Scouting in the Muslim community
Specialist national support groups are not new in Scouting. The first can be traced back to pre-1948 but today, the Muslim Scout Active Support Unit are leading the way in supporting the development of Scouting within their community and across many others. So how do they do it?
I took advantage of visiting their most recent training course, at Kibblestone Scout Activity Centre last weekend to meet up with members of the Muslim Scout Active Support Unit's Executive Committee to learn more about their work and also to join a group of 60 newly recruited volunteers participating in the weekends training course.
Succeeding in partnership
The Unit have been highly successful in opening new Scout Groups within the Muslim community and also improving liaison between the community and local Scouting.
I was very interested in the comments of a large number of participants within the course who were very positive about the support they were receiving from their District and County. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and we also discussed a number of ways in which this might be improved. Correcting misperceptions would go along way of course.
The key to growth
Like so much of Scouting, the Unit suffers from misperceptions about their work and objectives and often critics lose sight of the fact that for the best part of our 103 years Scouting has benefited from strong community-led development, whether it is through the church or school sponsored groups or in local communities who decide that they would benefit from what Scouting has to offer.
Teignbridge District in Devon is one example where they have been very successful in identifying local communities that have previously enjoyed a Scout Group but don’t currently. By parachuting a small team into the community to identify and motivate local volunteers they have successfully opened several new sections and groups over the year. The Muslim Scout Active Support Unit operates in exactly the same way, albeit within the Muslim community and often at their early request.
Battling those myths
Although there is a perception that such groups are closed to that community, in fact they are not and although they tailor their programme and methods to suit the requirements of their faith, they are in fact open to all. I would suggest, in exactly the same way as our many other faith-based sponsored groups, especially those of the Christian faith which are the foundation of our early success. The same applies to national activities and events they run.
Help to develop
In addition to raising funds for a new place of worship at Gilwell, the Muslim Scout Active Support Unit have successfully raised funding (with the support of the Development Grants Board) to employ a Development Officer who is based at Gilwell as part of the Regional Development Service and Syed is actively working on a number of developments in partnership with the local country offices, Local Development Officers and others. Their website also provides some additional information which will help improve understanding of the Muslim faith and in particular how we can better encourage greater membership within all groups.
Listening and learning
I joined the 60 participants on the training course just as they were finishing a session on knots and rope work (sadly I didn’t get an opportunity to demonstrate my own talents in this area!). We did, however, have a very interesting question and answer session covering a wide variety of areas from their own experiences (particularly interesting as almost all of them were new to Scouting), changes to our national support structure and our vision for the future of Scouting. Discussions regarding our Fundamentals are particularly relevant to them and we had an interesting discussion on its role within Scouting.
Doing it the hard way
I often say that the hardest thing to do in growing Scouting is to open new Groups (sections are hard enough, but starting new infrastructure from fresh has to be the hardest way) and it is worth noting that just about everybody present were experiencing this as their first introduction to Scouting. What a way to start!
I left feeling particularly optimistic about the future of Scouting if we have volunteers like this across the UK ensuring that we provide Scouting where it can really make a difference and especially improve understanding and friendships across communities.