Girl Scout Troops 3119 and 3357 couldn’t be more All-American. They sing songs, work hard on STEM projects so they can go to science camp, and head out together into the Orange County, California sunshine to play handball on breaks from their studies. Yet the school they attend receives threatening messages, and has been the backdrop for protests and hecklers. Why? Because these Girl Scouts are Muslim and the school they attend is attached to an Islamic Mosque.
“People have heard terrible things about us. There are rumors that we do bad things and hurt people,” says Girl Scout Yasmeen Cabrer, 13, “but that’s not true—it’s not who we are.”
In 2015, following the murder of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the girls of Troop 3357 were frightened by the way the Muslim community had been misrepresented in the media, and the attitudes against Islam that it fostered. The group decided to take action by creating a video called “Get to Know Me” to show how similar they and other Muslims are to Americans of different faiths. In the video, Muslim people of a variety of ages and backgrounds—mothers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, pharmacists, little girls who dream of becoming ballet stars—hold signs explaining that Islam teaches them kindness, to give to charity, and to respect others. The video earned the girls their Girl Scout Silver Award, one of the highest awards in Girl Scouting, but they continued to see and hear hate being directed toward people of their faith.
“These girls are not the type to just sit by and complain about a problem,” said Troop leader Heba Morsi. “In a troop discussion, they decided they wanted to tell their own story—to take ownership of that and set the record straight by inviting the community into their mosque and starting a real conversation about Islam and what it means to them.”
And so last year the girls, with the support of their Girl Scout troop leaders and their Mosque, organized an Open Mosque Day and invited Girl Scout families from across the region to get to know them face-to-face so they could learn what Islam is really about. “We aren’t trying to convert people or promote Islam,” says 12-year-old Girl Scout, Iman Kadri, “but with people saying so many scary things about us that aren’t true, it’s important to invite people in and answer their questions. We’re not bad people, and we need everybody to know that.”
Given past experiences with protesters and negative sentiments toward their mosque, some parents involved were nervous about the event, but stood by the girls and their vision to improve understanding and inclusivity. “My heart was beating fast the whole time,” said Ms. Morsi, “I was afraid for the safety of our girls, but I didn’t want to give into that fear, or to make the girls give up their plan when they’d worked so hard and put so much care into it.” But the day—which included a flag ceremony, skits showing how the tenants of Islam aligned with the Girl Scout Law and Promise, a tour of the building, crafts, and an open Q&A session—was a bigger success than any of them could have imagined. In fact, they had such a huge number of people who wanted to attend, they decided to hold a second Open Mosque Day a few months later.
Thirteen-year-old Zubaida Katbi was encouraged by the positive response she and her fellow Girl Scouts got for their efforts. “We really didn’t know if people would show up, or if they even wanted to know more because they already thought they knew what our faith was about. But so many people came, and they were really curious to learn more about us.” Yasmeen—whose mother, Aisha Cabrer, is a Troop Leader and helped supervise the event—said she felt pride leading the day’s flag ceremony. “I think some of the people who came were surprised to see me, a Muslim girl, singing the National Anthem—but they shouldn’t be. My mom is Muslim, too, and when she was little, she grew up singing ‘This Land is Your Land.’ Being Muslim doesn’t mean we aren’t Americans or that we don’t love our country just like everybody else. People need to see that, and I think it’s good they were able to.”
The girls were already planning on hosting another Open Mosque Day this year, but recent events have added urgency to their mission. “On the day the travel ban was announced, my sixth grader came home from school with a lot of questions,” recalled Ms. Morsi. “She was scared because her father travels a lot for business and she wasn’t sure if he’d be able to come home or not if he went away. And it’s not just my daughter—these issues are extremely personal for all our Girl Scouts. Their families come from the exact countries and cultures that are being highlighted, so it really does hit home.”
Aleeza Kadri, 12, said she made new friends through the previous events she and her troop hosted, and hopes those friendships have a ripple effect. “Maybe next time they hear someone say something against Muslim people, they’d stop and say, ‘I met a Muslim girl and she was really nice. Many Muslims out there aren’t like what people say on the news.’”
This Girl Scout-fueled stand for inclusivity and understanding goes even beyond the doors of the girls’ mosque. At World Thinking Day, an annual celebration focused on global harmony and cultural exchange, Girl Scout troops choose a country to represent and educate other troops about. Troop 3357’s request to represent the middle eastern country of Palestine this year was originally denied as that country doesn’t have a Girl Scouts or Girl Guides movement—but that didn’t stop these Girl Scouts from pleading their case.
“My mom and dad are from Palestine,” said 13-year-old troop member Isra Yousef, “so it’s a country that’s a big part of my heart. Palestinian people have goals in life. They have friends and families and lives that matter, just like anyone in America. I want to represent my culture and teach people about the place my parents come from. I should be able to do that.”
After explaining their position to organizers, the troop was granted permission, and were excited to bring the food, dress, and other cultural touch-points of Palestine to life at the local event for the first time.
“We’re all from different countries—a lot of my friends are from Palestine,” said troop member Zubaida. “It’s important for Girl Scouts to make the world a better place, and to do that—especially with everything going on in the world—we need to represent and support each other no matter where we came from or what we believe in. That’s what Girl Scouts is about.”