Aboard the USS Wisconsin, seven boys and two girls talk before their
Saturday morning Sea Scout meeting.

Scaffolding blocks the teens from using their usual room on the docked
battleship. With the ship undergoing repairs, they gather under a white
tent that shields them from the noontime sun and choppy winds.

Decked out in their dress blacks or seafaring summer whites, they unroll a
map of the Norfolk Harbor and the Elizabeth River and answer questions
about navigating these waters. It’s less exciting, says Montez Burton, 15,
than the previous week when the group, Sea Scout Ship 671, learned rescue
techniques from the Virginia Beach Power Squadron.

The meeting ends with a prayer from the chaplain aide. Abdul Malik Squire,
12, of Hampton bows his head and closes his eyes, as he begins the
Al-Fatiha, the opening prayer of the Qu’ran.

The prayer, and the crescent-and-star emblem on Squire’s uniform, are signs
that he’s not just a Sea Scout, he’s an Islamic Sea Scout, says adult scout
leader Abdul S. Al-Um’matallah.

First chartered by the Tidewater Council of Boy Scouts of America in 2002,
this Sea Scout unit is one of eight such units in the Tidewater and
Colonial Councils. It is the area’s only Sea Scout unit sponsored by a
Muslim group.

The unit is simultaneously part of a national shift in scouting and a
return to a founding pillar of Boy Scouts of America.

Boy Scouts founder Lord Baden-Powell once said of scouting, “There is no
religious ‘side’ of the movement. The whole of it is based on religion,
that is, on the realization and service of God.”

Matthew Tucker, a district executive of the Tidewater Council, said the
faith-based mission of scouting is sometimes discounted, but it shouldn’t be.

“We are a youth ministry,” Tucker said.

If so, it is a youth ministry among a variety of different religions –
Judaism, Islam, Buddhism – that have emblems representing their beliefs.
Christian groups also have denomination-specific emblems.

Most of the sponsors in the Tidewater Council are churches. The same is
true for the Colonial Council of Boys Scouts of America, which extends from
the Peninsula into Mathews County.

“We don’t define religious beliefs,” said Dick Collins, scout executive of
the Colonial Council. “But we do require our members have a belief in a
Supreme Being.”

That’s the case for Sea Scout Unit 671, whose charter partner is Muslims
and Friends in Scouting, ICS United Community of Chesapeake..


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