A Twin Cities teenager representing the United States has won a prestigious international Qur’an recitation contest, a first for an American.

Ahmed Burhan Mohamed, of New Brighton, won the Dubai International Holy Qur’an Award in the United Arab Emirates, his school principal said Wednesday.

The high school junior at the Ubah Medical Academy charter school in downtown Hopkins came out on top among the 104 participants, a record for the event in its 22-year history, according to Gulf News, the most widely read English-language newspaper in the Middle East.

First place earned him the U.S. equivalent of roughly $68,000.

Mohamed took to the podium last week and recited from the Muslim holy book for more than 11 minutes. He was awarded his prize Tuesday at the Dubai Cultural and Scientific Association auditorium.

He said the victory was a surprise to him and especially gratifying given that he is the first American to capture the prize.

“I had to study day and night,” Mohamed said Wednesday as he neared his return to the Twin Cities. “My teacher tested me every day, and I prayed a lot for this win.”

Mohamed said his motivation was quite simple. “Because the Qur’an is the word of God, and there is no better way to compete than with it.”

Asked what he intends to do with all his winnings, the teen said, “Can I keep that confidential, please?”

Principal Musa Farah described Mohamed as a “wonderful kid, very hardworking,” who is also a “most respectful, polite kid.”

Mohamed does well in all of his classes, is earning college credits now and ranks among the school’s top 10 in grade-point average, Farah said.

The school, which primarily serves East African immigrant families, organized a welcoming party for him and his father when they arrived Wednesday night at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Burhan’s father, Burhan Mohamed Elmi said he knew his son was going to win.

“He’s good at everything. He’s good at school and he’s good at Islamic school. I have to accept his victory,” he said at the airport, where about 100 friends, and family and community members welcomed them back.

Not surprisingly, Mohamed is expected back in school Thursday morning after his long-distance travels, and there will be more well wishes awaiting him there, the principal said.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, “All Minnesotans should be proud of [Mohamed’s] accomplishments.”

Gulf News said that Mohamed has been memorizing the Qur’an since age 7 and completed the task when he was 12. He has won several Qur’an memorization competitions in the United States.