The Boy Scouts of America are the largest scouting organization in the United States of America with over two million youth participants and one million adult volunteers. However, Scouting has roots in a different part of the world as well. Scouting in the Ottoman Empire goes back to the very beginning of the 20th century under the name of “keşşaf” which means discoverer or military scout. These scouts were actively involved in the First World War that took place on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. Also, their involvement in the Turkish War of Independence in 1919 with a troop of 5000 personnel was recognized by the Ottoman Government and they were honored with the regimental flag.
Considering the circumstances of that time, over a century ago, it was necessary for even youth to participate in the war, but we do not want nor wish this sad history to repeat itself in the future for our children and also for the children of the world.
Nowadays, we can still see the common elements between Scouting and the military especially in America, but Scouting is not limited to this aspect only. We believe Scouting helps children develop academic skills, self-confidence, ethics, leadership skills, as well as citizenship skills that influence their adult lives in many positive ways.
Knowing his involvement with Scouting, we want to ask our questions on this matter to David Hunsicker who is one of the founders of the National Association of Muslim Americans on Scouting (NAMAS). NAMAS is a recently founded organization that promotes Scouting for both boys and girls among Muslims in the United States and internationally. NAMAS aims to enable Muslim communities in the U.S. to establish and maintain Scouting units and facilitates the membership in Scouting among Muslim-American youth wherever they might be. He is also the Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 786 in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.
We know that Scouting is not one of your family traditions, but you and both of your elder sons are actively involved in the Scouting program. What drew you to Scouting and what were your reasons for wanting to become a part of this organization? Also, please tell us your story of becoming a Scoutmaster.
As a boy, I joined my local Cub Scout pack for a couple years in elementary school, but I was disappointed with the lack of outdoor activities. So, I left it before proceeding to Boy Scouts in middle school and high school. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have continued. What I didn’t realize was how much more opportunity there would be to do outdoor activities like camping and hiking in the Boy Scout program.
I got involved again as an adult when I enrolled my son in the first-grade level “Tiger” den in the Cub Scout pack at our nearby Islamic center in Northern Virginia. I wanted to find ways that my son would have opportunity to spend time with other Muslim youth and at the masjid outside of activities like weekend Islamic school. For the first couple years of Cub Scouts, I tried to just be an active parent and attend all of the activities with my son and his pack. But later as other parents moved on with their sons from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts leaving an opening in the leadership positions, I stepped in as a volunteer. So, I started as a den leader, then Cubmaster and an Assistant Scoutmaster in Muslim packs and troops in Northern Virginia. When we moved to Pennsylvania a few years ago, I worked with others at a local Islamic school to establish a new troop and pack. I have been the Scoutmaster of the troop since then.
I have also worked with other Scouting volunteers several years ago to establish an organization that we are still building called the National Association of Muslim Americans on Scouting in order to promote Scouting in the Muslim community.
We are sure that all of your efforts to guide the Muslim community in Scouting is greatly appreciated. Being a practicing Muslim, have you run into any difficulty following the rules of the Boy Scouts?
On the whole there is nothing in the Scouting rules that run contrary to Islam. I’ve actually delivered a khutba to Scouts that built on the twelve points of the Scout Law: “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.” These are clearly all Islamic manners and principles that we try to ingrain in our youth in other ways. It’s easy to find hadith and verses from the Qur’an to support each of these. So put simply, Scouting provides a vehicle to teach these Islamic values. And as the Scout Oath begins, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times.” Nothing could be more Islamic than devoting oneself to service to God, our communities, and our neighbors.
We agree with you and think that Scouting is one of the most valuable investments that can leave a lasting impact on children. What is the most noticeable benefit and the major obstacle you have observed in Scouting so far?
The main benefit I see from the program is that it provides an opportunity for fathers and sons to spend quality time together in constructive activities that don’t involve a screen. But that only happens when the fathers make an effort to get involved, either as a formal volunteer leader or even just as an involved parent there to support with hikes, campouts or other activities.
The biggest obstacle is the lack of awareness of the program among Muslims and an understanding of the need of parents to be involved in the program. Scouts BSA is almost entirely a volunteer organization. It’s not a “class” or something that you drop off your children to. By making sure that our adults are involved as volunteers, it makes it easier for our youth to be involved in Scouting and navigating issues that they might encounter there, like ensuring the food being served at campouts and summer camps is halal and that they feel comfortable observing their daily prayers, etc., particularly when they are perhaps only a lone or small number of Muslim Scouts among many others who are not.
Parental involvement is always a key factor to a child’s success in every activity that he/she is doing, whether it is related to school or not. Raising well equipped boys and girls is paramount in preparing them to face the challenges of adulthood. To help with that, girls have the opportunity to join the Girl Scouts program. Are they able to take part in Scouts BSA programs as well?
In 1910 when the Scouting movement was brought to the United States from the United Kingdom, it was established as the Boy Scouts of America and was not open to girls. But in recent years, the program was renamed as Scouts BSA and has welcomed girls into the program. Scouts BSA has just recognized its first group of female Eagle Scouts who have just completed their advancement through the program. So, young Muslim women are participating in and achieving the highest ranks in the program. There are no inherent barriers to their participation. And one of the Scouts BSA requirements is that there be at least one female leader there anytime there are female Scouts present. I believe that Scouting, whether through Scouts BSA or the Girl Scouts of the USA, has a lot to offer to both boys and girls.
We wish success to all Scouts in achieving their goals. There is a growing number of masajid and Islamic centers that charter Muslim Scouting units, primarily in areas in or around big cities with significant Muslim populations like the areas around Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Dallas. What are the Muslims’s contributions to Scouting in America?
As a way to promote Scouting in the Muslim Community, the National Islamic Committee on Scouting (NICS), a group of Muslim BSA volunteers, had established specific awards to allow Muslim youth to complete Duty to God requirements as part of their rank requirements.
There are a total of three religious emblems offered by the National Islamic Committee on Scouting: Bismillah Emblem for Cub Scouts, In the Name of God Emblem and Allahu Akbar Emblem for Adult Leaders. The National Association of Muslim Americans on Scouting (NAMAS) has designated Friday, February 8, 2019 to be Scout Jumuah.
That’s great! In Scouting, all faiths are welcome and the bulk of Scouting achievements are common to all. Yet there was a need for all Muslim Scouting programs. What is the main purpose of that?
Building on the foundation of established by NICS, a few years ago several Scouting volunteers, including myself established the National Association of Muslim Americans on Scouting (NAMAS). The primary aim of NAMAS is to promote and sustain the growth of Scouting in the Muslim community and to develop resources for Muslim Scouts.
Muslims join Scouting for the same reasons as others. To have opportunities to spend time in the outdoors and to do service in their communities. Scouting activities are fun, but they also teach skills and personal responsibility. So Muslim youth and parents both appreciate the opportunities that the program provides youth. And it is a great place for Muslim youth to make friends and spend constructive time away from their electronic devices, learning useful skills, having fun and enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer.
According to the Boy Scouts of America, the Scouting experience is divided into five programs according to age and activities; Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA, Venturing, Sea Scouting and Exploring. How much does it cost to become a Scout? Is it expensive?
Scouting is not expensive in itself. The registration fees are relatively modest. They change slightly from year to year, but the official registration fees are currently around $65, but some units will also add fees that cover the cost of the materials like books and badges, etc. Usually Scout families are expected to purchase their own uniforms, but when that is a problem hand-me-downs or donations are almost always able to help out. The most regular expenses are the costs associated with specific outings and activities, like food on campouts and gas to get to and from campsites. The most significant expense is usually the cost of summer camp, which typically costs around $400-$500 depending on the camp. But overall, the program is an incredible bargain!
Protecting the safety and wellbeing of its members, the Boy Scouts of America requires that each adult who is involved with Scouting as a parent or volunteer to go through a safety training. How about the leaders? What kind of training do they have to go through?
Yes, absolutely. The Boy Scouts of America have stringent youth protection requirements that start with training that has to be renewed every two years. There are also criminal background checks for all adult volunteers. Training is also available and occasionally required on things like camping skills, watercraft safely, weather hazards, etc.
Providing youth with a safe and welcoming environment to learn, grow and thrive is a very important quality of this program. As well as practicing many virtues, Scouts are also physically very active. What are the well-known activities in Scouting? Can you elaborate on that?
Anything you can do in the outdoors and anything that you can think of that is fun and safe in the indoors too! The most common outdoor activities are of course hiking and camping. But they include a wide range of things including archery, horseback riding, fishing, swimming and much, much more. And of course, there are a lot of life skills that are taught through camping for example, like cooking and first aid. And indoor activities include theater, personal financial management and a variety of other areas. The list of merit badges varies slightly from year to year as some are retired and others added, but there are generally about 130 different self-paced areas that Scouts can explore under the guidance of an adult Merit Badge Counselor.
The Eagle Scout rank is widely recognized throughout the country and can lead to tangible benefits. Eagle Scouts are at advantage on their job applications, college admission and eligible for Eagle Scout-only scholarships. Also, all the U.S. military branches allow Eagle Scouts to enter at a higher rank than people who aren’t Eagle Scouts. What is the reason behind that?
Achieving Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting, can definitely differentiate those candidates over their peers. A big part of that is the fact that after working through all of the other requirements of Scout rank advancement, it ultimately culminates in an Eagle Scout project. That project requires mobilizing resources, which may require organizing other volunteers, raising funds or finding in-kind contributions for a project that serves the community and the general good. That’s simply experience that many youth do not find elsewhere and those that are able to do it have demonstrated some level of resourcefulness, discipline and dedication.
Those are very impressive and also inspiring qualities that we wish for all Scouts to acquire! Based on our research, following Indonesia and India, the U.S. ranks third in the world in the number of Scouts. Building ties between other countries through Scouting must be an enriching experience. Can you tell us more about international Scouting?
We find Scouts in many, many countries around the world, including most Muslim countries. The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) is the umbrella organization that helps to organize each of the Scouting organizations in countries around the world. They organize large international gatherings of Scouts every four years that are major events that Scouts and leaders attend from around the world.
I have never had the opportunity to attend one of those myself, but I have had the pleasure to attend other Islamic Jamborees and summer camps where we have had Scout Troops attending from countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia among others. It’s a wonderful experience to have all of our Scouts attending together and sharing that experience, while also organizing ourselves for the five daily prayers.
For the final question we would like to ask, if you were allowed to change one thing about Scouting in America or add a new feature to the program, what would that be?
The main thing I would change is that I would like to see more Muslims in Scouting. I feel that our community is missing an opportunity by not grasping the opportunity to use this amazing program and all the resources it can provide.
Outside of that, the thing I would like to see change in Scouting in America is the focus on achieving ranks and advancement. Because of the benefits that many parents see in the Eagle Scout rank when applying to colleges or jobs, there is unfortunately kind of a fixation on that. Ranks and advancement are only a means to help guide Scouts through the program. So there needs to be a cultural reorientation in the BSA to focus more on the character building elements and less worry about achieving Eagle. But each Scout unit has the ability to define its culture and focus itself. So, in my Troop for example, I try to create an environment where the Scouts want to come together and do things together with other Muslim youth. They pray together, play together, cook together, camp together, hike together, etc. And insha Allah they will also grow into strong, respectful and responsible Muslim men together.
We join you in your prayers! Thank you very much for taking your time to answer our questions. You have provided us a clear overview with valuable information on Scouting in America through the lens of a Muslim Scoutmaster. We hope that your active involvement in Scouting will inspire many parents as well as youth and raise further awareness about this unique opportunity. May Allah (s.w.t.) grant you and your family abundant hasanat for the positive impact you have created in your community and give you success in your future endeavors.
Interview by Filiz Arslan
Ramadan 1442 / April 2021
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