As Boy Scout Troop 114 cooked lunch during the recent Highland Games near their tents in a Middlesex County park, a senior Scout summoned his fellow members.
The Scouts huddled around tree trunks in Thompson Park and stroked the bark with their palms before rubbing their arms and faces in a ritual cleansing.
Then they knelt in the forest facing Mecca and prayed.
New Jersey's first all-Muslim Boy Scout troop has surged in popularity since it was founded with a dozen members in 2002 by leaders at the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in South Brunswick. The troop now numbers about 46 Scouts, including 16 who joined this fall.
"We find Scouting has certain values that have echoes of our strong religious tradition," said Saffet Catovic, chairman of the committee for Troop 114. "It provides a space of real dialogue and friendship that might have not otherwise happened without the Muslim Boy Scout troop."
Troop 114's participation in the recent Highland Games for Boy Scouts at Thompson Park in Monroe Township also gave other troops a chance to interact and break down barriers that otherwise might have seemed intimidating, said Yassine Ezzyat, a 17-year-old member of Troop 114.
"A lot of the kids don't realize it, but they represent our religion through this troop," Ezzyat said. "It's good that we can show other kids we aren't weird or different."
The national Boy Scouts of America is steeped in a tradition that believes recognition of a duty to God is an important part of developing good citizens, though no God is specified, said Gregg Shields, spokesman for the organization.
"We're open to all faiths, and we hope to make Scouting available to anyone who can agree with those religious principles and the other principles we hold," Shields said.
He said participation by Muslim-based organizations has grown to about 100 Boy Scout and Cub Scout organizations nationwide, with about 1,500 youths participating. Most are founded by local mosques or Islamic associations, Shields said. The Boy Scouts of America also has members of the Islamic Society of America on its national board, he said. (MORE)