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For weeks, Siham Azom has been devoting long hours to memorizing an original speech, brushing up on factoids to better her trivia skills and helping fashion a sleek website.

The 15-year-old is among hundreds of Metro Detroit students gearing up to participate in a regional interscholastic tournament this weekend at Wayne State University.

It’s the peak event for the local arm of the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament, an international group that works to unite youths and help others understand Islam through intensive, education-based competitions.

And to the participants descending from schools from across the region, matching wits and squaring off in academic contests is a chance to flex their brainpower and show what’s possible for dedicated young minds.

“Every year, MIST is a really engaging competition,” said Azom, who attends Al-Ikhlas Training Academy in Detroit. “We really see this as a way to scale our talents.”

Showcasing skill drives events associated with MIST, which a Texas teen launched in 2007 and now takes place across North America as well as the United Kingdom, according to the group’s website.

MIST Detroit is among the largest group regions and has long had an annual tournament drawing participants in ninth through 12 grades, regional director Hassan Ahmad said.

To join, the contestants had to form a team at their school and prepare for group and individual competitions across multiple categories. This year, the two-day event, themed “The Valor of Mercy: Summoning the Strength of Compassion,” features a host of contests: soccer and basketball, debate, math Olympics, Quran knowledge and more.

Prizes go to the top overall individuals, and lead competitors have a chance to qualify for nationals. The First Place Overall Individual wins a $1,000 scholarship, organizers said.

Though many students are Muslims, they often reach out to others in their schools to collaborate and form their teams, Ahmad said. “One of our goals as an educational organization is to make people want to work with their fellow students. ... It becomes a very big part of their academic careers.”

Coordinating helps, especially in the final weeks as the youths scurry to finish short films, photography projects and other presentations, said Abdulla Tarabishy, a WSU student coaching a team from International Academy in Bloomfield Hills. “A lot of them are nervous and excited at the same time. They worked really hard for this.”

Besides networking with peers, Azom looks forward to presenting a seven-minute speech on politics and her experience as a Muslim Bangladeshi-American.

She views the competition as another way of shifting perceptions.

“We are not closed people. We’re open to friendship, we’re opening to understanding other people,” the Detroit resident said. “We want to let other people know what we do. It feels very nice to share with other people.”

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