NOVEMBER 1990 WAS an eventful month for Abdul-Rashid Abdullah. On the 16th, he converted from Catholicism to Islam. On the 24th, he completed his Eagle Scout board of review. Scouting and religion have been central to his life ever since.
During a stint in the U.S. Army, Abdullah served as Scoutmaster for about a year, but his serious adult involvement began in 2006, when he moved to northern Virginia with his family. He enrolled his three sons in Pack 1576, chartered to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and went on to serve as den leader, Cubmaster, and now pack trainer. A Wood Badge participant and staff member, he works with other units at ADAMS and in his council.
At the 2010 National Scout Jamboree, he served as the imam of the mosque set up by the National Islamic Committee on Scouting, the first mosque constructed at a national jamboree.
People who don’t know much about Islam might wonder: how well do Islam and Scouting align? The Scout Law, the Scout Oath—those are very Islamic values. In Islamic school, you learn the academic aspects of Islam. In Scouting, you get a chance to apply the religion. We, as Muslim Scout leaders, can observe Scouts’ behavior and then guide them according to both Muslim principles and Scouting principles. We can say “a Scout is trustworthy,” and then in the next moment we can mention the verse in the Koran that says: “O ye that believe! Betray not the trust of God and the Messenger, nor misappropriate knowingly things entrusted to you” (8:27).
Give us another example. Let’s say you’re out camping, and you’re short on water. You have to wash up to pray. Are you going to use the only water in your canteen for that? You need to know what alternatives you have. In boys’ normal lives, that’s something buried in a book that they may have read some time.
How do you honor Muslim practices such as Friday prayers at places like summer camp where you don’t control the schedule? We’re basically traveling while we’re at camp, so we combine our noon and afternoon prayers and our sunset and evening prayers, which is an allowance given to travelers. Friday is usually the day when Scouts have free periods or a campwide activity. We spend that time doing our prayers. Last summer at Goshen Scout Reservation, we invited anyone who wanted to come to our service. We had our neighboring troop come by, as well as the Protestant and Catholic chaplains for the camp. They really enjoyed the service, and I think it went a long way toward helping them understand where Muslims are coming from.
So you like having interfaith worship services at camp? To a point. The challenge with interfaith services is that everybody has their own way of worshiping, and many interfaith services are unintentionally written from a Christian perspective. To me, what I would find really cool is to have everybody do a little something that’s a sampling of their own faith and then explain what they’re doing. I would like that.
It sounds as if you see Scouting as a way to encourage interfaith dialogue. Absolutely. It’s just like Baden-Powell’s vision. Through Scouting, people of diverse cultures and diverse faiths can come together and learn from one another, learn to respect one another, and live together.
Is that why the pack at ADAMS held a joint pinewood derby with a pack from a Jewish synagogue? Yes. When you really get down to it, Jewish Scouts and Muslim Scouts have so much more in common than people can even imagine. It was fun. You should have seen the kids playing with one another. They had no clue that they were supposed to not like each other. I thought it was fantastic.
How do you recruit parents? With recent immigrants, some of them had Scouting in their own home countries. I’ve come across that more than once. Also, because of the nature of this community, a good recruiting tool for me is to tell parents that the Eagle Scout award looks really good on résumés and college applications. When I talk about the benefits it provides, they really get interested.
Click here to learn more about the National Islamic Committee on Scouting.