Some speech competitors also participated in the poster contest. Photo by Shefa Ahsan
“In this day and age people are interested in writing, Alhamdulillah,” Sh. Abdurafaa Ouertani, Imam of ADAMS, welcomed the young writers and speakers to the Annual Essay Panel Competition (EPC) held in Sterling, VA on January 25, 2014.
Adib Laskar, the Master of Ceremonies, started by encouraging the participants. He reminded them that writing is an Islamic tradition, as Allah swears by the pen in the Quran. A steady participant since the third grade, Laskar is now a first year in college. Mohammad Mahboob, President of Mafiq Foundation the nonprofit which organizes the event, thanked the participants and volunteers and kicked off the competition.
This is EPC’s 12th year of celebrating leadership in the youth of the DC Metro. Hundreds of participants and family members, who had come out to support them, crowded the halls of the ADAMS Center. “Alhamdulillah, over the years, EPC has grown from couple of dozens of participants in 2002 to 170 [registered] in 2013,” says Mostafiz Chowdhury, director of EPC.
143 youth actually participated in this year’s theme of the Akhirah- the Hereafter. The levels were divided by grades. Each level had an iteration of the topic. Al Huda School had 32 participants and Al Rahmah School had 29.
Through the year, several workshops were held at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Dar us Salaam, Islamic Society Washington Area, Prince George’s Muslim Association and ADAMS Center led by youth, who are EPC veterans like Danya Chowdhry and Aziza Salako of Al Huda School.
Some contestants were nervous, and others were beaming with confidence. Boys punctuated their speeches with Quranic ayahs about the akhirah, and girls prompted the audience about the state of their souls with hadith. Fathers guarded doors to make sure speakers were not disturbed mid speech and mothers filmed as their shining stars spoke. Parents and grandparents shifted between rooms supporting participants in their families. Tasneem Ahmad had seven grandchildren taking part in the event. Sitting in the front row, she celebrated the children with soft calls of takbeer.
A lot of boys participated in Level 1-4, but participation from young men waned off in the Level 5 and 6 categories. This is a concern as these are the future khateebs of our community and need this training.
The competition also has a multimedia and poster component. The posters were displayed in the foyer of the ADAMS Center. Highschooler Youmna Nassar won first place in Multimedia Presentation and Youser Tagouri in the Poster Competition, while Middle Schoolers Sayeemah Ahmed won for her multimedia presentation and Danyah Imam took first place for her poster in their age category .
Amina Bandarkar, Noorah Latifa Ahmed, Ilsa Mir and Danya Chowdhry took the top spots in the essay and speech competition in Levels 1, 2, 4,and 6 respectively. Saad Jameel of Al-Rahmah School placed first in the Level 3 speech and essay competition.
Sisters Afaaf and Amirah Ahmad competed against each other. They placed first and second in Level 5 essay and speech competition, bringing smiles to the Alvi and Ahmad families.
The top five essays in each level will be published in the seventh volume of Young Muslim Voices (YMV) in early 2015. Last year’s book of essays is going through the proof-reading phase and will be available on Amazon.com and other electronic media by Febuary 2014.
From professors to media consultants to college students, [the] judges are the cornerstone to the success of this platform, says Chowdhry. Well-qualified, for example, Judge Kerima Salaam holds a PhD in Comparative Literature. Kashif Munir is the Chair of the Judges Panel and High School Category Lead. An Assistant Professor in the Division of Endocrinology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, he reviews books for Fons Vitae publishing. Ayman Nassar is founder and chair of Islamic Leadership Institute of America (ILIA) and a member of the EPC steering committee.
The time needed for judging varies, depending on which part of the EPC they are volunteering. EPC is a three phase process: writing, speaking, and publishing. Essays are scored and graded on-line in the first phase. The time commitment for judging essays is four to ten hours depending on the number of essays being graded. Speeches are heard and scored in the annual event, which is a commitment of two to three hours of intense listening.
EPC plans to take the competition national by next year. “We are working with the Michigan community to take the platform to Detroit, MI,” says Chowdhury. Amina Iqbal, a former Virginian, now a remote judge from Detroit is working with EPC to implement this stage of EPC’s growth. Talks are in the works with organizers in Houston, Texas as well. “As we look toward future expansion, we will need more qualified judges, sponsors, and more hands to accomplish this task. We need partnerships to complement [the] youth enrichment platform across the nation,” Chowdhury reminds the community.
Dr. Zahra Ahmed is the Middle School Category Lead. She became a member of the EPC Committee in 2005 after her eldest daughter participated in the essay competition for the first time. She appreciates the forum for the youth to be able to express themselves through writing and speech on various topics addressing who they are as Muslims living in America. “Our future as Muslims in the West is becoming more and more uncertain. Therefore, I would like to see a panel such as this get to a national level where the voices of our youth can be heard all across the nation,” she writes.
The efforts to organize and host EPC each year requires time, manpower and resources. The competitions are sponsored by generous contributors and run by volunteers.
Chowdhury wants volunteers to think about the opportunity to enable and engage the next generation to write, speak, and reflect on ‘a heavy topic, such as Akhira, and help them discover their identity and build confidence.’
The team at EPC invites the DMV community to become a part of this effort, whether it is through ideas, energy or financial contributions. Please contact Mostafiz Chowdhury at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments or visit http://EPC.Mafiq.Org for more information.