When it comes to memorizing Islam's holy book, Ahmed Mohamed, 15, of Minneapolis, proved himself to be one of the best in the nation.
He joined other Twin Cities Somali-American teens in dominating the competition at a Qur'an memorization contest in Chicago.
Out of 400 contestants, 15 Somali girls and boys from the Twin Cities stole the show at the convention, held by the Muslim American Society and Islamic Circle of North America.
Each year the two groups host one of the largest Islamic conventions in North America, with about 15,000 attendees.
"Not only did they sweep the entire competition, but they placed every first place possible," said CAIR-Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein.
More than 300 volunteers helped put on the 15th annual event from Dec. 26 to 28.
Minnesota contestants had done well in past years, but not like this.
"Nothing compared to what happened this past week," Hussein said.
Students were tested for four days, reciting sections of the Qur'an with correct pronunciation of the Arabic text. Competitors are scored 75 percent on memorization and 25 percent on recitation skill.
Organizers say that the competition helps students understand Islamic moral values so that they can be agents for positive change.
One winner was just 7 years old. Out of 18 winners, 15 were from Minnesota and 11 were girls. Hussein said Somali students from around the world have done well in similar competitions but not like what he saw last week at the convention.
"It was a tremendous and proud moment for all Minnesotans who were there, not just for Somalis," he said.
Ahmed Mohamed placed first. A student at Ubah Medical Academy in Hopkins, he has participated in Qur'an competitions from Canada to Sudan. Mohamed, who had been prepping for the competition for three months with the help of leaders from his local mosque, the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, said the competition was relatively easy. Mohamed competed against his peers from the mosque. Mohamed won the highest prize of $4,000.
"I felt really proud of myself," he said. "I noticed that hard work pays off." In Mohamed's category, he had to memorize the entire Qur'an, consisting of about 114 chapters.
Mohamet Abdullahi Ali was one of the judges who critiqued the contestants. The competition was difficult, but Mohamed came out on top, said Ali, a spokesman for the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center.
Each year the convention selects a theme that represents the needs of Muslim-American families. This year's was "American Muslims: Islamic Duties and Civic Obligations."
The family-friendly event offers attendees a chance to hear from internationally known speakers, take part in workshops and shop from a 350-booth bazaar.
Mohamed will be competing in a Qur'an competition in April in Kuwait.