800 Muslim Students Gather in BPC for Faith and Friendly Competition

Left: High school students pray during a service in Rockefeller Park. Right: Girls cheer at a Jeopardy-style quiz competition that tests knowledge of the Quran. Photos: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib 

May. 09, 2024

More than 800 Muslim students from 27 high schools around the city gathered at Stuyvesant High School for three days during spring break weekend to compete—not in sports—but in events that ranged from cooking and improv to math olympics, photography and a science fair, to name a few.

The annual competition, the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST), takes place at a different city high school each year and provides students like themselves, many of whom are religious and first-generation Americans, with a chance for both competition and camaraderie with others like themselves. As in daily prayers, which are part of the program, boys and girls gather separately, including in co-ed contests. (Boys are called “brothers,” girls are “sisters.”)

“We want to create a space for Muslim students to be able to unapologetically and authentically be a part of competitions where they dont have to kind of give up prayer or give up having to do specific things,” said Nafiza Tarannum, one of the organizers. 

“The whole reason MIST was made was so Muslims can connect with other Muslims, become friends and bond with other schools,” said Saiyara Hassan, a Bard junior who competed in art, photography, fashion design and improvisation. “We do that with sports teams. So here, people who are not part of sports teams have a chance to compete.”

Jeopardy, Islamic Style

Three teams—two girls and one boys—compete in answering Jeopardy-like questions about the Quran. 

For Bisma Mahmoud, a junior at Wellspring, a Muslim private school in Queens, getting to be with kids who go to school with non-Muslims has benefits, she said. “We dont really get that kind of communication at a private school,” she said. They have a more open perspective on things. When we go to college, thats something that we have to know, too.”

Improvisation Competition

As a high school student, Mosaab Sadia, the program co-chair, had competed for four years in extemporaneous speaking, placing twice. The benefits, he said, have been long-lasting. “That fueled me to pursue a career in law,” he said. “I ended up not doing it. But I did go to college for it, I took the LSAT, and then I switched to tech. But it did impart a lot of skills for me personally, and it helped grow my public speaking ability.” 

Even as protests over the war in Gaza roiled Columbia and other local colleges, these students seemed more animated by the friendships and competitive spirit of the weekend than by the tensions around pro-Palestinian protests. While some wore keffiyehs, the Palestinian scarf, in Palestinian solidarity, programming that weekend was largely non-political. 

It doesn’t feel any different because of what’s going on in the Middle East,” said Sha Rashid, a Bronx Science senior. I mean, there is some awareness about the topic. But generally, it doesn’t affect us, like how we do things here.

Hassan, the Bard junior, said she was part of a school club this year that included Jewish students. “We just wanted to show how we can cooperate with each other, and it is in peace,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re just people.”