2016 hasn’t been a year of smooth sailing, a year of many highs and equally many lows, challenges and difficulties. This year has been a reminder that I need to focus on my health and exercise more. Kundalini yoga has been a regular feature of my week, pushing through many barriers including pain. I’m slowly becoming stronger, lost a little weight and intend to begin training in a form of a martial art in the new year.
2016 has been a busy year, one filled with lots of activity and action whilst constantly feeling overly frustrated that I haven’t been able to do more. I’m not going to focus on the rejections, failures, unsuccessful funding applications and knock backs. I place my trust in God, accept His knowledge & wisdom, whilst being content with the outcome. After difficulty comes ease!
Community Reach has been a big part of 2016, having delivered 5 cohorts with over 80 participants having completed the programme in Lancashire. I have been delivering Reach for 4 years, to facilitate a nuanced conversation about the challenges of radicalisation in an informed way which empowers participants with greater knowledge and complexities.
It has been amazing to have had the opportunity to get to know very sincere and talented leaders, activists and practitioners. Reach is slowly growing and I would like to see it grow into more areas. My emphasis through reach is to create a safe space to have difficult conversations about Da’esh and the Far Right. The primary aim is to empower communities, leaders, activists, practitioners, policy makers, teachers, youth workers and elected members to have a deeper and nuanced understanding of extremism, terrorism, radicalisation, ideology, narratives and counter narratives. Through this process we allow our participants to gain more knowledge and skills to challenge and counter radicalisation. We need to be willing to have these difficult conversations, have a multi-layered understanding of the issues and empower communities to create local solutions. Our journey of learning takes us to Northern Ireland for a study visit, to learn from the “troubles”, former combatants, survivors, peace makers, segregated communities, practitioners, conflict resolution and focusing on peace & reconciliation. Reach truly begins after the final workshop, we have built trust, confidence, understanding and skills. Our challenge to each participant is how can you apply this experience to create local solutions which do not alienate, isolate, stigmatise, discriminate and marginalise the communities that we need to engage. Our programme is inclusive, we emphasise the need and willingness to listen to concerns and criticism whilst being solution focused. We have had many participants who are Prevent critics and skeptics, many of these participants have completed the programme, acknowledged that communities need to tackle radicalisation and have spoken highly of our approach. These individuals appreciate and acknowledge that we do not stigmatise, alienate or antagonise communities.
My next step is to create a longer programme, 12 days long, accredited by a university which allows more time to explore the history, sociology, psychology of terrorism. Concluding with how to empower communities to effectively prevent, counter and challenge radicalisation in an informed manner which does not sensationalise or exaggerate the threat.
I felt honoured and privileged to have spoken at two Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) events. The first at Lancaster university chaplaincy centre, which included an exhibition by Faith Matters on the role of the righteous Muslims who protected those fleeing persecution during the holocaust. The second was the annual HMD church service at the Minster in Preston. I was touched to have been invited a second time, my first was 5 years ago in 2011. A few months before I was made redundant, I emphasised the need to focus on cohesion and good relations to counter the far right who grow during periods of austerity. My reflections during the 2016 service can be read here; HMD 2016
During January myself & Rev’d Dr Anderson Jeremiah, founders of Christian Muslim Encounters wrote the Preston unity statement in response to the proposed Edl demonstration. Over 300 signatories supported our statement, including the Bishops of Lancashire, Imams, councillors, faith leaders and activists. The statement and list of signatories can be found on the facebook page: Unity Statement
A Muslim primary school invited me to speak at the “One Religion” week assembly, I emphasised the need for young people to be good citizens, foster good relations and get involved in projects which does societal good. I briefly touched upon the increase of Islamophobia and the far right, emphasising that only by becoming good role models can we counter and challenge the negativity about Muslims.
2016 has been an important year as I have stepped into academia by working as an associate researcher at Lancaster University, we have been researching transnational activists. I have spent most of this year using life narrative story telling to interview former mujahideen, British Muslims who have travelled to countries like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and other countries to fight. This research aims to understand the person’s life, causes for mobilisation, the return, disengagement and reintegration. In January 2017 we are bringing together academics, practitioners and leaders to explore “Reintegrating Foreign Fighters: Desistance & Disengagement.”
My research this year has been diverse and focused on Da’esh, recruitment of British Muslims, the Far Right, Islamophobia and the history of Christian Muslim Encounters. There’s so much more research and learning that I need to do and this has reinforced my opinion that academia needs to be translated into resources relevant for communities. I wrote my PhD proposal to conduct an ethnographic study of Christian Muslim Encounters in Lancashire. A radical proposal which focused on the intersection between faith communities whilst focusing on the intersection between academia and communities.
Christian Muslim encounters (CME) – There has been lots of brainstorming, planning and meetings to identify resources for this much needed work. I’ve had many people mention the “Faith, Communities & Radicalisation” conference which brought together 100 academics, researchers, activists, leaders, practitioners and teachers. We are in discussion about a project which had faced significant resistance and barriers, please say a special prayer for us. I have represented CME at the Anglican Muslim Forum meetings hosted by the Bishop of Blackburn and Lancashire Council of Mosques. A lovely opportunity to meet up with friends across the faiths, discuss relevant issues and share a meal.
I have to give the Faith in Art exhibition organised by Mobeen Butt a mention, I was invited to the launch event and my eyes were opened to the power of art in building bridges, bringing communities together and an opportunity to learn. This has sparked an interest in Islamic art, something I have raised with a local museum for 10 years. I was felt empowered by the positive energy in the room, it has been wonderful connecting with the artists.
I was invited to be on the advisory board for Solutions Not Side, I am passionate about the conflict having taught drama at a Palestinian refugee camp in 2006. I have found that the Israel-Palestine conflict polarises communities, often feeding anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The conflict is an emotive subject, Solutions Not Sides Programme, has been formulated with the input of both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as senior members of Jewish and Muslim communities, it is designed to prepare students to make a positive, solutions-focused contribution to debates on Israel-Palestine. Solutions Not Sides focuses on direct student interaction with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, and has delivered conflict resolution training, provided education and facilitated discussion on the conflict in the UK and Western Europe since 2010, engaging thousands of students in the process. It has been an honour to support delivery in Lancashire and delivering a workshop on “Peace Leadership” at the student leadership programme. In November a Palestinian and Israeli peace activist visited Lancashire schools and Witton Park hosted a community conversation. This brought together very diverse thoughts and opinions and we managed to share a meal together afterwards.
I was invited to 10 Downing Street for the Easter Reception,this was a great opportunity to meet friends, politicians, civil servants and more importantly interfaith activists from across the country. A very memorable experience and this photo surprised me:
I’m not sure if I’m going to be invited back again!! A highlight of my year was being inviting to an Interfaith iftar with London Mayor Sadiq Khan by the City Circle. This was a great opportunity to connect with lots of inspiring Muslims and activists from different backgrounds.
I have delivered over a dozen workshops, spoken at conferences, lectured at universities and events – topics have included:
Radicalisation, Extremism & Terrorism
Why is interfaith important?
Methodist interfaith workshop
Leadership 4 peace
Islamophobia, the far right and the media
“Halal Britain” has been my cookery programme idea, I still need to find a commissioner who is willing to take a risk. I decided to get the ball rolling by starting a food blog, I’ve not had much time however in 2017 I will try to write one blog each month. I’m a foodie, I love cooking, eating, serving and teaching, this blog is an opportunity to show the diversity of halal food in Britain.
I was on my way to the Sociology of Religion conference when a truck decided to move lanes without looking and indicating. A very apologetic truck driver who took responsibility soon changed his mind after. The crash has left me in significant lower back pain, at one point I was surviving on painkillers and black coffee. I’m thankful that my back is recovering however I’m still not 100%. I finally got to deliver my presentation on Muslim activism at Richardson institute for peace conference in November.
Two years ago I started the Muslims Against Da’esh facebook page, it has organically grown to over 14k likes and a reach to 2 million at its peak. I currently share existing content from different sources, with visitors from diverse backgrounds, this year the page has been visited by Da’esh supporters, at times having to remove hundreds of posts. In October I attended the “Innovation Lab” organised by ISD, it was wonderful to work with creatives, techies and social media leads to create counter narratives. I need to identify content creators and creatives during 2017 who can develop a series of counter narrative campaigns.
I’ve met some inspiring people along my journey, I would like to thank all those who have who have stood with me against hate, prejudice and discrimination. I would like to give a special mention to Mike Haines who has struggled with the loss of his brother David and found the courage and strength to wage peace.
I would also like to thank Gill Hicks for taking time out of her busy schedule to meet with me. Gill is a survivor of the 7/7 attack, I’m in awe of her courage and strength in promoting peace, I encourage you all to support MAD for Peace
I am determined to start 2017 focused in making a difference and being positive. I have lots to look forward to in 2017, new collaborations and existing partnerships.
I am looking forward to delivering a workshop titled “How to equip students with tools to create a more civil society” in partnership with Facing History & Ourselves. This workshop is aimed at teachers and youth workers, giving participants 8 lesson plans and 7 tools to use with students to help them understand civil society and become social activists. The day will explore identity, belonging, critical thinking, justice, rights and non-violent means for change. This will give teachers an innovative pedagogy to meet the prevent duty and develop citizenship/history/RE curriculum.
Finally I am very excited about 2017 as I have been invited to take part in the “International Visitors Leadership Programme” in the US. I will be one of 14 participants working in the CVE related field, I look forward to learning from others, meet American practitioners/policy makers and share good practice.
I do hope to blog more often in 2017, this year we have had visitors from 46 different countries. Please continue sending me your comments and feedback.