Sometimes when Asma Haidara, a 12-year-old Somali immigrant, wants to shop at Target or ride the Minneapolis light-rail system, she puts her Girl Scout sash over her everyday clothes, which usually include a long skirt worn over pants as well as a swirling head scarf.
She has discovered that the trademark green sash — with its American flag, troop number (3009) and colorful merit badges — reduces the number of glowering looks she draws from people otherwise bothered by her traditional Muslim dress.
“When you say you are a girl scout, they say, ‘Oh, my daughter is a girl scout, too,’ and then they don’t think of you as a person from another planet,” said Asma, a slight, serious girl with a bright smile. “They are more comfortable about sitting next to me on the train.”
Scattered Muslim communities across the United States are forming Girl Scout troops as a sort of assimilation tool to help girls who often feel alienated from the mainstream culture, and to give Muslims a neighborly aura. Boy Scout troops are organized with the same inspiration, but often the leap for girls is greater because many come from conservative cultures that frown upon their participating in public physical activity.
By teaching girls to roast hot dogs or fix a flat bicycle tire, Farheen Hakeem, one troop leader here, strives to help them escape the perception of many non-Muslims that they are different.
Scouting is a way of celebrating being American without being any less Muslim, Ms. Hakeem said.
“I don’t want them to see themselves as Muslim girls doing this ‘Look at us, we are trying to be American,’ ” she said. “No, no, no, they are American. It is not an issue of trying.”
The exact number of Muslim girl scouts is unknown, especially since, organizers say, most Muslim scouts belong to predominantly non-Muslim troops. Minneapolis is something of an exception, because a few years ago the Girl Scout Council here surveyed its shrinking enrollment and established special outreach coordinators for various minorities. Some 280 Muslim girls have joined about 10 predominantly Muslim troops here, said Hodan Farah, who until September was the Scout coordinator for the Islamic community.
Nationally, the Boy Scouts of America count about 1,500 youths in 100 clubs of either Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts sponsored by Islamic organizations, said Gregg Shields, a spokesman for the organization. (MORE)