Scouting lessons and inspiring stories from the other side of the world were met with rapt attention by Rappahannock County’s only Boy Scout troop, the members and scoutmasters of Troop 36, and a dozen or so interested citizens who came by the Washington fire hall Monday night (Aug. 4).
The stories were told by Nazir Khan, an 81-year-old engineer from India’s Kashmir state, a mountainous and much-fought-over part of India on the Pakistan border. A lifelong supporter of Scouting and sports — particularly soccer — Khan has devoted most of his time over the past 15 years to organizing and hosting activities and events for Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, as Girl Scouts are known in many former British territories.
Khan was invited to speak to the troop by longtime Scouting supporter John Kiser, author of several books exploring the connection between Islam and the West, whose friendship with Daisy, Khan’s daughter in the U.S., led him to learn of her father’s visit to the area.
“Scouts start in the name of God,” said Khan, a Muslim. “Scouting has sustained itself for 100 years, and has spread from strength to strength. In every country that I visit, the [Scout’s] scarf . . . is the only motivating and bringing-together force.”
A lifelong sportsman, Khan developed Kashmir’s local and regional soccer players into country-level teams, and brings the discipline — and the attitude that “your day begins at dawn, and ends at dusk” — to helping organize and recruit young boys and girls into scouting camps more recently.
“India is one fourth the size of America, but has four times the people,” he said. “So what is available to one American is available to 16 Indians — space-wise, fork-wise, economy-wise, income-wise.”
With 22 different languages spoken in the country, Khan said if he were having a meeting similar to the one at the fire hall Monday “back home, I would be having 10 Muslims, 10 Hindu boys, two Sikh boys, two Christian boys, one Buddhist boy — together. So what do we do? We start with an all-faiths prayer.”
That said, Khan described Kashmir — ceded to India by the Britain-engineered Partition of 1948 — as a perennially “conflict-ridden state,” a place where China, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Tibet come together — and which he said makes Scouting’s mission of “being of service to all and any” that much more crucial.
“We teach our Scouts what is the real value of life,” he said. “Our scouts are trained from the very beginning how to render service to others and never expect anything in return.”
Khan told the story of a group of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in his home state who were at camp when a young boy pointed out to the Scoutmaster the presence of a masked gunman in a tree nearby. The quick-thinking Scoutmaster said, according to Khan, “ ‘Boys, for a change, let us offer today’s prayer, but in Urdu’ — the local language. So what does the prayer say, ‘Oh God, open my heart, give me enlightenment, teach me to do good . . . let me be helpful to others, and live for my country, and die for my country.’
“Suddenly this man jumps down, takes off his mask, puts down his gun, and says to the Scoutmaster, ‘I had come to shoot you, because I was told you are an agent of the so-and-so government, trying to teach subversive activities to our boys, but now I learn that you are men of God, you’re teaching them how to be good, so I am not only going to bring you my family, but when I am through with my [military service], I will also join Scouting.’ ”
Troop 36 Scoutmaster Roger Pierson singled out the story in his closing remarks Monday, saying, “May we all have the courage and wisdom of that Scoutmaster.” And “never doubt the power of prayer.”