Religion joined sports this weekend to bring hundreds of Muslim athletes to Hillsborough County for team competitions.

The 6th Annual Myathlon , presented by the Muslim American Society of Tampa, took place Saturday and Sunday at the University of South Florida and the Temple Terrace recreation complex. Teams participated in soccer, basketball, volleyball and flag football.

Organizer Omar Aref, 36, of Tampa said about 1,850 boys and girls – as young as 9 – participated in this year’s games. Demand from teams wanting to compete had increased so much this year that Aref said he had to turn players away.

Tampa area mosques began hosting the sporting events six years ago as a way to attract local youths to teach them about Islam.

“One of the biggest attractions to youth is sports,” Aref said. “We wanted to bring the kids together to learn about their religion instead of letting the media or other things tell them.”

Word spread to nearby mosques. Then participants from Orlando started attending. Interest continued to grow, and this year teams participated from as far south as Miami and as far north as North Carolina.

Aref said a similar event has begun in Chicago, and he has gotten calls from New York and San Francisco, where others want to do the same.

The male athletes competed at USF, while the female events were held at the Temple Terrace recreation complex, where Mehnaz Ismail, 24, of Tampa said developing the bond of sisterhood was just as important as winning.


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