Started by Tausif Malik in the Chicago area.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: In the midst of all the hoopla surrounding the Scripps National Spelling Bee, another word-based competition in the US that caters specifically to Muslim students is gearing up for its third annual competition.
The Muslim Spelling Bee was started in 2012 by Tausif Malik, with intention of being the first-ever spelling competition specifically meant for Muslim students. While Malik clarified to The American Bazaar in a phone interview that the competition is open to students of all ethnicities and religious denominations, Malik explained that the main impetus for creating the bee was to provide an opportunity for Muslim students between the ages of 8 and 14 to have such a contest.
“All other major minority groups in the US have their own spelling bees, but Muslims did not,” Malik said. “I didn’t really understand why this was the case, so I decided to go ahead and start one.”
Malik, who holds M.Com, M.B.A., and D.B.A. degrees, was coming off some professional troubles in the wake of the recession. It was during the month of Ramadan in 2011 that the idea for the spelling bee occurred to him. He began getting the word out with local friends and community leaders in the Chicago area, but soon found that he was being inundated with requests for more information from organizers around the country.
“That was pretty surprising to me,” said Malik, “as I had only sent the information out to a few people in the local area. I really did not anticipate the kind of level and support that this idea got from all over the US.”
In 2012, the first iteration of the Muslim Spelling Bee was held, with 460 students participating from cities all over the nation. But, unlike other spelling bees, which have one large pool of contestants that everyone must fight their way out of to make it to the finals, Malik and his coordinators came up with a proprietary way to hold their spelling bee.
The bee currently takes place in 11 different cities, with some 55 community organizations coordinating their own regional competitions. These competitions are divided into four different groups, labeled A through D, and each one has several winners who rank from 1-3. Each of the groups is of a different age level: 0-7, 8-9, 10-11, and 12-14 years of age. The winners then advance to the championship round in Chicago.
The competition has been growing steadily, with 460 students in the first year rising to 600 in the 2013 competition. Two contestants last year were even Hindu students from India, said Malik, a great sign of how widespread the reach and power of the spelling bee really is.
“What we’ve created here is not just spelling bee, but a social enterprise,” explained Malik. “These local communities host spelling bees in schools and community centers, which engages them. People set up advertising stalls at these events, so they’re engaged. Overall, there are probably close to 10,000 people involved with these Muslim Spelling Bees in one way or another.”
Now, as the contest prepares for its 2014 just a couple of months down the road, Malik expects there to be around 800 students competing this year. Malik also hopes to expand the contest to even more cities, and to have it go international, with competitions for Muslim students in large metropolitan areas around the world.
“[Hopefully], the World’s First Muslim Spelling Bee will also be launched in other English speaking countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Dubai , Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The winners from each country will then get an opportunity to participate in the International Muslim Spelling Bee Competition,” says Malik on the spelling bee’s website.
Those interested in registering for the upcoming 2014 bee can do so at wwwMuslimSpellingBee.com.