A beautiful event unfolded recently at the Islamic Center of Naperville, Ill., where two Girl Scout groups met for an interfaith event that paved the way for a lifetime of understanding and friendship.
We should all be more like Girl Scouts.
Heather Mieloszyk, a troop leader for her second- and seventh-grade daughters, was inspired to educate herself and her Scouts on the Islamic faith after some of the elementary students she teaches brought treats to school to celebrate Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast daily from sunrise to sunset.
The students’ parents put Mieloszyk in touch with Saima Hasan, a program director for the Girl Scouts troops who operate out of the Islamic Center of Naperville. Hasan and her fellow troop leaders got to work planning a day of fun and fellowship.
The Daisies (kindergarten and first-grade Girl Scouts) greeted each visitor with a flower. The girls shared snacks (cupcakes and dates) and created pins with different colored beads to swap with one another. The visiting girls learned to write their names in Arabic and received bookmarks with Arabic phrases of goodwill translated into English.
“Today’s youth should serve as tomorrow’s ambassadors of peace in a troubled world,” Hasan told me. “They would use their positive experiences with various cultures, religions, races and ethnicities and build a world of understanding, which in some way will contribute to the healing and prosperity of this great nation.”
Hasan and her Scouts also provided a presentation of famous women important to Islam and how they embody the Girl Scout law. (“I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.”)
“Mary, mother of Jesus, was the first woman we chose because she is held in very high regard in the Islamic world as well as the Christian world,” Hasan said. “We asked the girls, ‘What part of the law did she depict? Wasn’t she courageous and strong?’ It brought everyone on the same playing field and showed that we have this common ground.”
Both faiths, Hasan explained, believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ. “The only difference between Christianity and Islam,” she said, “is Muslims believe Christ, peace be upon him, is the messiah for mankind, and Christians believe him to be son of God.”
After the program, the girls – about 100 in all – joined hands for a giant friendship circle.
“When we got back, part of their job was to do a little report on the things they learned,” Mieloszyk told me. “One little girl wrote, ‘They love Girl Scouts just like I do. How to spell my name in Arabic. How to say many Arabic phrases. Dates don’t taste that bad.’”
Hasan, who was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States when she was 4, has high hopes for the seeds that were planted that day.
“I hope the girls who visited see that girls of the Muslim faith are just like them in every shape and form,” she said. “We are all part of the human race, and there are good people and not-so-good people, but the good people want to build friendships and tolerance and understanding with people of all cultures, religions, races and ethnicities.
“I think what people don’t know, they fear,” she continued. “When you connect with people and you’re giggling and you’re having fun and you’re doing a craft together and learning how many things we have in common, it takes out the fear and it takes out any discrimination your heart will ever have. You’re forever connected with each other on a human level, so you accept and love one another and have empathy in your hearts for one another.”
Both Mieloszyk and Hasan said the girls hope to make it an annual event, to further deepen their budding understanding and friendships.
I hope we all follow their lead.
Contact Heidi Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.