A hushed silence fell over the audience as he took his place on the stage and stood there quietly, surveying his surroundings, waiting for his cue to begin. A slightly apprehensive curiosity permeated the atmosphere, unspoken questions buzzed in the audience’s minds as they took in the person standing before them, a young man seemingly out of place with his long white Arabian robe and beard, some kind of black cap on his head.
He began with a resounding “Bismillah,” reciting one of the most potent verses from the Qur’an: “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they change what is within themselves.” (13:11)
His powerful recitation reverberated through the auditorium, reminding the audience of certain fundamental truths — equality, liberty, and justice for all – the foundation upon which this nation was built.
For his powerful message, Hafiz Sohaib Baig placed first at the 23rd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest, held on Thursday at UCLA.
He first heard of the opportunity through a member of UCLA’s Muslim Students Association’s Dawah Project, who persuaded him to compete. “I figured it would be a good use of my time during winter break. I didn’t really expect to win, but it was worth a shot,” Baig said.
Motivated and propelled by the support he found in the Dawah Project, this has been one of the most memorable and educational experiences of Baig’s life so far.
“My public speaking skills have definitely improved. So has my writing. Suffice it to say, I think I grew a lot during the past couple of weeks. I was relieved when it was over, but immensely thankful that it happened.” he said.
Strengthened with this new-found confidence and resolve to constantly aim higher, Baig is taking this success as a “stepping stone” in his life. He will begin work on his honors thesis researching the history of madrassahs in South Asia under Professor Nile Green next quarter.
Ultimately, he aspires to become a university professor and pass on a love and appreciation for history to his students. And maybe start a few revolutions in Pakistan on the side.
Does he have any regrets? “Well,” he said, “I guess you could say that the only thing really missing was my siblings’ presence.”