Serving Muslims through Math

Students at Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley (ICSGV) in Rowland Heights, California, USA.


As long as I remember, my parents emphasized that the best way to show gratitude is to serve others. Sadaqa begins with a smile, they taught, but it should be more when possible. For a long time, I didn’t know what that really meant, other than helping set and serve elders iftar at Ramadan community feasts. A couple of years ago, in a post-prayer reflective moment, it struck me that I could do more – share my love of math. But how to overcome the math-phobia that most kids have? Well, how about mixing math and religion?

A turning point in my quest came at a lecture by a NBA star, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf. I gingerly approached him: please can I show you my blog of basketball statistical charts? To my delight, he browsed my blog patiently. I also told him how I hoped to get Muslim youth interested in math by teaching them in more engaging ways than school does. Brother Rauf was super supportive, and I scored the obligatory selfie too – wow, what a hit of adrenaline. My confidence grew and my commitment redoubled.

That summer I righteously researched the Islamic roots of modern math. So it is true, I learnt, that we Muslims, specifically the polymath al-Khwarizmi, did invent algebra. In my research, I stumbled onto many cool math tricks. Also, I discovered the hidden role of math in nature, as described by Fibonacci numbers. A divine discovery, indeed.

For months, I practiced fun-filled math tricks and researched the crucial role math plays in nature and in the awe-filled architecture of some marvelous mosques. My goal: share this exciting knowledge with youth at masajids and madrasas. My nonprofit, HoopMath Academy ( HoopMath.org ), pledges my niyya, my intention, to my community: make math as fun as sports! Why "hoop"? Because we boys have hoop dreams, and it subsumes my sports analytics blog too.

One hot summer Friday, after Jumma prayers, I approached my Imam, with hope and nerves: please allow me to be the speaker at the next youth group meeting. He was skeptical at first, yet indulged me and scrutinized my slide deck. To my delight, he agreed to take a chance on me.

My first presentation, "The Divine Beauty of Math", went better than expected, despite my anxiety. Alhumdulillah. I can’t express how gratifying it was to repeat it in various institutions in Southern California. My promotional flyers helped fill the room, at times with over fifty tweens and teens. Many eagerly raised hands to participate in my interactive math tricks. So much for math being a bore, huh?

A touching moment transpired. I knew my labor of love was worth it when, after the presentation, a twelve-year old shyly approached, his father in tow: how did you do those tricks? A half hour later he left with a big smile. Now I knew I needed to reach more youth. After this I scheduled a roadshow, a series of presentations, to several youth groups and Islamic schools within an hour’s radius of home. I was fired up to spread my math-love to my fellow Muslim friends. Subhanallah.

But then COVID hit. Poof went my roadshow. It was heartbreaking. After a month of brooding and binge-watching Ertugul, I pivoted to an online option to offset the fact that I could not present in-person. I crafted an engaging set of Zoom sessions on different math topics, plus offered personalized online tutoring over the Summer. With the industry of scientists who are racing toward a vaccine, I duaa that I can return to my Divine Math roadshow in a few months, and expand beyond Muslims to all underprivileged kids. Inshallah.

Zed Siyed is a senior at Diamond Bar High School in California, USA.  He loves sports analytics and is co-captain of his school's Varsity Water Polo team.  He is committed to spreading his passion for math to his community and beyond.  He is the founder of HoopMath Academy.

 


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