As a freshman in high school, you’re bound to get the “extracurriculars matter!” lecture drilled into your head by parents and teachers and counselors alike; all reinforcing the idea of colleges looking for “well-rounded individuals” with more to show than just good grades and a clean record. You’re bound to feel pressured into signing up for various after-school clubs and events, pushing yourself to socialize and mingle with students outside your inner circle. Despite being an exhausted 14-year-old with a packed schedule, I felt my creativity begin to falter — there was potential for me to grow and expand my talents, but the activities my school provided weren’t quite fulfilling that.
Late in January of 2013, a group of high school seniors and college students visited my local Sunday school, gathering kids together as they prepped for a presentation about The Muslim Interscholastic Tournament — or MIST, as they called it. Intrigued not only by the fact that this was a religiously-based tournament, but that it had a number of competitions appealing to every academic and creative arena; I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to sign up.
I was completely unaware then that participating in this regional tournament for the next four years would shape my entire high school career and strengthen my connection to my faith.
The weeks leading up to MIST weekend falling sometime in early March were brutal, in the most satisfying sense of the word. Every minute of sleep I lost preparing the submissions for each of my competitions was worth it — I was challenging myself intellectually, physically, and emotionally; and I knew my efforts would pay off somehow in the end. Group competitions allowed me to work closely with my teammates as we put our minds together; all the while forming lifelong friendships and unforgettable memories.
The weekend of the tournament, held that year at Temple University in Philadelphia; called for last minute preparation on Friday night before waking early the next morning for the drive downtown. There was a kind of exhilaration in the air I sensed that day — teams huddled together in the registration hall whispering excitedly about their competitions; some proudly displaying their school banners and chanting. There was playful competitiveness between every team — mutual respect for another and support I found endearing. Despite not knowing anyone but my fellow team members, the environment felt familiar and welcoming; from the smiles I received from people I’d never spoken to, to the nods of encouragement and applause when opposing teams showed their school spirit.
Those two days raced by in what felt like the fastest weekend I’d ever encountered, but what left me with a refreshed view on the world and all it had to offer. From anxiously presenting my submissions to the judges to attentively listening to the lectures offered by scholars and speakers; I felt for the first time a strong connection to the Muslim community, particularly the youth. Despite being an Islamic-oriented tournament, MIST was inclusive of people from all religious and cultural backgrounds, not using gender or sexual orientation as a tool for division. There were no barriers or limitations — everyone was offered an equal chance at competing with one another. From Spoken Word to 2D Art to Short Film and even sport-oriented competitions, there was unmistakable talent emerging in every corner.
What struck me most was that this tournament had managed to bring together and unite the youth — it had managed to show us that we had the potential and the ability to be leaders, and our age could never deprive us of that.
This point was only driven home by the fact that young people had taken the initiative to organize and execute the event — a true sense of dedication and unity, something I was amazed and inspired by.
This past March, I competed in MIST for the very last time — I found myself taking in every minute of the deafening chants, the excitement at the awards ceremony, the color-coordinated teams, the judges with their ballots at the ready, the rap battles between breaks, the peaceful silence during prayer time, the harmonious snapping in the Spoken Word tournament, the photographers gathering students together for team pictures — every little moment felt incredibly special.
Jotting down “Muslim Interscholastic Tournament” on my college resume didn’t feel like just another activity on a list of extracurriculars — I knew it was much more than that. MIST had become a second home for me, a safe-haven and a family to go back to every year. It had irrevocably altered my high school experience, shaped it into something empowering and beautiful. It had pushed me outside of my comfort zone, made me discover my potential, and given me a new sense of purpose. There are so many things in my life that I am inexplicably grateful for, and my experience at MIST is one I will forever cherish.
Experience MIST — the thrill of competition, the excitement of trying something new, the serenity of being one human family. Find out here if it’s available in your area.