Local Muslim Represents Maryland at USA National Games Special Olympics
A well used basketball hoop shares the Vohra’s driveway with several pots of Arabian Jasmine plants which perfume the heavy air. A thunderstorm is on the way as a wiry young man waits for his cousin to drive him to the masjid.
Munir Vohra is a champion on the court and off. This 30-year old Miami Heat fan was raised in Laurel, Maryland, a graduate of Atholton High School and Howard Community College. This summer Munir Vohra and his basketball team represented the state of Maryland in the USA National Games from June 14-21, 2014 in Princeton, NJ, winning the silver medal.
Munir has Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder which results in a set of cognitive and physical symptoms from having a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. According to the Special Olympics website, Down syndrome is the most frequent chromosomal cause of mild to moderate intellectual disability, and occurs in all ethnic and economic groups.
Special Olympics has been a part of Munir’s life for ten years, when his social worker introduced the family to this great resource. He started with softball, then basketball, tennis and flag football; and now is the only Muslim on the county team.
With tears glistening in his eyes and then spilling into his fist length beard, Munir talks about the hard work and effort that went into winning second place in the Special Olympics. Only ten athletes were picked, when his Howard County team was chosen to represent the state.
During the tournament, he recalls how his teammate and good friend fell and twisted his ankle landing him in a wheelchair for the rest of the event. This fired up the team. Munir told his teammates ‘we have to try even harder to win this.’ When he was presented the silver medal and flowers, “it was the best moment of Munir’s life.”
At the Special Olympics, Munir learned new skills, made new friends and had fun at the mini carnival set up for the athletes. The dinner cruise along the New Jersey harbor and Hudson River was a ‘good thing’ says Munir. He spent a week at the Rider University Princeton campus. In the last game, Maryland played Utah and Munir’s team came in a close second place, 20-25.
He has been asked by Special Olympics Maryland to be apart of the Global Messenger Program where he will train to become a public speaker and share why Special Olympics has been so important to him.
Back in Laurel the the whole community was praying for him. Proud community members announced his advancement at Jummah salah. Munir is an active part of the masjid as it is his family’s second home. His father, Mohammed Nazir Vohra, was one of the founders of the Islamic Community Center of Laurel (ICCL) and his mother, Shamim, volunteers her Sundays at the Sunday School. The community has grown up to embrace how special Munir is and finds his presence rather endearing. He can often be seen on the court after Taraweeh and at the ICCL annual picnic basketball tournament showing his moves on the court.
As a child he accompanied his younger brother, Omair, to Quran class, while his brother was doing hifdh, Munir learned the Qaidah under Imam Javid Bhaiyat. Just like he mastered the English language, Munir learned to read the Quran by recognizing entire words. “He recites from Juz Amma, I sometimes stand outside his door and can hear him reading aloud,” says Mrs. Vohra.
Munir loves to travel, accompanying his family on Umrah (where his favorite memory is when he kissed the black stone), London, Richmond, and Houston.
Munir’s greatest supporter and cheerleader is his sister, Batool. They train together at the gym, running to building up stamina and endurance. The camaraderie between this duo is contagious as they banter over sports teams, (she is a Red#&*ns fan and he raves about the Ravens). Close to his Nanni (grandmother), Munir’s mother says that he is very caring especially towards the elderly in the community.
He was born in Pakistan and his parents moved to Howard County when he was quite young. Grateful for the resources that they were provided, the Vohra’s believe that Munir’s personality developed because they exposed him to everything. Many people shut down if their child has special needs, comments Mrs. Vohra, but she raised her son differently.
“We never treated him differently, we had normal expectations and he exceeded them on his own,” says his sister, Batool.
Extremely independent, Munir had chores growing up and now has duties around the house just as his brother and sister do. He vacuums the house ‘top to bottom’, takes out the trash, folds laundry and helps around the house.
His mother says that even if masajid or Islamic Centers don’t have resources for children with special needs, families should not hesitate to take their children. “It is the house of Allah and it will find a place in their heart,” she says. Her advice to parents is ‘don’t take too much on yourself, your child is a gift from Allah and they should treat it as such. He found you capable of being tested, so accept it.
He wanted to stay for itikaf at the masjid but couldn't because of his job at Safeway where he is a customer service representative. He has worked there for the past eleven years.
Munir doesn't let anything—or anyone—put limits on his abilities. He doesn't like anyone telling him that he can not do something, says his mother. It only empowers him more to prove everyone wrong.
He fasts, prays all his salah on time and wakes his family for Fajr, spends between Asr and Fajr at the masjid during Ramadan, and loves to play sports. “If he can’t take part, he still loves to watch,” says Mrs. Vohra.
When asked what his next goal is Munir cheerfully says, “I was thinking that I could be in the NBA."