On January 18th, 2020, seventy children grades 1-12 assembled at the Tarbiyah Academy in Elkridge, Maryland, to compete in the 20th annual Essay Panel Competition. Over 100 people attended, including guests, competitors, and judges.
“Despite the bad weather, the turnout was great. We didn’t think this many people would come because of the cold–we even had participants from Virginia and New Jersey,” said Aisha Khan, who was a long-time EPC competitor and served as MC of the event this year. Established in 1999, the Mafiq Foundation organizes this yearly event for Muslim youth to enhance their writing, oratory, and reflective skills in their journey to leadership.
About 60% of the students represented full-time Islamic schools in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Al-Huda School students made up the largest portion of competitors–about 36%.
The event started bright and early at 9AM with registration and an opening ceremony presented by Br. Kashif Munir, a Tarbiyah Academy Director, Br. Mohammad Mahboob, president of the Mafiq Foundation, and Sr. Khadijah Hankton, principal of Tarbiyah Academy. They welcomed all the participants, judges, and attendees, went over the competition guidelines, and outlined the schedule for the day.
This year, the theme was “The Prophet of Peace and Justice: In the Footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad.” To make the theme suitable for each level, the organizers assigned three different questions of varying complexity to the elementary, middle, and high school participants.
“The theme focused on peace and justice and each level had a specific angle revolving around the theme. We wanted the students to focus on peace and justice in Islam while taking examples from the Prophet Muhammad and implementing it in the contemporary world,” explained Danya Chowdhury, who was the Judges’ Affairs Chair this year, and a judge for four years prior.
After the warm welcome, participants broke out into their respective classrooms according to their levels: Level 1 (1st & 2nd grade), Level 2 (3rd & 4th grade), Level 3 (5th & 6th grade), Level 4 (7th & 8th grade), and Level 5 (9th-12th grade). The participants from each category were able to choose between presenting an essay, poster, or multimedia project. At least two judges observed each student during their presentation, and evaluated final scores based on the essay’s structure and execution. The judges looked for sustained eye contact, a clear thesis, relevant supporting details, and a unique perspective on the theme.
After the presentations, the kids competed in an exciting jeopardy game and answered questions about the names of Allah, Islamic history, and Quranic facts. The eventful day ended with an awards ceremony. In each level, the competitors won first, second, or third place, as well as “Special Speech Recognition” or “Special Essay Recognition.”
“After hearing about EPC last year I decided to join and compete in the essay writing competition. My English teacher made sure everyone participated and I was chosen to go to the next round! Going to the event on Saturday and listening to kids my age perform these amazing speeches about topics for Muslim kids was great. I even ended up winning the special recognition award for my essay and speech,” recalled Huda Javaid, a seventh grade Al-Huda student and first-time EPC competitor.
Photos courtesy of Arif Kabir