In the face of threats to their school and mosque, a group of Muslim Girl Scouts in Orange County is organizing an event to help counter negative perceptions of Islam.
"The mosque gets a lot of disturbing phone calls — 'You Muslims are terrorists,' 'We hate you,' 'Get out of here,' " said Heba Morsi, leader of Troop 3357, which is affiliated with Minaret Academy, a school for Anaheim's Islamic Institute of Orange County.
"The girls just put their foot down and said, 'What's happening on TV, what's being said about us isn't true.' And the best way to counter that is to invite people into our home."
Last spring, two troops, including Morsi's, organized an "Open Mosque Day" to teach fellow Girl Scouts and their families about Islam.
The event was so popular— 240 people attended — that Morsi and her troop are planning their second annual Open Mosque Day, scheduled for April 30.
The three-hour program will include cultural food, a tour of the mosque, a presentation about prominent Muslim women, a question and answer session, and traditional crafts, including writing guests' names in Arabic, henna tattoos and Islamic geometric art.
Through these activities, guests will learn surprising facts about Islam, Morsi said.
"Many people don't know that we believe in the Virgin Mary, that she's mentioned in the Koran, our holy book," she said. "We're hoping that will open people's eyes to see that Islam isn't as foreign as the media makes it sound."
Zubaida Katbi, an 8th-grade cadette from Irvine, said this year's Open Mosque Day is coming at an important time, given the current political climate.
"We need to portray ourselves as the people that we are," she said. "We want to reflect what our religion is, and portray it in the right way, the way that we know it."
Raneem Iftekhar, a 7th-grade cadette from Irvine, agreed.
"This year there's been a lot of confusion surrounding our faith and a lot of misconceptions," she said. "It's to show our sisters that we're not so different. We go to school with them, we're friends with them, we're in the same community as them."
As Morsi explained, Girl Scout values — which include honesty, compassion, courage, respect for authority and using resources wisely — match up with the values of Islam. And her troop's activities, whether volunteering, kayaking, hiking or plein air painting, help cultivate the qualities to become good citizens — and good Muslims, she said.
"It's about finding the best version of yourself, whether that's a religious aspect or spirituality, or you're nature-oriented or talented in art," she said. "That's what Girl Scouts is all about — honing in on your best self."
Nadia Hassen, leader of a Girl Scout troop affiliated with the Islamic Institute of Orange County that is hosting Open Mosque Day alongside Morsi's troop, agreed.
"We want to teach them that you're American Muslims — this is your country, you have to be good citizens and you have to give back to your community," she said.
While Open Mosque Day was designed to help the community learn, Morsi pointed out that it's also an opportunity for her troop girls to grow.
"When you give a person a voice, it's amazing how much they light up," Morsi said of last year's event. "As a troop leader, that was such a proud moment, when I saw them on stage, with their microphones, speaking up for themselves, speaking up about Islam."
"I really saw them flourish as leaders."
The second annual Open Mosque Day will be held from noon to 3 p.m. April 30 at Islamic Institute of Orange County, 1220 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim. For more information, email email@example.com.