“Is Buddha a god?” “Why do your women wear a veil?,” “And you, do you make ablutions before meditating?” The campers pose question after question without leaving time for the camp counselors to reply. For one week, forty of the Muslim Scouts of France (SMF) and the Nature Scouts (EDLN), ages 7 to 11, attended summer camp together at the Karma Ling Institute in France.
The different organizations of scouts in France had not yet developed an interfaith approach in 2015, but the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January gave them a new impetus to start. In the form of camps or shorter meetings, no less than 20 gatherings have included groups of multiple faiths: secularists, Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, and Buddhists.
“Spirituality is only one of six elements that constitutes being a scout. Sharing traditions is only natural,” said Bastien Isabelle, president of EDLN, created in 2007.
At the Karma Ling Institute, it’s a special day for the campers. The previous night, Buddhist scouts “pledged”–an obligatory rite of passage during which a scout promises to respect the “laws,” of the organization. In addition, and most importantly, is their commitment to “living together peacefully and engaging in nonviolent communication.”
This morning, the situation is reversed. The Muslim scouts tried Buddhist meditation. The objective? “Plant the seed of peace within future citizens,” stated Thierry Lemonnier, “leader” of the Muslim scouts. “The idea is to put these children in an open space,” he explained, “to learn to know the other without the weight of familial tradition.”
At the camp, the tents are well separated. But the kitchens, one next to the other, are a common meeting point. Only certain meals are shared. The vegetarian menu is then used. Throughout the week, each group follows a schedule, but every day there are activities that allow the groups to gradually get to know one another.
“I thought that all Buddhists were bald,” said Angere, 10 years old. But in fact, “their prayer is like yoga. They do…nothing, but it’s relaxing,” said Romane, age 9. On the other side of the camp, Tom also learned something: “They love their God, we love nature. It’s kind of similar.”
During the last day of camp the scouts planted a “tree of peace,” on the campsite. The occasion was an opportunity for Denys Rinpoche, spiritual guide of the Rimay community and founder of EDLN, and for Sheikh Khaled Bentounes, spiritual guide and founder of SMF, to reinforce their common credo, “Assembling without resembling.”