The musalla of Dar-us-Salaam in College Park, Maryland has accommodated many an event, from weekly classes and commencement ceremonies to congregational prayers and Ramadan iftars, but only once had it served as the venue for a black belt graduation; until Saturday, April 28, 2012. On that day, Aqabah Karate Academy hosted their Second Annual Awards Ceremony in conjunction with the historic promotion of six students, three of whom were female, to the prestigious rank of Cho Dan, totaling the number of black belt-bearers to a whopping ten. This was the very first time a woman has been promoted to Black Belt in the history of Aqabah Karate.
To achieve such a rank is no easy endeavor. Depending on the type of martial art being practiced, earning a Black Belt can take anywhere from three to ten years. In the Korean art of Tang Soo Do, practiced at Aqabah Karate, it requires an average of 3-5 years. For the newest Black Belts or Cho Dans; Talha Muhib, 11, Adnan Zaber, 13, Muhammad Zakariya, 9, Ayisha Korme, 13, Nur Siddiqui, 14, and Tasneem Mansour, 14, the journey has been tedious. Mansour, one of the three first female Black Belts relates, “Over the years I have gone (to Aqabah Karate classes), my parents have encouraged me when I felt like quitting, to always come back in. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it this far.”
Before this day, the six students were subjected to a grueling examination of strength and discipline called the Dan classing, held from March 31st to April 1st, where they drilled everything they have learned since the initiation of their training. Ayisha Korme said about her test, “It was horrible! I blanked out and couldn’t remember anything, but once the ball was rolling, I got the hang of it.” Now that she is one of the first female Black Belts in Aqabah Karate, she feels an overwhelming sense of pride. She said, “(The promotion) is definitely a big milestone in my life. Now that I have earned my Black Belt, I know what I am capable of.”
In the company of family members, friends, and supporters of Aqabah Karate, Instructor and Director, Muhib Rahman, lectured his skilled students on the responsibility that accompanies achieving such a status in the martial arts. Each student sported a new, crisp white uniform with black trim, decorated with the Aqabah Karate patch and logo, the girls donning light-colored hijabs (Islamic veils) to match. Emotions were high, as Instructor Muhib awarded each new graduate with their custom, gold-embroidered black belts and Dan certificates. When his eldest son, Talha, stood to receive his award, they shared a loving embrace in front of the roaring crowd.
Instructor Muhib’s wife Ayesha Akhtar, who is only one rank away from Cho Dan, herself, said about her son, “Alhamdulillah for the opportunity and blessings that Allah has opened for my family. It is a tremendous gift that Allah has bestowed on (him).” Talha, who is one of five martial arts practitioners in his home, now understands the significance of patience and perseverance. He said, “During my training it felt like it was taking forever to get my black belt. But now it feels like it (only) took a couple of months, Alhamdulillah.”
The audience was also moved by the story of Adnan Zaber, who worked towards receiving his Black Belt, simultaneously while completing the memorization of the entire Qur’an in the Al Huda Hifdh School. He said about his accomplishment, “Aqabah Karate not only kept me fit physically, it also kept me fit mentally. To me a black belt means a great achievement and success because of the mercy of Allah.”
Among the recognitions presented during the Awards Ceremony were the Family of the Year Award, given to the Ali family, Most Improved Student Award given to Nadia Ali, the Rookie of the Year Award went to Tahir Ismail, and the Student of the Year Award was presented to Ayesha Akhtar for spearheading the adult women’s classes on Wednesday evenings. Akhtar is expected to be promoted to Black Belt, along with five others, including two more female students from the adult women’s class, by the end of this year. Aqabah Karate staff are diligently preparing to hold another graduation in December. As always, it promises to be an exciting and inspiring event for the Dar-us-Salaam community.