Muslim and Buddhist scouts in France find common cause

Buddhist scouting is the most recent addition to scouting organizations in France, where they were helped by French Muslim scouts in launching their organization, reports the French newsletter LaïCités (August). Alongside French Catholic scouts (of various shades), Protestant scouts and secular scouts, they are part of a lively and growing interest in scouting in France, writes Thomas Séchier (France Inter, July 23). Buddhist scouting has been active in a number of countries and is known for its strong environmental thrust. The World Buddhist Scout Brotherhood obtained consultative status with the World Scout Committee in 2009 and includes groups in Bhutan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Established in 1989, the International Union of Muslim Scouts also enjoys the same status. The French Buddhist scout organization did not result from an initiative by such international Buddhist organizations, however, but was the unexpected result of interfaith dialogue between Sufi Muslims and Buddhists. At a meeting, the leader of the Alawiya Sufi brotherhood, Cheikh Khaled Bentounes, asked how many in the audience had been scouts, and seeing that a number of participants had had such experiences, he suggested to them to start a Buddhist scouting organization, which was then launched in 2009.

Cheikh Bentounes had already been instrumental in encouraging the launching of the Muslim Scouts of France in the early 1990s. The effort was first viewed by mosques with some suspicion as a possible “competitor.” Today, mosque leaders understand that scouting is not a substitute for mosque attendance. There seems recently to be a revival of interest in Muslim scouting in France, although the group has experienced some difficulties in finding cadres. French Buddhist scouts put a strong emphasis on respect for the environment and consumption of local products. This is reflected in the very name they are using, the “Eclaireurs de la Nature” (Nature Scouts). While the founders are all Buddhists, the spiritual orientation of the Nature Scouts is based on “mindfulness,” i.e., a secularized approach toward Buddhist meditation. LaïCités quotes their chairman, Emmanuel Buu, as saying that “we are Buddhist in our hearts, but French society does not need rites.” This explains why they have mostly attracted young people coming from families interested in alternative lifestyles, although their goal is now to integrate participants coming from Asian Buddhist communities in France as well. The relations between Muslim and Buddhist French scouts are continuing. In 2015, they had a joint, interreligious summer camp on the grounds of a Tibetan Buddhist community. Whatever their religious or non-religious persuasion, camps are more or less conducted in a similar way across scouting organizations, as a participant quoted by Séchier observed.

(LaïCités: Lettre Pédagogique des Faits Religieux,