On Friday November 2, 2012 at 5:30pm forty-five students from Muslim Student Associations in Northwest, Richard Montgomery, Quince Orchard, Wootton, and Magruder high schools came to the Northwest High School cafeteria to celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid-al-adha.
The event was the first ever Eid event of the Montgomery County Muslim Student Association. The group is a student run organization that brings together Muslims from various high school Muslim Student Associations in the county.
The Montgomery County Muslim Student Association, known by students as the MOCO MSA, was started in 2010 when Richard Montgomery High School student Zaid Bilgrami and Wootton High School student Bilal Naved were volunteering together at that year’s Eid prayer. Bilgrami and Naved were both presidents of their high school Muslim Student Associations, and as they stood by the doors on Eid day handing out bags, the idea came up to somehow bring their two MSAs together.
“All we wanted to do at first was a barbeque.” Said Bilgrami, “Initially we didn't even intend to create an organization out of it.” But what started out as a simple idea to bring together two MSAs quickly grew into something much larger as Bilgrami and Naved contacted the heads of MSAs from Churchill, Paint Branch, Quince Orchard, Northwest, and Gaithersburg high schools.
In the fall of that same year the two organized a Montgomery County MSA barbecue with several MSAs in the area. The barbecue was a tremendous success, the only problem was figuring out what the next step for this emerging group would be.
Then came DC MIST 2011, an annual competition for Muslim youth across the DC area. Bilgrami attended the event with his own humble sized high school MSA. Although he did enjoy it, he noticed how larger MSAs seemed to get more out of the experience. A few months later Bilgrami called a meeting with the heads of all the MSAs in the county, and at MIST 2012 each school came to MIST not only as individual high school MSAs, but also as the MOCO MSA.
In 2012, the responsibility of the MOCO MSA was left to the steadily growing Northwest High School MSA. The Northwest MSA started out small eight years ago and just four years ago had to do prayers with only five people in a school storage room. Now, under the presidency of Asim, the Northwest MSA has gotten to around twenty-five members and has regular jummah prayers in a classroom and meetings every week. Looking to do good on their new responsibility, the Northwest MSA invited the other school MSAs for the first ever MOCO MSA Eid party.
At 5:30pm Northwest’s MSA members began filing in and dashing to set up decorations for the event.
Within a few minutes balloons were put up across the spacious cafeteria, a lit up sign hung on the left wall reading “Eid Mubaruk,” and a podium with a microphone faced the cafeteria tables. Slowly the room began filling up with MSA members from across the county.
“The food was wonderful.” Said Zaynub Ibrahim, president of the Wootton High School MSA. It was hard to think of a Muslim culture that wasn’t represented on the table as students from the various schools and backgrounds brought Arab, Indian, American, African, Bengali, Egyptian, and other dishes from around the world.
After a few second helpings of dinner, the event continued with maghrib prayer led by Saad Abbasi from Wootton High School. After maghrib, the night began with a unique game: Islamic Jeopardy. The speakers stood by the podium asking a wide range of Islamic questions as other high schools excitedly raised their hands to guess the answers. Out of the five school teams Wootton High School came out first and Northwest came second, winning a snuggie and a bouncy ball respectively.
After the competition, Shafiq Ahmed, former Youth Director of the Islamic Center of Maryland and very active member of the local Muslim community, gave a short speech on the story of Eid-al-addha and the struggles of being Muslim in high school. Ahmed told his audience how back in high school there was no real place where he could come together with and be supported by other Muslims. He explained how he only knew two other muslims in his high school community. He expressed how events like these and the MOCO MSA were bringing the Muslim youth together in an amazing way that he never had as a teenager.
“I know it's cliche but it really brings us together.” Says Northwest MSA President Shahzeb Asim regarding the MOCO MSA. The Richard Montgomery MSA President Danish Akbar was particularly grateful for the presence of students from other high schools, “Having a way for schools to come together allows those of us in relatively smaller MSA's to learn from others.” Zaynub Ibrahim summarized the night by saying, “It was also just nice to sit and talk with students from other MSA's. I enjoyed it and made a couple of new friends too.”
“Muslim youth in high schools are immersed in an environment conducive to spiritual deterioration, let alone one conducive to the obstruction of spiritual development.” says Zaid Bilgrami, “An MSA can be a ray of hope, in that it provides a place where it's ‘normal’ to be a Muslim and practice Islam.” Bilgrami believes that the MOCO MSA is able to provide much needed support and strength for Muslim students in Montgomery County.
The MOCO MSA plans to stay active throughout the year and plan many more events and opportunities for Muslim high schoolers in the county to come together. Currently, the group has set it’s focus on trying to get Eid as a day off in Montgomery County Public Schools.
When asked what he wanted to see the MOCO MSA do next, Danish Akbar simply replied, “I want to see the moco msa do more events.”
Anhar Karim is the President of the Montgomery County Muslim Student Association