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Tausif Malik/Muslim Spelling Bee

Winners of the contest standing on stage at last year's final Muslim Spelling Bee Competition at the Des Plaines Theatre.

The Muslim Spelling Bee Competition: Connecting a community to the mainstream

by Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine
Feb 6, 2013

“M-U-S-L-I-M, Muslim!”

Everybody knows what a spelling bee is. Who hasn’t admired straight-A students who are able to spell words that are for the most part unknown to the public?

But have you ever heard about the Muslim Spelling Bee Competition?

On February 16 the second edition of the world’s first Muslim Spelling Bee Competition will begin in Houston, Texas and end in May at the Des Plaines Theatre in Illinois.

In 2011, Tausif Malik, one of the founders of TMA Worldwide – a marketing communications group – thought about creating the world’s first Muslim Spelling Bee Competition, a platform where Muslim children can participate from all around the world.

Malik, a Chicago based entrepreneur, said he has always had a passion for education.

“I think knowledge is really critical in the evolution of a human being,” he said.

After much research Malik said he found that Muslims in the U.S. are highly educated – most of them are doctors, scientists and lawyers – but that Muslim children do not participate in competitions such as the Spelling Bee. “Muslims are not aware of spelling bees because they are focused on getting their children into engineering or medicine,” said Malik in a press release about why education for Muslim children is often so specific.

Malik said he also found that the Muslim market in the U.S. was around $170 billion. “This is a huge market for any advertiser,” he said.

The whole idea was to establish a program with a social angle that would make it easier for any advertiser to communicate with the Muslim community.

“Because there is so much negativity about Muslims in this country or worldwide, I wanted to create a platform to connect this community to the mainstream,” Malik said.

The competition was launched for the first time last year in Chicago. Nine regional Islamic Schools supported the contest in states as diverse as Florida, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, Georgia, California and Michigan.

Around 340 children participated in the competition. With three new locations added this year –Maryland, Missouri, and Sacramento in California – even more students are expected to attend.

The competition was initially for children between 8 and 14 years old, but it was quickly extended to kindergarten children.

 “The youngest kid last year was 4 years and 4 months, a little girl from Dallas,” Malik said.

The Muslim Spelling Bee doesn’t have the same format as regular spelling bee competitions. Children only compete with others from their own age group instead of one slot where everyone competes with each other.

About the Muslim Spelling Bee Competition, Malik said he “had found value that it was connecting the Muslim audience.”

University Islamic Financial is the corporation that will be this year’s platinum sponsor for the event.

“The main reason is that UIF is a big supporter of education as well non profit groups in the community, and this Muslim Spelling Bee piles in to bring the best for the children of our community, and we feel we want to support this,” said Aijaz Hussain, the vice president, National Sales of University Islamic Financial based in Illinois.

The competition’s popularity is growing fast. The program will also be launched in Canada, Australia and in the United Kingdom.

“Every day I get a call from community schools to host this event,” Malik said. “In fact our program has become so powerful that even public school teachers are recommending us.”

When Misbah Khan, one of last year’s contestants from New Jersey, won the competition in the slot for children of eight and under, her town’s Board of Education made a resolution to congratulate the little girl “for bringing this honor to her school and the Township of Woodbridge.”

“This public proclamation is a big achievement for us,” Malik said.

Through this competition, Malik has created a single platform in the United States where any bank or any big company can communicate with Muslims at a very negligible cost since the whole community is connected, according to him.

“We have a single platform where we can connect because we have a partnership with 40 ethnic newspapers, two television channels, a few radio channels and Internet portals,” he said.

This program has a social angle but commercially every brand wants to connect to it, according to Malik.

“We have created a delivery model for everyone,” Malik said.

TMA Worldwide will also launch the Muslim Science Bee, the Muslim Math Bee, the Muslim Geography Bee and the Muslim Science Projects in September.