themes

 
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2019 : “The Honor of Humility: Discovering Dignity in Challenging Pride”

In the age of social media, flaunting our lives online can be a source of success. Even when we intend to spread positivity through gaining popularity, we may see humility as an obstacle to that goal. How do we inculcate the virtue of humility when it seemingly brings us down? If we've learned that humility is a weakness, then this shortsighted understanding veils us from its possible hidden strength. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, once said, "…no one humbles themselves for the sake of God except that God raises their status” (Muslim).

It’s easy to fall prey to our pride. To gain more esteem in the eyes of others, we may follow celebrities who tell us what to buy or how to act. We may look at what others possess and compete with one another to project a lifestyle of success. Is our dignity found in the validation of others, or do we find it on our own terms?

Does humility require shunning the world in order to be humble and find our dignity? Not necessarily, according to prophetic teachings. For example, after Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, told his companions that “no one who has even a seed of arrogance in their heart will enter paradise,” a man objected saying, “I love to have beautiful clothes and shoes.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, alleviated the man’s concerns by replying, “God is beautiful, and He loves beauty. Arrogance means rejecting the truth and looking down on people” (Muslim).

The struggle for humility can be challenging, confusing, and even paradoxical, but it can yield amazing results. We encourage you to creatively explore these concepts, and more, in Regional and National competitions and workshops during MIST 2019. Remember that unique projects displaying creativity and insight will be judged most favorably.


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2018: “The Valor of Mercy: Summoning the Strength of Compassion”

“AND WE HAVE NOT SENT YOU EXCEPT AS A MERCY TO THE WORLDS” - Quran 21:107

In English, the word mercy is typically used in a context of suffering. A beggar might ask the people for mercy; the people might ask the criminal for mercy; and the criminal might ask the judge and jury for mercy. Whereas the Arabic term rahma is often translated as mercy, its root letters r-h-m form the meaning “womb” in their nounal form, so rahma contains not just mercy but also the depths of motherly love. Al-Rahman (the Compassionate) and Al-Raheem (the Merciful) are the most prevalent references to God in the Quran, derived from the same root letters. When God addresses Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the following verse: “And We have not sent you except as a rahma to the worlds,” (Quran 21:107) the entire theme of the prophetic message can be understood as rahma.

Despite being a morally positive concept, mercy is sometimes seen in a negative light, juxtaposed against justice. Showing mercy to an enemy can be seen as demonstrating weakness. To a criminal, offering leniency might mean failing to defend the rights of the aggrieved. Forgiving someone might be tantamount to appeasing bad behavior. So how can we show mercy without compromising the demands of justice?

The answer lies in our ability to prevent further harm. Forgiveness is a deeply spiritual practice, which cleans the mind and heart from negativity. However, forgiveness is impossible in a context where the cycle of abuse continues. We dare not ask the abused to forgive their oppressors without saving them from harm’s way, and we cannot champion the cause of the oppressed without first establishing a deep sense of compassion for all involved.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “Help your brother whether he is oppressed or an oppressor." A man said, "O Messenger of God, I will help him if he is oppressed, but if he is an oppressor, how shall I help him?" The Prophet responded, "By preventing him from oppressing, for that is how to help him.” (Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi)

Once we are compassionate enough to recognize the dignity of both the oppressed and oppressors as our brothers in humanity, we must treat them as such[1]. Compassion compels us to gather our strength to oppose injustice[2], which may be difficult and scary, but we must stand strong because the weak are in no position to help anyone except through thoughts and prayers[3][4]. After mustering our strength, we may realize the open secret of compassion: that it comes with a strength of its own[5][6].

Do you dare to be merciful, forgiving, and compassionate in your own home and community? How? We challenge you to take a deeper look and analyze the various concepts surrounding this theme.


2017: “The Challenge of Beauty: Striving for Perfection in an Imperfect World”

“GOD IS BEAUTIFUL AND LOVES BEAUTY.” -PROPHET MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON HIM

One of the great mysteries of life is its inextricable beauty. Mankind is surrounded by a wondrous universe. From the depths of the night sky upon the vastness of the seas to hearing a bird’s song while tasting a pear plucked from the tree, beauty surrounds us at every turn of our lives. And yet, beauty is not so superficial that it’s limited to our sensory perceptions. We find beauty in the smile of a grandmother, wrinkled as she may be. We find beauty in the pages of a book, nerve-racking as the plot may be. We find beauty in the footwork of the athlete, grueling as the sport may be. We find beauty in the pitter patter of raindrops, scary as the storm may be. What is it about these disparate things that cause us such admiration?

Some may argue that the world is not so beautiful after all. Pain. Arrogance. Anger. Jealousy. Hatred. Greed. However, isn’t it true that each comes with its own antidote? Joy. Humility. Compassion. Generosity. Love. Sacrifice. For those who are adamant, beauty can be found or created in every situation, amidst every challenge, through every difficulty, and even within every ugliness, where the only place we find beauty may be in the hope that things get better.

Arabic has a word for beauty generally: jamal, as in the quote, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” Arabic also has a word for beauty that people can attain through action: ihsan, beauty that emanates from the perfection of good deeds. Written in the Quran is a command: “...and do ihsan. God loves the doers of ihsan” (Quran 2:195). Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, defined the term thus: “Ihsan is to be aware of God as if you see Him, knowing that if you do not see Him, He sees you” (Bukhari, Muslim). Taken together, when someone strives to constantly be aware of their purpose and live up to their highest ideals as much as possible, even if they falter at times, that’s beautiful. As Rumi famously said, “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”


2016: “The Race Against Time”

Memento mori is a Latin phrase that can be roughly translated as, “remember your mortality.” It is a universal concept that exists in many ancient faiths and philosophies, a perspective that our time in this life is limited, so we must remember to make the most of the fleeting moments we have. When we consider how our time is not guaranteed, even the smallest and most mundane moments with family and friends can be transformed into the most precious and beautiful blessings. For this reason, the essence of memento mori is its counterpart memento vivere, “remember to live.”

A healthy and balanced attitude towards life comes not just with treasuring blessings, but also with making peace with its inevitabilities. When there is death, there is life. When there is pain, there is healing. When there is sorrow, there is joy, and there are a full range of states in between and beyond. Sometimes loss hits closer to home than we expect. Sometimes change occurs, which can be scary. How do we cope when times get tough? How do we make sense of the pain we experience in life, and how do we bring joy back into our lives and the lives of others? How do we remember to keep our lives in perspective so we can live it fully with balance?

“With every difficulty comes ease” is assured in the Quran (94:5-6). “We do not burden any soul with more than it can bear...” (23:62). “Believers, respond to God and His Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life...” (8:24). These are just a few of the many passages from the Quran that demonstrate how Islam approaches the ultimate questions of life to give its practitioners hope. Surely, billions who follow various other traditions and philosophies also find hope and empowerment in their teachings. How do these teachings compare and contrast when it comes to dealing with the reality of mortality?


2015: “The Clarity of Sincerity: From Outer Perceptions to Inner Reflections”

“TRULY, GOD DOES NOT LOOK AT YOUR OUTWARD FORMS AND WEALTH, BUT RATHER AT YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR DEEDS.”
– PROPHET MUHAMMAD, PEACE BE UPON HIM

In the modern world of TV and social media, we are constantly faced with an avalanche of pressures and expectations that influence how we “should” present ourselves. Bombarded with stereotypes and labels in society, fashion trends and consumer culture on the streets, and pressures at home and at school, this barrage of perceptions comes at us from all angles. We can often be left feeling frustrated, empty, conflicted, or powerless. How can we find ourselves through all the noise?

Ancient wisdom provides some clues. In the Arabic language, the words for intention (niyyah), a turning heart (qalb), and purity (ikhlaas) are related to the words for advice (naseeha) and honesty or integrity (sidq). All are used to describe the concept of sincerity in Islam that being true to one’s principles is also about being true to others. Sincerity offers a path to reconciliation, not through attempting to please people, but through principle.

How can we use the concept of sincerity to find clarity in our lives? How can we discover and maintain a constant understanding of ourselves and communicate that effectively in a variety of settings? How can we interact more meaningfully with those around us?


2014: “The Art of Generosity: Finding the Greatness to Give”

“YOU GIVE BUT LITTLE WHEN YOU GIVE OF YOUR POSSESSIONS. IT IS WHEN YOU GIVE OF YOURSELF THAT YOU TRULY GIVE.” -KHALIL GIBRAN

Giving is an art. Mastering it requires three components: 1) finding and nurturing a deep concern for others, 2) developing valuable skills and traits that can be used to serve them, and 3) breaking free from any desires that hold us back from serving a cause greater than ourselves. The beauty of this art is that it inspires everyone to “pay it forward.” Not only does it honor the given, but it transforms the giver, as any true sacrifice enriches the self. Generosity then, is not about being a candle that burns away while giving light to others but a battery that recharges so it can keep on giving instead.

Generosity. Altruism. Charity. Selflessness. These words may sound nice, but what do they mean in practice? They can mean preferring others before ourselves or maybe even leaving our own comfort for a cause. They can be about humility and sacrifice, or just plain good manners and courtesy, about being charitable towards someone without expecting anything in return, or even “smiling in the face of your brother [or sister].” Think about it: what do you have or what can you do for those around you? What is it that they may want or need from you? Is it possible that in trying to find ways to help others, you may just find your own purpose, your own happiness, and your own self?

We challenge you to take a deeper look and analyze the various concepts surrounding this theme. Be creative! Projects and submissions with the most creativity and insight will receive the highest points. Remember, this theme will encompass all of the MIST competitions and workshops at both the regional and national levels.

2013: “The Patience of Champions: Rising to a Better Self”

Think Michael Jordan. Think Muhammad Ali. If patience doesn’t come to mind, then you don’t know what it takes to be a champion. With hours of practice each day, through sweat, blood, and tears, champions will persevere to achieve their goal through the years. Life throws them surprises, distractions lace their path, yet they rise above every obstacle to be better than their past. No, patience is not sitting idly by hoping for a brighter future, and it’s definitely not about giving up just to have some fun #YOLO. Patience is in that satisfied feeling, burning inside their chest, that they’re doing all they can, and the rest is up to God.

I HATED EVERY MINUTE OF TRAINING, BUT I SAID, ‘DON’T QUIT. SUFFER NOW, AND LIVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE AS A CHAMPION.’
-MUHAMMAD ALI
 

But patience is not just for athletes. Ordinary people around the world have harnessed it to bear unimaginable suffering and accomplish extraordinary feats. When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake-tsunami recently hit Japan, the people usedgaman to weather the storm with dignity and compassion, not looting and chaos. Under the cruel oppression of dictators and through the horrors of war, ordinary Muslims around the world have used sabr just to survive. No, patience has never been about being passive or taking short cuts, but prayer and time can be tools to move on. No matter the language, patience has always been about hope and discipline, about a willingness to endure the sacrifice now, knowing that better days will come with principled perseverance. Patience is about the rise of a better self.

Perhaps you’re inspired, or perhaps you’re still wondering how any of these examples are relevant to you as a high school student in North America. Think of the challenges you face on a day-to-day basis, and consider how you’re dealing with them. Think of the goals you want to achieve, and consider how you’re pursuing them. What kind of change do you want in your personal life? What kind of sacrifices are you ready to make? What do you think makes life worth the struggle? How can you make today better than yesterday? Are you ready to choose the path of patience?


2012: “Family: Reconnecting our Hearts to Home”

“THE BEST OF YOU ARE THOSE WHO ARE BEST TO THEIR FAMILIES.”
– PROPHET MUHAMMAD (PEACE BE UPON HIM)

Sometimes the stories of our homes are not perfect.  Some of us can connect well with strangers yet have distant relationships with our fathers.  We can fall in love with movie stars but resent our own mothers.  We can be polite all day at school and still come home angry and abusive.  It’s as though we’ve reserved our best for everywhere but home–as though the role of family in our lives has been outsourced to others.

“The role of family.”  What does this phrase even mean?  Throughout history and between lands, a family’s role has been defined differently, yet somehow its concept remains universal and valuable.  Why?  What exactly do we expect family to be for us?  Some say family is meant to provide us a place to call home and a place to belong.  Others may think it is more like a nursery, where we grow into adults and then go our separate ways.  Some only turn to family in times of need, and yet others consider it a foundational building block of society.  What do you think are the ideals of family, and why?  What do different cultures and religions have to say on the topic, and how do their ideas compare or contrast with those of Islam?

Having considered these ideals, what are our families really like?  Who do we consider to be family, and what is our relationship with these family members?  Do they have rights upon us?  Do we honor them?  Do we have responsibilities towards them?  Do we uphold them?  Are there any differences between our ideals and our realities?  If so, what can we do to bridge those gaps?


2011: “Loyalty: The Key to Faith and Citizenship”

“THE BEST OF YOU ARE THOSE WHO ARE BEST TO THEIR FAMILIES.”
– PROPHET MUHAMMAD (PEACE BE UPON HIM)

Before revelation ever reached the unlettered man named Muhammad, he was renowned amongst his people as the most trustworthy of his society. Before he ever made a public proclamation, before he ever urged others to feed the poor or care for the orphans, before he ever criticized his society for their immoral practices of infanticide or alcoholism, Muhammad was the most beloved merchant of Mecca, a simple man known for his honest and gentle manners. Despite the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of his society, all of his fellow countrymen knew that at least here was a man they could depend on for his integrity. It was only after living 40 years of his life as an upstanding citizen of his society that he was met with a higher calling: to bring a message of mercy to mankind.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) didn’t need a birth certificate to prove that he belonged: he spoke the language of the people, he obeyed the laws of the land, he sincerely wished well for his people, and above all, he made positive contributions to his society. Indeed, his commitment to his principles allowed him to serve his society faithfully, even when the majority of his people turned against him once he started speaking out against their societal ills. Is there any better definition of citizenship?*

Centuries later, people of faith still face the same sort of opposition as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once faced. With new concepts such as nation-state citizenship in the modern age, loyalty might be an even harder concept to grasp. So what does it really mean to be an American or Canadian, and conversely, what does it mean to be a person of a particular faith? Are they necessarily exclusive definitions? Must Muslim-Americans identify themselves as American first and Muslim second? Can’t they just be both? If so, how? If not, is the promise of a liberal democracy broken, with its freedoms of religion and speech for all? Would Muslims need to flee from persecution as they did 1400 years ago (and as many other groups have had to do throughout history), or can we still avoid some of the same pitfalls of the past today?


2010: “Lantern of Modesty: Reflecting the Light from Within”

A lantern’s innate character is its light. It shines this light on everything around it. A lantern must reflect this light to fulfill its purpose and illuminate the pathway for others, sharing warmth, guidance, protection, and comfort. Likewise, a person whose character sincerely exemplifies modesty would reflect it in the very same manner, allowing it to permeate through every aspect of his or her interactions with others. Conversely, lack of sincerity would extinguish the flame of modesty. Therefore, modesty originates from within and manifests itself by reflecting outwardly in all directions.

Just as a spark lights the lantern, what sparks humility? What inspires you to be modest?

Unlike a person, a lantern is without discernment and shines its light upon everything just the same. Should a person shine the same way towards everyone? Should you treat your elders as you treat your peers? Do you interact in the same manner with friends of the same gender as opposed to people of the opposite gender? How about with relatives vs. strangers? Countrymen vs. foreigners? Are there different concepts of modesty in different parts of the world, or even in different regions of the Muslim world? Is the concept of modesty in the West the same as the concept of modesty in Islam? How are they similar? How are they different? How has the concept of modesty in the West changed over time?

We challenge you to take a deeper look into the North American Muslim community and analyze the various concepts surrounding this theme. Be creative! Projects and submissions with the most creativity and insight will receive the highest points. Hint: Your creative projects should not be limited to, nor must they include descriptions of lanterns. 


2009: “Hometown Heroes: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally”

The world is facing unprecedented challenges. From global warming to the energy crisis, from financial meltdowns to never-ending violence, from the spread of diseases to ever-increasing poverty and hunger, today’s world seems drowned in overwhelming problems and conflicts. Even in our local communities, we may face serious issues related to ignorance and intolerance or drugs and domestic violence. What can be done to face such daunting challenges?

Never fear, hometown heroes are here! Hometown heroes are informed citizens of their communities, of their countries, and of the world. They are everyday people who care and who have the courage to stand up and speak out with the firm conviction that they can make a difference. Hometown heroes are wise youth who understand they will be the leaders of tomorrow and realize they don’t have any time to wait until they are older to start making a positive change. Starting with themselves, they try to do whatever they can to bring benefit to people, ever-widening their scope of service to their families, to their neighborhoods, to their communities, to their nation, to their world. Most importantly, hometown heroes use their wisdom to be both strong and gentle in due balance, and they hold themselves to the highest of standards before calling upon others to follow. Through success and failure, they remain poised, actively working towards victory but staying patient for the results.

Such heroes have changed the face of the globe since the dawn of time, and we know many of their names. Who are the heroes of the past, and what can we learn from their stories for today? What image comes to mind when people think of “heroes” nowadays? Compare and contrast these heroes with the description provided above. Who do you consider to be your heroes? Are heroes born, or are they made? Are there heroes serving your community? Do you have it in you to become a hero? What actions can you take at home, in school, and in your greater community to address the problems you see around you and around the world? Finally, what kind of perspectives do you think a person should have who is trying to make change?

2008: “The Puzzle of Diversity: Piecing Together a Vibrant Community”

“And amongst His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colors. There truly are signs in this for those who know.” (Quran 30:22).

“People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another” (Quran 49:13).

God created us with variations and differences in our looks, cultures, languages, and colors. We live in what was once called a melting pot of different cultures and languages.  Former US President Jimmy Carter described us as a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams.  If we were to look at the North American Muslim community, we would also find it vastly diverse, comprised of various individuals hailing from all corners of the earth and every ideological background under the sun.  God created humanity and allowed separate nations and tribes to develop, not to establish barriers, social inequity, or cultural division, but rather, so that we may flourish in our diversity by getting to know one another. This year’s theme asks you to reflect on the diversity of your community and ask yourself: If God created us all differently so that we may know each other, then why are our communities disbanded and divided? How can we successfully bring together an entire community whose population is extraordinary? Yes, managing diversity is indeed a very puzzling challenge.

As you begin to explore the theme, reflect on the task of piecing together a puzzle and the necessary skills involved. Perhaps patience and perseverance come to mind. Think about the characteristics of puzzle pieces where each one of us is a different piece of the puzzle. Just like us, the pieces are also comprised of different sizes, shapes, and colors. When you take those varying pieces from the same box, you know that they will eventually come together to form a cohesive picture. What happens when certain pieces do not fit together properly? Do you apply force and smash them together, or is there a more gentle approach to finding a place for each of the pieces to fit in the bigger picture? Consider what it takes to interact with diverse individuals and groups in order to unite the local and global Muslim community. Are conformity, tolerance, respect, or understanding involved? How and to what extent? What are some of the challenges that are faced when striving toward unity? What issues need to be resolved before a our diverse communities are able to unite prosperously?

2007: “Scattered Images: Reflecting Faith, Reclaiming our Future”

Today, more so than ever before, Muslims and Islam are in the public eye, and people are constantly being bombarded with a thousand different images regarding who Muslims are and what they represent. These scattered images, awkwardly taped together, create a convoluted and inaccurate reflection of our faith. How do we, as youth, create a better image of Islam that aids us in reclaiming our future as an Ummah? Whether people are getting their information from the media, from their friends and family, or from the internet, the responsibility of disseminating accurate and representative information lies solely on the Muslims’ shoulders. The image of a group is the sole responsibility of its members: whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, etc. However, even if we are to say all the right things, our actions have a tendency to speak louder than our words, and beyond that, the very way we present ourselves also has a huge impact on how we are perceived. A realization of this fact can potentially make a person very paranoid to always act right in front of the critical eyes of others. Should we always concentrate on our outer images? How do those, not of our faith, see us as Muslims? Should we even care?

The answers to these pertinent questions lie within the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is our perfect example for guidance on how exactly to be honorable people. He was blessed with a handsome physique and a beautiful scent, always dressing nicely, but remaining humble at the same time in his refrain from the extravagant. Rarely was he ever seen without a smile on his face. He always carried with him the utmost respect for his fellow comrade in the human race, whether they were followers of his message or not. He was ever-willing to help the immediate need of his neighbor or relative. His message was not spread by the sword but was spread by example. The conclusion for a Muslim, thus, seems fitting. When a Muslim acts in a manner that is favorable to Allah (SWT), such actions also make him/her eligible to be seen favorably and honorably by others.Therefore, in the face of such divergent and scattered images telling others who a Muslim really is, the responsible Muslim takes the higher route towards promoting understanding: by always reflecting the values and teachings of the faith that he/she professes, the Muslim would be reclaiming a future filled with the hope of a world where principles such as peace, tolerance, love, and respect reign free, and where everyone is free to worship their Lord.

2006: “Character: Our Diamond in the Rough”

Definition: “Diamond in the Rough” (n): Someone or something with potential or talent but lacking training or polish. This phrase refers to the fact that diamonds found in nature are rough and uneven. They must be cut and polished to bring out their true beauty.

Explanation: Just like those diamonds found in nature that are rough and uneven, our character is also rough and uneven and in need of polishing to truly shine. In order to be successful contributors to our society, community, high schools, and homes, we all need to strive to reach our highest potential as humans. Hence, the MIST 2006 theme concentrates on striving to perfect our character. There are many different aspects of character, including faith, mercy, patience, forbearance, courage, sincerity, modesty, honesty, and many other traits. Concentrating on our character and its perfection, using the traits above as guidance, think about what it means to be a human being in the 21st Century. What makes good character? If Character is a recipe, what are the ingredients? Which aspect is your character missing? How can you improve your own character to truly shine? How can reflecting upon and internalizing the 99 Attributes of God impact our character? What can you learn fromProphet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and other great people from the past and present that will help you in your struggle to perfect your character? If we were more patient, how would our world change? If we were more merciful, how would our society change? If we were more respectful, would our parents suffer so much when raising us?


2005: “Passion of the Proactive”

New region founded in Boston, Massachusetts
New region founded in Atlanta, Georgia


2004: “The American-Muslim Identity”

Nationalized theme established


2003: “Understanding the Universe Through Islam”

New region founded in Washington, DC



2002: “Understanding Islam: From the Past to the Present”

MIST founded at the University of Houston in Houston, Texas