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Muslim Girl Scouts Help Community Understand Islam

Mention Girl Scouting and you picture girls earning merit badges, selling cookies and doing good deeds. There are three troops here in San Diego whose members do all those things, but they may not fit

Originally aired January 2, 2007.

Mention Girl Scouting and you picture girls earning merit badges, selling cookies and doing good deeds. There are three troops here in San Diego whose members do all those things, but they may not fit your image of the typical Girl Scout. As Jody Hammond tells us, they hold their meetings at a local mosque.

At the Islamic Center of San Diego, San Diego’s largest mosque, the call to prayer is heard five times a day. And the Girl Scout oath is heard twice a month, at troop meetings. The mosque is home to three Muslim Girl Scout troops, about 50 girls altogether. Each troop was founded by Lallia Allali, in 2004.


Lallia is a devout Muslim and mother of three daughters. Her husband, Taha Hassane, is the imam at the mosque. They both feel that Girl Scouting fits right in with their faith.

Lallia Allali: What we have in our religions is all about values, all about morals and that’s what I like about the Girl Scouts.

Hassane: There is no contradiction between the values and principles of the Girl Scout and preserving our identity.

That may come as a surprise to many Americans, who believe the Muslim religion subjugates women. Scouting has allowed these Muslim families to reach out to the non-Muslim community, while allowing their children to experience American culture in a safe, supervised environment. For some of the parents, scouting has been a hard sell, but not for the girls themselves.

Yes, there are special Muslim Girl Scout merit badges, designed by the troops themselves. And the month-long observance of Ramadan provides a chance to invite members from other troops to learn about the Muslim religion. Lallia has put together a booklet to explain the meaning of Ramadan.


Ellen Mann, Girl Scout volunteer support coordinator: What I think is so amazing is that you explain everything. You don’t just have people guess and wonder why you’re not doing something and this is such an outreach to everyone else.

The guests have been invited to dinner. They learn that the dawn-to-dusk fasting during Ramadan is broken each night by eating dates. This is a new culinary experience for some of the younger visitors.

Lallia and Taha never miss an opportunity to make visitors to the mosque feel at home.

Hassane: I hope that this event today will help all of us to build bridges between people from different faiths from our society.

Marie Ross, Clairemont Girl Scout troop leader: It’s part of what’s beautiful about America is that we can meet like this and that is where our American value of tolerance is built. It’s built in young children.

The girls line up to have their hands painted with intricate henna designs, an art form from the Middle East. The Ramadan open house also gives Girl Scout leaders a chance to ask questions of Lallia. Inevitably, the talk turns to why Muslim women must be covered from head to toe.

Girl Scout mom: Why not wear American clothes since you’re in America? But now I understand why.

There’s one question that always gets asked - about the hijab, or headscarf.

Jaclyn Ross, Clairemont Girl Scout: Some of the little ones don’t have a headdress, yet a couple of them do and others don’t. It’s confusing.

The hijab is supposed to be worn once a girl reaches puberty, but some girls decide not to wait. At age 10, Layla has jumped the gun a bit.

Layla Elmi, Muslim Girl Scout: We cover ourselves from men because we want only to protect our body from other people’s eyes. We also become modest because we don’t want anyone seeing our body, not because like, our body’s weird or anything, but we want to be modest.

But modesty hasn’t kept her from being an active member of a soccer team.

Layla wears the bright team shirt, over her long-sleeved shirt and pants. No one on her team even notices the hijab anymore. But today she’s playing with another disadvantage. She’s fasting because it’s Ramadan. She can’t even have a drink of water until sundown.

It was Layla’s choice to start wearing the hijab early. It was hard on her mom.

Roshan Elmi, Layla’s mother: There was a time I cried. I wanted to see. It was too early for me. It was her decision. I asked, I said, maybe I’m not doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing, it’s a question parents constantly ask themselves, Muslim or not.

Hassane: The program of the Girl Scouts teaches these values with fun, with making the girls like what they are doing and also help our girls to integrate within the American society. Especially, our girls are American citizens. They were born and raised here. We don’t want to raise them in isolation.

Muslim parents feel they’ve found the right formula with Girl Scouting, one that respects their religious beliefs while allowing their daughters to be all-American girls.

The Islamic Center of San Diego is also home to Muslim Boy Scout troops. In fact, Imam Tahane was a Boy Scout in his native Algeria. But other fathers haven’t shown much interest. Most of the troop leaders are moms, not dads.