MYLA Awards Scholarships to Six Exceptional Students

MYLA Awards Scholarships to Six Exceptional Students

Scholarships provide $15,000 to support college education

Six college students are the recipients of scholarships totaling $15,000 from the Muslim youth Leadership Awards (MYLA) for the 2005-2006 academic year. All winners this academic year are from the University of Minnesota . The scholarships were announced in September by MYLA, a young Minnesota based non-profit in its third year of formation that seeks to encourage a spirit of community service in the youth along with their educational endeavors.

This academic year for the first time, the grand prize was more than doubled, from the previous years’ $2,000 to $5,000. Sumaiya Mamdani, a child psychology major in the University of Minnesota ’s college of liberal arts was the winner of the beefed up grand prize. The other five winners each received a $2,000 scholarship. The $2,000 is also a significant jump from last year where the winners received $1,000 each.

The winners constitute first and second generation immigrants from various parts of the world such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East . All six are active in the community in various ways, from organizing a Somali sports and youth organization in Rochester , teaching Arabic at the various cultural centers around the Twin Cities to being a youth leader at an Interfaith Youth Forum started by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for select teenage Muslims, Jews and Christians.

MYLA invited noted Muslim scholar and Imam of the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, New York, Imam Siraj Wahaj to keynote the award presentation ceremony on October 9 held at the Maple Grove Junior High School . The ceremony took place in the school’s auditorium following prayers and iftar (A meal served at the end of the day during Ramadan, to break the day’s fast). Elated MYLA officials marveled at the crowd of people that filled the auditorium saying they had not anticipated more than 200 people going by their previous two award ceremonies. Every seat in the 500 capacity auditorium was taken with a few people having to stand. The award ceremony also served as a fundraiser for MYLA’s scholarship fund.

The Imam’s talk was entitled ‘The Future of Islam in ’. Imam Wahaj also has the honor of being the first Muslim to have delivered the daily prayer in the U.S. House of Representatives in June 1991.

Imam Siraj Wahaj said for Muslims to succeed in , they must not forget their primary objective of caring fro everyone.  The Imam said Muslims should care about the welfare all of people but especially the weak and poor so that no one can say that Muslims “don’t care about Black people, or the poor” a reference to Kanye West’s accusation during hurricane Katrina that president Bush did not care about Black people. Imam Siraj said if one is a true Muslim, people will have no difficulty feeling your compassion.

The Imam said his concern with Muslims currently is that “95% of Muslim children (in ) go to public schools” because many parents who wish to send their offspring to Muslim schools cannot afford it, a state of affairs that should concern all. He told the audience that all of his nine children went to Muslim schools. He also expressed disappointment that a quick search on the web will quickly reveal the dearth of Muslim educational institutions as compared to Jewish and Christian ones. He commended MYLA for taking the first important step in securing the future of Islam by enabling today’s youth to pursue higher education. He exhorted those present to give generously to further advance MYLA’s work. After his presentation, he skillfully and entertainingly led those present in raising money for the scholarship fund. In the style of a seasoned auctioneer, he solicited pledges and checks from the receptive audience which quickly obliged.

The Imam said for Muslims to get ahead, resources will be needed because as Martin Luther King, Jr.  said “he who gets behind in the race must forever remain behind unless he runs faster than the man in front”. Muslims should also not be driven by the media but with their knowledge of information, truth and justice. Imam Wahaj said though there are many in the community that may not approve of Hollywood stars and their ways, the likes of actress Angelina Jolie, should give one food for thought on the spirit of giving that is incumbent for those in the Muslim faith. He told those present that Ms. Jolie gives a third of her salary to charity and has also adopted children from and .

The winners of the 2005-06 MYLA scholarship awards are as follows:

Grand Prize ($5,000): Sumaiya Mamdani, University of Minnesota – College of Liberal Arts . Major: Child Psychology. 

2nd Place
($2,000):  Liala Helal, University of Minnesota – Journalism and Mass Communications. Major: Journalism & Mass Communication and English Minor: Management.

3rd Place
($2,000):  Abdul Basit, University of Minnesota – Institute of Technology .

4th Place
($2,000):  Harris Khan. University of Minnesota – Institute of Technology . Major: Biomedical Engineering.

5th Place
($2,000): Khaled El-Sawaf.  University of Minnesota – College of Liberal Arts .

6th Place
($2,000): Nasra Giama. University of Minnesota – School of Nursing .

(More detailed information showing the community involvement of each recipient can be found on the MYLA website –

The award and fundraising ceremony on October 9 raised $13,000 and $17,000 in pledges, according to Mr. Irfan Ali, MYLA’s president.

More information about MYLA can be found at

About Tom Gitaa Gitaa, Editor-in-Chief

Born and raised in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, Tom is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Mshale which has been reporting on the news and culture of African immigrants in the United States since 1995. He has a BA in Business from Metro State University and a Public Leadership Credential from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He was the original host of Talking Drum, the signature current affairs show on the African Broadcasting Network (ABN-America), which was available nationwide in the United States via the Dish Network satellite service. On the show, he interviewed Nobel laureates such as 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, the first woman from Africa to win the peace prize and heads of states. Tom has served and chaired various boards including Global Minnesota (formerly Minnesota International Center), the sixth largest World Affairs Council in the United States. He has previously served as the first Black President of the Board of Directors at Books for Africa. He also serves on the boards of New Vision Foundation and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium. He has previously served two terms on the board of the United Nations Association. An avid runner, he retired from running full marathons after turning 50 and now only focuses on training for half marathons.

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