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In A First, Northeast Ohio Mosques Form A Boy Scout Troop

Video produced by ideastream's Gabriel Kramer. 


“Give me a couple of stones, I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, give me a couple stones…”

In a patch of woods in Richmond Heights, about a dozen boys and troop leaders are getting ready to build a cooking fire, trying to use stones not covered in ants.

“(Laughing) You done woke up the family.”

And trying to remember what it takes to build a fire, and then light the fire…

Leader: “And just go put it under the paper.”

Boy: “Put it inside?”

Everyone: “Noooo. (Laughing.)”

Boy: “I’ll do it.”

This is the first time Troop 2690 has come together for a kind of crash-course in scouting since forming this month (July.)  

What makes the troop pioneering, in a sense, is that it’s the first troop chartered to Northeast Ohio mosques, or Masajid. 

Isa Abdul Matin is the scoutmaster.

MATIN: “When I was a kid I wasn’t Muslim then. I think everyone has the preconceived notion that the Boy Scouts are Christian-based. So you kind of like feel like you know if I do become a Boy Scout, maybe I can’t be myself. Then I found out that yes, we can be ourselves, and that was like attractive.  So here we are: Muslim Boy Scouts! (Laughs)”

Boy: “Yeah, let’s go, let’s go, fire, fire fire…”

Scout troops can be sponsored or chartered by all kinds of organizations, including non-profits, churches, synagogues, or mosques.

Three Cleveland-area mosques have contributed boys to this troop, including the Muslim Association of Cleveland East, or MACE.

Muhammad Samad heads the board of trustees for MACE. He helped organize this troop, which has mostly African-American members.

SAMAD: “ There were some members of the community that never even thought about the Boy Scouts, because it was always looked-upon as not only a Christian, but to be quite frank a lily-white organization that wasn’t open to a diverse group of people, especially the Muslim community.”

Leader: “When you have a knife, you hear it called different things: the blood circle, or the death circle—no one should be near you…”

Part of this first outing included learning about knife safety from a professional scouter with the Lake Erie Council, and carving sticks to cook bread twists on the fire. 

Leader: “…and it slides easily, you know it’s cooked inside because the dough is not sticking to it.”

Scouts learn about what is needed to build and maintain a fire, before going out and building one. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)

Muhammad Samad says it took patience, and someone not giving up on this effort to finally form the troop and fill a need.

SAMAD: “Even though that we all went to the mosque, there was no connection with the other mosques in the Cleveland-area, and it’s important in any faith-based community that there be some connection.  But there was nothing for the Muslim community on a regular basis for the young boys. So I had always thought that the Boys Scouts, which already had its organizational structure, was a good resource to reach out to.”

Matin: “Nobody’s going to get good bread if we all jam it in there…”

Boy Scouts of America has more than 5,000 scouts who are Muslim, about half of those are in the more than 100 troops chartered by mosques. 

Ohio has four or five such troops, according to the National Islamic Committee on Scouting.

Informational videos for prospective scouts emphasize the role of faith in scouting, and the twelfth point of the Scout Law: A Scout is Reverent.

Video: “In addition, the program emphasized reverence and a duty to God. For the next few minutes, we’ll explore how becoming a chartered organization for scouting can greatly benefit your mosque.”

Faith is a big part of the appeal for Cleveland troop organizer Muhammad Samad.

SAMAD: “Duty to God, being reverent towards God and towards the Earth and fellow humans, so it kind of is a perfect opportunity for us to take advantage of the scout organization, and emphasize with these young men, how Islam is very similar to what the Boy Scouts is trying to do.”

Junayd: “I think it’s a good experience, because I really like doing outdoorsy stuff, and I was really looking forward to it like right when my mom told me.”

Numayar: “It’s really fun, like we get to play games, and do a lot of activities and stuff.”

Junayd and Numayar are two of the boys helping to build a fire and cook the bread twists…covered in jam. 

They’re two grandchildren of the scoutmaster Isa Adbul Matin, who admits this troop may raise eyebrows from some.

MATIN: “I can tell, now, you know, because we’re the first troop.  It’s gonna be like, ‘Muslim Boy Scouts…hmmm?’  I guess what we have to do is be ourselves, and not try to be anything other than who we are, and people can see us for what we are and what we do, and you’ll see an acceptance.  Because honestly, the best neighbor you could probably ever have is a Muslim. I’m gonna tell you the truth. I’m not just trying to sound biased or anything…”   

Matin says xenophobic or Islamophobic rhetoric is just propaganda. And perhaps this scout troop could be an icebreaker to changing opinions.

MATIN: “Any time you can take a group of people or religion and damn it without knowing about it, then that’s your problem.  You have to understand.  And once you understand what we’re all about, then it’s almost like you know you would love to be a part of us, or even help us.”

And Matin says once people see what the troop does, and how they interact with other scouts of any religion or background, he thinks any negative reactions will change.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.