Two Ismaili students from Manhattan Jamatkhana reached the semi-finals of the public forum debate category, beating the second and third-ranked teams in the nation, at the Harvard National High School Invitational Forensics Tournament held in Cambridge on President’s Day weekend.

The 16-year-old twins, Saif and Taimur Moolji, were a bit apprehensive at first to compete in the tournament of champions, but then they reminded themselves that they were “natural public speakers.” For the duo, public forum debate was the “perfect platform” for them as they were curious about the world.

It was their sister, Natasha Moolji, currently attending Stanford University, who led the Horace Mann debate team in her senior year at school and introduced them to the debate platform, encouraging them to attend debate camp.

“Since they first attended the debate camp in the summer, before freshman year of high school, they have been hooked on the activity. Even regular conversations at our home seem to turn into debates,” adds Laila Moolji, the mother of twins.

They participated in lots of national tournaments this year, but the Tournament of Champions “holds a special place,” as it consists of a higher concentration of skilled competitors than other tournaments. One has to advance at two regular-season tournaments to qualify for the Tournament of Champions.

This is the first year that they have qualified. Before the tournament, Saif and Taimur had to research the topic of the competition – the United Nations should grant India permanent membership on the Security Council.

“The activity requires a great deal of preparation, but the boys absolutely love it,” says their mother, Laila.

The format of the debate requires the students to prepare an opening speech on both the affirmative and negative sides and ensure that they fall within the four-minute time limit. They also need to anticipate common arguments on both sides and prepare responses accordingly.

Before attending any given tournament, Saif and Taimur try to have at least one practice round with another partner on their team, so that they can refine their strategies, and edit their speeches.

Originally from Montvale, New Jersey, Saif and Taimur, attend Horace Mann School in The Bronx. Taimur has been the editor of the school’s business and political science magazine. Saif also shows journalistic interest and has been the editor of a science magazine.

There is much more to the brothers. Taimur enjoys swimming and water polo, while Saif enjoys playing soccer and volleyball. They are part of the robotics team and volunteer weekly at IN-Tech Academy in The Bronx training the middle schoolers for debate competitions.

This year they have also made it to the quarterfinals of other two national tournaments, one at the University of Pennsylvania and the other at John Edie Holiday Debates, held at The Blake School in Minnesota.

Saif and Taimur will be applying to colleges next year. The only debate there will be about which ones.