Amish left persecution in Europe to settle in the United States, to find "religious freedom."
Chalinine, an Algerian woman who has lived in the United States since 1994, volunteered to accompany the group. She enrolled her two children, a son and a daughter, in Scout troops "because they do a lot of volunteering." "It's the same values as Islam," she says.
But she cannot hide her concern at the sometimes harsh focus on Muslims in America and says she cancelled the family's subscription to cable television at home so her children hear as little from Trump as possible. "I hope my children will feel more American than I do," she whispers. (AFP)
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