A separate association of Muslim Scouts, operating in parallel to existing national structures, has set its sights on the northern Italian city of Alba for its newest chapter, meeting this week with local political figures and community leaders.
A Tunisian man named Samir, who had scout experience as a boy in his native Tunisia, has been tapped by the group to head up the new chapter in Alba, and has declared his intentions to help Muslim parents “to raise our children with the scout spirit.”
Also helping in the organization and operation of the new troop are the Moroccan couple Tamoud and Hafida, who have lived in Alba with their five children for several years. There are some 80 Muslim children in Alba who attend the Arabic school every weekend, and the new scout chapter seeks to integrate them into the association.
The Italian Association of Muslims Scouts (ASMI) was born in Milan in 2007 to offer an Islamic alternative to the existing major Italian scout association, made up largely of Catholics. The uniforms worn by both groups are virtually identical, with the addition of the Islamic veil for the girls, and all the members of the group are first or second generation immigrants.
The group was founded by a former Catholic from the Italian town of Udine, who converted to Islam and wanted to offer the scouting experience to his fellow Muslims in a way consistent with his newfound religion.
ASMI’s president, Zouhaeir Chebbi, acknowledged that the scouts are open to everyone, but noted that it would be hard for Muslims to participate in all the scouting activities, and said that establishing a new Muslim scout group at Alba would help “begin to break down the walls of prejudice and differences.”
“Scouting values are similar all over the world: the education of young people in brotherhood and the feeling of being citizens of the world, respect for others, becoming adults capable of making concrete choices and learning by the scout experience to survive in all situations,” said representatives of ASMI.
Heading up the Muslim girl scouts is a second-generation Egyptian immigrant named Sarah, who extols the similarities between the scouting experience and the history of Islam.
“The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, also lived a scouting life,” Sarah told reporters.
“As a religion, Islam fits well with the scout movement,” Sarah said. “Mohammad traveled to spread his message and lived in a very humble way, in front of a big meal he never stuffed himself, he was content with little, he lived in nature, and even in the most difficult moments he was always available to everyone.”
“He knew how to listen, was at the service of all, children, women and elderly, trying to convey the message of Islam to all,” she said.
Matteo Citterio, head of international relations for the Italian Catholic Scouting Association (AGESCI), said that the Muslim association wanted only a few regulations changed for their group. “For example, girls wear the headscarf and do not wear shorts,” he said. “In group games there is no physical contact between males and females, as prescribed by the precepts of their religion.”
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