It’s Saturday, the first day of March Break at 7:00 AM and despite the early timing, the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST) is already underway. The doors of the University of Toronto’s building are packed with students rushing in and out of the building, and a feeling of exhilaration and excitement are hanging in the air.
Over 850 students – whether they are Muslim or not – travelled from across Ontario to attend the 10th annual Muslim Interscholastic Tournament. MIST takes place in 14 cities around The United States, as well as in Toronto, Canada. The Muslim Interscholastic Tournament – founded in 2002 and brought to Toronto in 2008 – is a 2-day tournament consisting of more than 35 competitions. This year, the competitions revolved around the theme, The Challenge of Beauty: Striving for Perfection in an Imperfect World. The competitions as mentioned, range from spoken word, Quranic recitation, and short film, to improv and sports such as soccer as well as basketball. The purpose of the tournament is simple: to bring together youth of all races and religions, and allow them to build their leadership skills while allowing them to unlock their hidden potential
“There’s literally something for everyone. I didn’t want to join at first, but there were so many things you’d want to try.”
This year, I was given the opportunity to attend MIST on behalf of Affinity, to take part in, experience, and observe the event. Needless to say, I was left wonderstruck by what I saw. Throughout the day, I slipped in out of the rooms where a variety of competitions were being held. I was surprised that rather than feeling a cold competitiveness from the different teams, they were gracious towards one another, and no hostility was present. If an opposing team was on stage, the MISTees persisted to cheer them on the same way they did for their own team.
“You never actually feel unwelcome at MIST. Everyone is family, whether you’ve known them forever, or you’ve just met.”
Throughout the entire morning, there was chaos in the building, that is, until the clock struck 1:00. There was a still silence as the lobby of Sidney Smith Hall was cleared out and mats were laid in preparation for Zuhr prayer. As I stood to the side observing, the beauty of unity left me in awe. On the side, there were a handful of people who were not praying, yet respectfully stayed quiet, a silent understanding passing between each person. As the prayer ended, many people stayed in their spots with their heads bowed and their eyes closed, as they seemed to be having a silent conversation that was only between themselves and God. Although I was alone at the time, standing amongst these groups of people that I didn’t know, I felt a sense of unity and belonging.
Over the span of the event, I walked around and spoke to multiple students from different schools. They all had different reasons for attending MIST. For 18 year old Aleena Hollyer, it was “a victory lap”. Having attended for the past four years, Ameena said MIST to her served as a big part of her life, and spending so much time with the same people, for such a long period of time, impacted her severely. While another student said it was her first year, and she wanted to “put herself out there more.”
“MIST is about making you feel good about yourself. You step out of your comfort zone and discover these talents you didn’t know you had.”
However, none of this seemed to have been possible without the MIST’s very own Dream Team, who worked tirelessly at achieving the perfect event. I managed to talk to the Hiba Ahmed, the Regional Director of MIST Toronto and asked her a few questions regarding MIST as a whole. To say I was surprised at what it took to make MIST happen was an understatement. The Dream Team consists of many university students who take time out of their own schedules to create an unforgettable MIST experience. However, to many dream team members having the youth come together and feel empowered makes it all worth it.
Although this event may seem just like any other, there was a much deeper meaning to it. The event gravitates towards youth, especially high school students, and gives them the opportunity to express themselves, and make their voices heard. In times like today, the youth is often disregarded and made to believe what they think or want to say does not matter. MIST challenges that. The Muslim Interscholastic Tournament serves as a means of creating relationships between people. The power of MIST brought together people who otherwise might not have been teammates, or even friends. MIST is not just an event alone, but also a means of creating unity within diversity. There is not doubt that MIST is a Muslim event, but looking beyond that, the purpose of MIST is not to create a safe and welcoming environment for Muslims alone, but rather all youth, despite what religion they identify as. More so, what I learnt from everyone I talked to, every individual involved, leaves MIST changed as a person, with new experiences, friendships, and above all stories that they will carry for years to come.