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Why I’m rooting for Boris

Boris Johnson MP. Image from https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/645695/Boris-Johnson-never-be-Prime-Minister-David-Cameron-EU-renegotiation-Brexit-Nigel-Farage

The hottest topic in politics at the moment is the Conservative party leadership contest. And why shouldn’t it be as this will decide who succeeds Theresa May in the premiership. The future of the United Kingdom is at stake and we are at risk of having Boris Johnson as our leader. How did we get here? 

The last three years since the Brexit vote has turned our parliament upside down. The 2016 referendum result has divided the county and the main priority, other than Brexit, is uniting the country. 

It seems every election in the last ten years or so, the same thought process comes to mind for the a lot of the electorate, that is we are voting for the lesser of two evils. The same has happened this time where Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary and Jeremy Hunt current Foreign Secretary have somehow ended up as the last men standing. Now obviously we the commoners cannot vote, that entitlement is given to Tory party members only. But it’s really the Tory MP’s that have got us into this mess. Firstly by holding a questionable referendum motivated by selfish reasons, then with their total incompetency in delivering Brexit, and now by voting and leaving us with either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt as our prime minister. In less than one month, on the 22nd July 2019, one of these two will be our prime minister. That is a scary thought, but personally I’m hoping for a Boris victory.

Why I hear you say! Because if he becomes prime minister then a general election is on the cards pretty imminently. And that’s because everybody knows Boris will be hopeless and there are also rumours that votes of no confidence will be put forward as soon as he takes office.

As the candidate with the highest public profile, we know Boris Johnson’s history of blunders. There was the purchasing of water canons at a cost of over 350 thousand pounds to the taxpayer, which were actually banned from being used. The Garden Bridge vanity project where over 50 million pounds was gratuitously spent on the bridge that never got made. Let’s not forget the incident with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe whilst he was Foreign Secretary where he pretty much told the Iranians she was guilty. Currently her and her husband are on a hunger strike. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Image from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48721239

This is all before delving into his private life which is tarnished with affairs and secret, illegitimate children, not to mention the recent fiasco of his neighbours calling the police after hearing him fight with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds. Following that it’s now come to light the photograph of him looking lovey-dovey with his girlfriend was not only taken weeks ago but was most likely given to the press by his PR team and is not even copyrighted. 

Before this recent kerfuffle, Boris’s PR team were using the strategy of damage limitation, meaning the less he speaks in public the better it is for him. So if Boris doesn’t make many appearances, then the less goof ups he’ll make. This is working against him as the public naturally want a potential prime ministerial candidate to be put under scrutiny. If he can’t handle questions from the public and media now, how will he cope in the top job? Answer is, he won’t. Evidence of this is in this morning’s remarkable interview on LBC with Nick Ferrari. It was the exact reason his PR team don’t want him doing any interviews. Support is falling amongst Conservatives for Boris according to polls but all the MPs who supported him at the last vote know his weaknesses. The only reason they’re backing him is because they think he’ll be able to beat Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn is like Kryptonite for the Tory party. They are so scared of him they will do anything to make sure he doesn’t become the next prime minister even if the alternative is Boris Johnson. Surely MPs don’t really think he will make a competent leader? Yes he’s funny (both in a haha and  strange way) but let’s face it, he’s not honest with the public and he’s only ever put his own ambitions first. I’d put money on the fact that him becoming prime minister is a long standing bet he made with David Cameron in their Bullingdon days. 

But what’s really worrying is that the poll of Conservative party members that was published on Monday showed alarmingly worrying signs of Islamophobia. 45% of those asked believe the myth that, “There are areas in Britain in which non-Muslims are not able to enter.” 43% of Conservative Party members, “Would prefer to not have the country led by a Muslim.” There goes Sajid Javid’s chances (he is from a Muslim background, his name and brown skin are enough of a deterrent though).

With such suspicion and hostility, voting in a leader who is known for his controversial anti-Muslim comments whether likening Muslim women to bank robbers and letterboxes or those comments about removing children from potential Muslim ‘extremists’, is a prospect which doesn’t fill me with joy nor does it make me want to vote for the Conservative party in the next general election.

The fact that neither of the candidates have addressed this poll is disconcerting. The one good thing that has come out of this leadership contest is that last week, during a debate Sajid Javid made the other four candidates agree to an inquiry into Islamophobia live on television. Whether this will happen remains to be seen but it’s a start.

As for Boris’s opponent Jeremy Hunt, whose name is synonymous with the NHS for all the wrong reasons, I think of how NHS workers despise him after his stint as Health Secretary. I remember how he falsely promised 10 billion to the NHS and who can forget junior doctors striking for the first time in this country because of the new contracts he made up? I think of how he wanted to privatise the NHS,moving towards an American style model. This is laughable, as one of the worst things about living in America is their healthcare system and how it’s grossly unfair to anyone who can’t afford private health insurance. That’s not the country we live in and I’m pretty sure most Brits hold the NHS very dear to their heart. It’s the one thing that we have which is unique and has outdone any other healthcare system in the world. How can we let Jeremy Hunt or Donald Trump meddle with it?

Despite this, Jeremy Hunt is known as the ‘sensible’ candidate but he is a Remainer and is going to be no different to Theresa May. Whatever deal he brings to the table is still going to be rejected by the vehement Brexiteers. Jeremy Hunt is dangerous as he would go the distance, but would champion all the policies like austerity that have helped made the Tory party referred to as the nasty party.

One thing is clear though, who ever wins this contest has no mandate from the public. Firstly by virtue of being the leader of a ruling party that didn’t win with a majority back in 2017 and is only in power because of the DUP, and of course down to the fact that the public does not get to choose which of the two should be prime minister But hey who am I to question British democracy? And that’s why folks, Boris is the best option as he will accelerate the downfall of the Tory party much faster than any other man.

By Sharmeen Ziauddin

She is passionate about politics and faith and you can find her tweeting about these things @britpakgirl.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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What Transformation Do We See When Hearts Meet In Crisis?

We are extremeley fortunate to platform a three part series focussing on ‘Women in the Refugee Crisis’ by Tazeen Ahmad the founder of  Humanity’s Heart , an organisation that was born following a volunteering trip by a small group of people to Calais (The Jungle) in June 2016. Travelling through Calais, Lebanon and Greece, Humanity’s Heart witnesses and shares the experiences of refugees, volunteers, spiritual leaders, politicians and local citizens in what is the biggest challenge the world has faced for over 60 yearsThe first part in the series reflected on why women turn up to volunteer through a series of short films. The second part in the series, below focusses on the transformation refugees and volunteers alike, undergo after meeting during the crisis, and highlights the importance of Refugee week.

Resilience Met With Support

Image courtesy of Tazeen Ahmad, Humanity’s Heart

Meet Syrian born Rahaf Sallouta. She arrived in the UK when she was 27 with her husband and 2 kids. Rahaf  has enormous gratitude to women such as Maria Wilby and Iman Mortagy  from Refugee Action Colchester for their service and support. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart

Through her we learn the counter narrative to mainstream rhetoric on immigration. Rahaf, shares the importance of the events held by Refugee Action Colchester and the opportunities they present to help dispel the perceptions towards Syrian refugees/migrants. She reminds us all how refugees want to contribute towards society not hinder it.  Rahaf’s example of resilience is phenomenal as she climbed a mountain of cultural shock and language differences on top of the upheavel of having to leave a home and country destroyed by war. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart

In fact, Rahaf’s experience and hardship has fuelled her desire to want to help other Syrians and refugees who have gone through similar experiences. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart

Today her husband and her run a café in Colchester providing falafels and other Syrian delights to the local community. (see the image above)

What is also beautiful to witness is the counter narrative of deep friendship and love that develops between citizens of host nations and the refugees coming to seek refuge. 

Video copyright of Humanity’s Heart
Image courtesy of Tazeen Ahmad, Humanity’s Heart

Aleppo stands destroyed (the photo in the background above the couple’s heads), however I couldn’t help but wonder could this crisis be what 13th – century Persian poet Rumi means when he says, “the wound is where the light enters?”

By Tazeen Ahmad

Tazeen is founder and producer of Humanity’s Heart. She is a daughter of a migrant, a British Citizen, a mother of two and a believer in the power of humanity. In June 2016, she traveled to Calais. The trip confirmed for her that we have far more in common than which divides us.

It also raised in her a deep curiosity about ‘what motivates others to turn up and serve?’. And ‘what spiritual lessons to humanity are emerging in the largest crisis since WWII?’ It was at that moment, she realised her background in broadcast journalism and finance, fundraising and philanthropy could be put to use. So humanity’s heart was born. She will be running a “How to make a documentary film workshop in June here is the link for the documentary workshop https://www.tazeendhunna.com/media-consultancy/howtomakeadocumentary

Videos and images are the copyright of Humanity’s Heart  follow them on Twitter

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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A Brief Summary To The Process Of Letting Go

What are some of the experiences, emotions and painful memories that we need to let go? They range from thwarted intentions, lost lovers, anger and being wronged, to humiliation, shame, greed, and regret. There are, so to speak, innumerous traps to navigate whilst walking the path to freedom.

So how do we ‘let go’? Well, first we must understand the mechanism of entrapment. David Hawkins, a pioneering researcher in the field of consciousness, has written a highly acclaimed book called ‘Letting Go’ within which he describes our emotional responses to experience. He suggests that our responses usually end with suppression, expression or escape. When a crisis occurs, we may suppress our feelings consciously or subconsciously, thereby confining our feelings to the recesses of our mind. This may be because we don’t know what to do with them, however, we try to carry on our lives like normal. Unfortunately, this response causes maturational blocks and creates a life where we are caught up in an endless cycle of projection, denial and other defence mechanisms. This is the antithesis of letting go and if we cannot accept ourselves as a whole, we cannot begin to let go.

“We must stop resisting the love that is underlying the pain and take action that brings out the best in us.”

An alternative response is to express ourselves and our pain, in the hope that we may expunge, release and ultimately let go. In our technologically advanced age, with easy access to a multitude of micro-publishing tools such as social media channels, we may be seduced into thinking that if we continue to ‘release’ our feelings on these platforms then we are in fact ‘letting go’. However, the process of release has to be authentic. When we vent through filters of ‘looking good’ or ‘being politically correct’ or even ‘being vexatious’ there may be many distortions that occur in what we choose to ultimately communicate and this, in turn, results in the release of some of those feelings and the suppression of much of the rest. 

In the wake of the Christchurch shooting many had a strong emotional response to the loss of innocent lives and we have the freedom to express that in whatever legitimate way we choose. If we take a moment and consider how we might be able to ultimately let go is to consider how we might be able to let those feelings drive positive action. We must stop resisting the love that is underlying the pain and take action that brings out the best in us.

We might also turn to some form of escapism, by which we mean the complete denial of all feelings related to the subject at hand. We may get busy, or smoke, or go shopping, or even binge watch some series on Nexflix. Anything to avoid the silence and the loneliness. As we avoid, avoid, avoid we become like a balloon full of air until we are ready to burst. The moment we stop to face the feelings and stop fighting them, we begin to experience release and we can begin to feel better.

When there is a crisis we might start to look for what is wrong and who is to blame, who is the victim (usually ourselves) and who is the perpetrator, we are quick to develop a narrative that describes why we have been wronged. We build up stories to support our view that we are not responsible, that we don’t need to apologise, and that we have suffered that an injustice that is not fair. There’s a pay off to holding on and this pay off is what keeps us stuck. Accepting our role, making changes, knowing that s/he just wasn’t right for us, being ok with being someone who makes mistakes, knowing that death happens, and getting perspective on the problem, these can all be messages that help us let go and to release. We are able to step into the light and life is able to take us on a more beautiful journey.

These sticking points are the very things that make us human, these are the aspects of ourselves that we hide whilst seeking peace and enlightenment and therein lies the irony. To truly discover ourselves and to truly reach the pinnacle of human existence and freedom we must first accept ourselves including the darkness as well as the shadows. We must let go of our mistaken belief that we were meant to be perfect, for it is this fear, that keeps us stuck. As travellers on this earth, ultimate freedom lies in accepting the world and all that is in it as a game. We are at the centre of it all, and we are the ones who can let go. In the silence of that moment and in the quiet of our minds when there is nothing left to do except letting go we have hope of reaching the peace and freedom we so desire. 

By Aamna Khokhar

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.



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Dehumanising sex and stereotyping Women

It’s odd how a piece in the Metro makes me think of Qutb and of his views of American women in the 1940’s. 

Sadia Azmat on the face of it appears a million miles and years away from Qutb but she pretty much rehashes the same ideas but in a different order to Sayyid Qutb  in his observations of American society, particularly cultural attitudes and behaviours around women sex and sexuality in public. For Azmat  is endeavoring to be the  American woman that Qutb creates in his work, America and by extension the west being a place with ‘liberated’ sexuality where there are no prohibitions like religion and no consequences. 

“Both views, those of Qutb, and of Azmat only work on the level of dehumanising sex generally and perpetuating stereotypes of women that are used globally to diminish and dismiss the concerns and experiences of women, the reality of women’s lives. “

This grass is greener on the other side of the fence is a dangerous approach as primarily it dehumanises western sexuality from being to do with people – which all sex is, everywhere. Sex becomes nothing more than acts performed like commodities to be obtained as signifiers of how liberated or how privileged the person is.  American women are to Qutb biological, primitive and primal and Azmat describes herself in similar language having primal urges, preferring semen to a sandwich and states that the conservative aspect of Azmats particular corner of the Muslim community has forced her to take on these tropes that are ascribed to the western female, the  ‘other’  bad women, liberated women, that she has held up to her as the antithesis of the good Muslim woman. 

Both views, those of Qutb, and of Azmat only work on the level of dehumanising sex generally and perpetuating stereotypes of women that are used globally to diminish and dismiss the concerns and experiences of women, the reality of women’s lives. There are only constrained modest women who do the right thing and who will be mockingly thought of as missing out and sexually repressed in comparison to ‘liberated’ women who have sex whenever with whoever (the liberation only ever goes as far as sex) who will in turn be denigrated. Regardless of what you do as a woman it is never right as both constructs  serve to keep women constantly in a state of anxiety in their attempt to interpret and enact these ideals in their lives as Azmat says,’ I actually haven’t had very many sexual partners and have lost out on a whole host of experiences as a result. I don’t want to be that person looking back on my life, boasting that at least I never committed haram. Our mistakes make us who we are – human.’ 

It is the last sentence which chilled me the most, indeed it is our mistakes that make us human, but for women particularly the myth of western sexual culture, the horny sexualised female animal has led to untold misery and abuse of women on a global scale. Azmat cashes in on this, Pornhub has terabytes filled with hijab porn and a hijabi Muslim woman will certainly get an audience when they are talking explicitly about their sex life or talking dirty, depending on how you look at it.

Qutb wrote in the 1940 of a society in many ways different from today, but in many ways not for women. The commodification of women either as religious relics in hijab, representing modesty and goodness liberated by Islam or oppressed by religion in need of liberating or the secular westernised woman sexually voracious – liberated in stilettos and coifed coloured hair – reduced to nothing other than a feeling. Also oppressed and in need of liberating. Ultimately there hasn’t been that much movement away from these stereotypes by either camp.

What would really be liberating is the discussion outside from these camps. That’s stand-up I would would really like to see.

By Mrs Rumiyya

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Launch of Generation Y book; young people remixing faith

Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change, by  Justine Afra Huxley is a collection of stories and interviews with young adults who are redefining spirituality for a modern age, to solve some of the most pressing problems and crises of our time. 

Launched on 7th March at St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace (London), the book highlights the way millennials are trailblazing new paths to connect with the sacred and to bring spirituality together with social change, especially at a time of growing disconnection with traditional religion. Aamna went along to the launch and spoke with the editor of the book Justine, on the day.

Can the sacred feminine change our collective consciousness and lead us on a path of healing? St Ethelburga’s is a 12th Century church set in the heart of London. For hundreds of years, it has been an open place of worship and recently was the venue for Dr.  Justine Huxley’s first book launch. Justine is the Director of St. Etheburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, and she was launching her book, ‘Generation Y, spirituality and social change’. Working alongside Clare Martin, Justine has conducted a series of interviews with millennial leaders to explore their vision of spirituality, social change, and the sacred feminine. 

Justine describes young people as having an unstoppable impulse to lead and take action, and her debut book is intended as a platform for showcasing this leadership and action.”
In it, she reminds us that humans are synthesising, and that we no longer have fixed identities. Justine argues that we are moving away from dualities, traditional categories, and labels, and that we are now on a very clear path to oneness – and it is this development that she wishes to nurture and support. Justine talks about the role and passion of the millennials to dissolve the binaries of sex and gender. She explains that there is a call for a new way of practicing faiths that eventually changes the face of the political and economic world. Generation Y wants to take faith out of institutions and into the world where we can all exists harmoniously as one.

Justine maintains that as religion vacates faith institutions and enters the world around it, this is how the feminine is reclaimed by Generation Y. Clare elaborates,  “Gen Y has done a lot of work to liberate itself from outdated concepts of gender, but as part of that I see them also reclaiming something very ancient.” She sees young women looking to indigenous wisdom traditions for example, where the feminine has been revered in a particular way, and that reverence has been held for millennia. Whether they are looking to restore that feminine consciousness in their own faith traditions, or are forging new ways of living outside of a tradition, it is through being connected to one’s own emotions that feminine consciousness can be understood.  Justine sees a lot of courage in how they open themselves to other ways of thinking but what gives hope is seeing so many young women refusing to disown their own natural strengths for the sake of a masculine paradigm of leadership.

The rise of the sacred feminine is the change that the world has been waiting for.  When men are uncompromisingly masculine this is when destruction can occur, and it is when men are in touch with their feminine side, just like Justin Trudeau, they become beacons of hope in an otherwise topsy turvy world. Jacinda Ardern stands before us setting an example to countless others. In an interview she describes her actions after the Christchurch shooting as ‘very little of what I have done has been deliberate. It’s intuitive’. It is clear that it is time for the feminine to wear her crown of glory. 

Clare in her own words says that what she sees is a “return to an original, raw spirituality that is freed of a lot of the baggage of religion, and it has this incredible directness about it. And this directness, this way of instantly seeing through things and going to the heart of what’s needed, does have something to do with an awakening of the feminine consciousness.” Because the feminine is linked to emotions, with all the knowledge that comes from intuition. It’s very immediate and raw. 

There is hope that this agenda will bring healing for the human race and planet earth. Sukina Pilgrim reminds us that being broken before God contains immense beauty and is where change begins. James Adams speaks from experience when he says that social action is more impactful when it is ingrained in faith which becomes the greater driving force. Camille Barton guides us to the healing power of mother nature and being in touch with our bodies. She reminds us that the ecological crisis is giving us a unique opportunity to take responsibility for the earth itself. Amrita Bhohi who describes the sacred feminine as something we need to celebrate, that if we connect with the sacred feminine as a human race then we could live in a more just world. 

Justine Huxley, Clare Martin and Generation Y leaders describe the birth of something new and for that to be possible, the feminine must rise. The change is evident and as we reach the end of an era there is hope that the dawn will bring with it oneness and harmony. 

Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change is available to buy from Amazon.

By Aamna Khokhar

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Islamic feminism – what’s it all about? Here’s seven reasons why Muslim women are demanding faith-based change

Islamic feminism is a term that for some may seem like an oxymoron. Isn’t feminism a secular movement? Aren’t feminists often fighting religious orthodoxy? Well the truth is that feminism is about women’s choice, women’s empowerment and women’s equality – for women of all faiths and none. 

For women like myself who identity with a specific faith tradition, we don’t see God as patriarchal, we don’t believe that our divine Creator is a misogynist and we don’t see our faith at odds with gender equality. Of course not! I certainly for one wouldn’t be a Muslim if I ever thought that was true.

However, what is true, is that just as in secular spaces – women of faith are often ignored in mainstream narratives and face a range of discrimination simply because of their gender. As a Muslim woman, hand on heart I can say that Islam has been interpreted into patriarchal spaces and according to the socio-cultural norms of certain societies, to the point that women are not always given an equal space, voice or allowed to progress and enjoin in their full spiritual, social, economic, political, cultural, sexual and emotional rights. 

Abhorrent practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage represent a host of gender-based violence and discrimination, stemming from social and cultural attitudes and norms which are often used in the name of Islam. When it comes to gender equality practices like these are often denounced within religious circles but the story sadly doesn’t end there in acknowledging what is and isn’t ‘Islamic’. These practices represent the worst forms of gender-based abuse that some Muslim (and non-Muslim) women and girls face. On that scale of misogyny, there are still a host of others problems in more faith-based spaces which affect the daily lives of Muslim women. These relate primarily to a lack of inclusion and diversity and the inability of the community to allow women to enjoin in their rights as enshrined in Islam itself. 

These issues of course all stem from the same culture of misogyny, sexism and misogynist interpretations of Islam (whether interpreted as ‘culture’ or ‘faith’). 

However, as feminists, egalitarians and seekers of justice, this is where Islamic feminists come in. Islamic feminists such as Amina Wadud and Sherin Khankan are re-interpreting and refreshing Islamic theology, Qur’anic readings and Muslim narratives to be more egalitarian. This is of course not to change Islam into something new but to follow its true original egalitarian form relevant in today’s modern context and to re-establish the role of Muslim women in Muslim spaces.  It involves working to eliminate socio-cultural practices within Muslim communities which harm women and girls (and society as a whole) to ensure that our rights are fulfilled through the provision of critical services. 

Beyond the violent, often-denounced cultural (non-Islamic) practices such as FGM and child marriage, I’m going to explain the more subtle issues which stem from the same core but are so often ignored. Let’s see why we’re fierce and proud Islamic feminists, and what the issues on the ground are. Read on to find out! 

1. We often have no visible prayer space

The sad truth is that for Muslim woman, both here in the UK and abroad, adequate prayer space is often lacking. Some mosques literally have no space for women at all, whilst other spaces remain much smaller and often ‘out of sight’. (Of course it is acknowledged that men are obliged to pray at the mosque on Friday unlike women.)

As journalist Remona Aly reports, research has found that here in the UK for example, out of a total of 1,975 mosques, a staggering 28% of do not offer space for women. What’s more, 50% of all South- Asian run mosques (South-Asian being the largest ethno-cultural grouping of Muslims in the UK) do not allow women in their space. 

According to Aly: “When mosques do offer it [a space], the access is restricted, and often does not even include a prayer space, but rather a teaching space, such as a girls’ madrasa (religious school).” 

This is a shocking problem and what’s more, when it does come to prayer space, I personally object to being separated by a screen or hidden away in a smaller room on the floor above or an area hidden away behind the men’s space. I would prefer to be in the same physical wider space but with designated areas for men and women. However, even for the most conservative of Muslims, the current facilities on the whole are not adequate. 

This is where Open My Mosque was born. Striving to open up mosques to women, to enable mosques to be less male-dominated and to let the message be known. This initiative is spreading the message that we want to pray in mosques and that we want to also have a greater role in these spaces too! It’s our right and we need not only decent physically existent spaces but inclusive, adequate, welcoming spaces. Find out more about the crucial campaign here.

2. Female faith leaders are few and far between

When I was studying Islamic Feminism for my Master’s degree, I came across the incredible Amina Wadud – a Muslim scholar and imamah (female imam). She has led prayer in mixed spaces and sadly come under fire by many Muslims for it. However, she is leading the way in a very small field. 

Whilst women back in Prophet Muhammad’s era were far from being relegated to the private sphere, excluded from spiritual spaces, sadly the same cannot be said for the Muslim world today as a whole. In addition to often having limited/no prayer space, women are almost entirely excluded from leadership roles, from grassroots level on mosque committees to further up the ladder in wider-scale national committees. 

However, there is hope. In addition to Amina Wadud and her inspiring work, other leading figures such as Sherin Khankan are creating crucial change. Sherin is a Danish-Syrian imamah,offering new narratives on Islam. She critically launched the Miriam Mosque to offer female-led Friday prayers, an inclusive community space and critical access to services for women. Sherin is vocal in declaring that ‘Women are the future of Islam in her latest book, and has growing support.

Meanwhile in Morocco, whilst not recognised under the title of imamah, the government commissioned morchidat (female spiritual leaders) to help empower women across the country and re-establish a more tolerant, open and egalitarian form of Islam. You can find out more about these incredible women in the film ‘Casablanca Calling’, which I definitely recommend seeing.

3. We are critically lacking in female scholarship

Again, whilst we’re lacking in female imams, we’re also lacking in female scholarship. As women, this means that when we wish to seek spiritual advice and practical guidance on everything from periods or fasting and prayer to marital advice, we are forced to seek male counsel. 

Now there’s obviously nothing wrong with male scholars but within such a narrow range of scholarship, we are lacking a nuanced, diverse range of teachings and opinions. At the same time also failing to offer adequate understanding and safe spaces to sometimes incredibly vulnerable women affected by sensitive, often gender-specific or incredibly complex issues across genders. We are simply pushing women out of the main sphere. The result is a narrow range of scholarship and a lack of nuanced understanding of a gender and culturally diverse faith community. 

This is completely at odds with Islamic tradition. Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha was a renowned scholar and for every Muslim, regardless of gender, it is our duty to learn and to access the means to learn and educate ourselves throughout our lives. Male-dominated scholarship fails to address the needs of the community and leads to a gendered-hierarchy of power. This is where scholars such as Amina Wadud – a fully identifying Islamic feminist – are reclaiming this space. However, we need more! For an insight into her work I would definitely recommend her book ‘Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam’. This book gives a great overview of the real message of tawheed (oneness of God – monotheism) and where Muslim women stand theologically in comparison to the socio-cultural reality today. 

4. Violent interpretations aren’t being challenged

Whilst we’ve come a long way in denouncing certain practices as un-Islamic, there are still some issues being swept under the carpet. The issue of domestic violence and verse 4:34 of the Qur’an is one clear issue that is not being adequately addressed. Now, whilst no level-headed Muslim following the teachings of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would ever hit a woman, we’re still not really getting to grips with this verse.

It’s all a matter of interpretation and logic. For example, the violent interpretation of Surah 4:34 declares:

“The good women are obedient, guarding what God would have them guard. As for those from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them, and abandon them in their beds, then strike them.” (Translation: Talal Itani)

Now, in an attempt to supposedly correlate the clear non-violent example of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) regarding his wives in reference to this translation, varying interpretations continue to permeate discussions around the topic. Of course, no level-headed scholar condones beating one’s wife. However, some scholars claim via interpretations of this surah and related hadith, that hitting which is ‘not harsh’ or does ‘not cause injury’ or carried out using a ‘light’ object such as a miswak (traditional toothbrush/stick) to offer a ‘warning’ or form of ‘metaphorical hitting’ are acceptable. This is clearly morally (and theologically) wrong and normalises unhealthy dynamics between husband and wife. Yet I’ve heard it in conversations at lunch tables.

The fact remains; if we are to take God’s message seriously and if we believe in mutual respect between husband and wife (and men and women as a whole), then we must address these issues. In relation to the topic, in the book ‘Leaving Faith Behind’, co-author Aliyah Saleem (now an ex-Muslim), describes how even a ‘metaphorical’ form of hitting as a response to the meaning of Surah 4:34 to her, constitutes emotional abuse. Threats of power, domination and violence in any form are wrong and do not exemplify a relationship of respect, love, understanding and tolerance. As a Muslim I can wholeheartedly understand why she found this unacceptable and am angered that such apologetic interpretations are presenting such an abhorrent view of Islam to Muslims and non-Muslims. God is simply greater than this.  

Within the Muslim community however, Islamic feminists, rather than trying to explain such translations, have however offered their own more appropriate translation to help address such inconsistencies. In her translation The Sublime Quran ‘(2007), Iranian-American Muslim author, translator and psychologist Laleh Bakhtiar translates the Arabic word ‘daraba’ (the term in question often translated to mean ‘beat/hit/strike’) as ‘go away’. This crucially and logically refers to a last commandment of eventual separation during conflict with your spouse after everything else has failed. This naturally fits into the verse and its increasingly separatist stages: first advising, next not sharing the martial bed and then ‘daraba – walking away. 

Of course, for the sceptics out there (including native-Arabic speakers), it’s also worth pointing out that Laleh’s translation of the Qur’an is used in various mosques and universities and was even adopted by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan. Yet why are we not talking about this instead of ‘lightly touching’ with tissues and miswaks or emotionally abusive power dynamics? Indeed, we’ve still got so far to go.

5. We’re tired of the hijab-hype

Image credit: https://www.freepik.com/index.php?goto=74&idfoto=3033344

Hijab, niqab, headscarves, veils – yes, the issue of covering is perhaps one of the most talked about with respect to Muslim women, in Muslims and non-Muslim spaces. Now, whilst this an issue of Islamic theology, the issue of how much a Muslim woman should cover, from which age and how she should or should not cover her body (and in particular head) is one that is over-dominating discussions on Islam. 

Firstly, despite the mainstream dominant narrative that women are obliged to cover their heads and bodies (with other interpretations mandating or encouraging the use of the face veil) there are various interpretations on head coverings. Secondly – and it should go without saying – this is a private matter between a Muslimah and Allah Almighty. The choice to cover or not cover should remain the woman’s sole decision devoid of outside influence or pressure. However, we continue to be inundated with talks of hijab and covering, with males often dominating the conversation. 

Not only is such behaviour a frank example of mansplaining on behalf of laymen in the context of non-scholarship, it’s also a clear example of (un-theological) double standards. Whilst men are also commanded to act and dress modestly and ‘lower their gaze’, we often hear a lot less of this in comparison! In fact, in her book ‘Inside the Gender Jihad’, Amina Wadud describes this reality perfectly. She outlines how the concept of hijab (head and body covering) has become a form of unofficial ,over-dominating ‘sixth pillar’. 

As both a hijabi and non-hijabi (I am now an ‘ex-hijabi’), it has honestly pained me (and continues to!) to see a lack of respect in some circles around the issue of women covering, not covering or no longer covering. We only need to think of the abuse that Muslim fashion blogger Dina Tokio received after removing her hijab to understand this. 

The sexist attitudes monopolising an area of personal observance and religious interpretation can again be fully observed in comparisons such as these of ‘good pure covered Muslimah’ versus ‘unveiled impure Muslim’ which make my blood boil.

I have myself seen such examples across social media, which are not only shared and pushed by men but also women. With male leadership, male scholarship and a male-dominated public sphere, both men and women are subject to such bias. Yet we’re also seeing clear examples of mansplaining amongst this policing of women’s bodies in relation to covering and hijab. 

Regardless of the perpetrator, this exemplifies a clear unhealthy policing of women’s bodies which we know is not only present in faith-based contexts. As Muslim women, we must reclaim our agency, our privacy and our right to choose to cover or not cover with full respect and independence (from men and women alike). 

6. Our sexuality is closeted, sensualised and shamed

Just as our bodies are policed in the name of modesty regarding hijab and body/face coverings, with modesty related to how we behave with the opposite sex (although a spiritual commitment), Muslim women are also subjected to ‘shame culture’ in relation to their sexuality and sexual behaviour. 

Think about how often we’re taught about a women’s right to sexual pleasure? Ask any scholar and they’ll make it clear that it’s our right. They do indeed encourage healthy sexual relationships for both spouses but it’s just not acknowledged enough in Muslim spaces. What however is talked about with another mansplaining double-standard is women’s virginity. 

Yes, again; what should remain between Allah and his follower (and is relevant to both men and women), has become the ‘ticking time bomb’ of shame, honour-related loss and ‘decency’ and causing fathers to want to marry their daughters off as soon as possible in some cases.

Just take a look at this tweet by a Muslim male: 

Yes, a tweet, that has (as of 9th March 2019), over 3,000 likes and 1,619 re-tweets written by a Muslim brother who seeks to shame women into submission through yet another reminder of how we should wait for marriage. Yet, as a Muslim woman I resent being compared to a juice carton. As a Muslim woman, I ask why are you talking about this? As a Muslim woman, I ask again: why the constant emphasis on a woman’s virginity on behalf of Muslim males? Why the double standards? Why the singular narrative? Why the publicising of women’s virginity yet the closeting and shaming of women’s sexuality (in halal settings)? 

It’s simply not good enough! It’s not good enough to believe in equal standards for women in regards to chastity and the right to sexual pleasure, it’s actually now time to talk equally, to share equally and to have a healthier narrative around these issues. Women, as human beings and Muslims have sexual needs and rights, and as Muslims, we (regardless of gender) submit to Allah alone in heart, body, mind and soul. 

7. Divorce is our God-given right

Divorce is another God-given right that must be obtainable and freely accessible in both theological and legal settings (yet not undertaken lightly). However, getting a divorce for Muslim women isn’t as easy and accessible as it should be. Cultural attitudes, ‘shaming’ those who wish to leave their husbands and those who have indeed divorced, mean that actually accessing divorce is incredibly difficult for some Muslim women.

At the Miriam Mosque, Sherin Khankan works to ensure that all Muslim women have access to divorce if they need it. Yet with male prompted divorce or divorce notification via text message or WhatsApp in Saudi Arabia or India for example, things are far from equitable, rational and fair for many Muslim women. 

Even here in the UK, many Muslim women also have difficulty obtaining a divorce. With a society that prizes virginity, one twice-divorced Muslimah journalist Saima Mir explains that despite the Islamic permissibility (with Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah being a divorcee herself), this wasn’t enough to “stop the gossip as her ‘value’ had ‘fallen’”. When the early women of Islam had no stigma or shame attached with being a divorcee or requesting a divorce, where are we as a faith-community when women nowadays continue to suffer in abusive, loveless marriages or are deemed ‘used goods’ unworthy of re-marriage? 

Logic and God’s words state that divorce is our right and we must ensure that not only is this rightful service available to all women but that men cannot and do not continue to abuse their right to divorce at the detriment of women. 

Now of course there are many, many more issues which could have been covered here, but the underlying narrative of women being the ‘bearers’ of honour and the public sphere being a place for male dominance is what continues to perpetuate these practices, problems and trends which on a higher more severe end of the scale lead to some of the abuse highlighted earlier such as FGM and child marriage. As Muslims, both men and women, we must reclaim the rights of women within faith spaces and our wider lives and for this reason, the work of Islamic feminists is critical.  

God is neither male or female – of course God is not human – but we must stop interpreting and living out Islam through this male-dominated, misogynistic lens. Women are being excluded, women are suffering and last of all, we have narrowed, boxed in and misrepresented the beautiful message of Our Creator – The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate, The Loving and The Wise, into something that is lacking His beauty, justice and mercy. 

Actions speak louder than words. We must reclaim the narrative, preach and live a more inclusive, egalitarian form of Islam – the original Islam of times ago, nuanced and perfectly adapted into the modern era, which clearly puts women firmly at the centre, not on the sidelines. 

By Elizabeth Arif -Fear

Elizabeth Arif-Fear is one of our regular contributors and author of ‘What if it were you?’ which is available to buy on Amazon.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. The images used in this piece have been sourced and chosen by the author.


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Women in the Refugee Crisis series – Why do women turn up to volunteer?

We are extremeley fortunate to platform a three part series focussing on ‘Women in the Refugee Crisis’ by Tazeen Ahmad the founder of Humanity’s Heart , an organisation that was born following a volunteering trip by a small group of people to Calais (The Jungle) in June 2016. Travelling through Calais, Lebanon and Greece, Humanity’s Heart witnesses and shares the experiences of refugees, volunteers, spiritual leaders, politicians and local citizens in what is the biggest challenge the world has faced for over 60 years. The first part in the series reflects on why women turn up to volunteer through a series of short films.

When reflecting on the work of witnessing, sharing and inspiring on the red thread of humanity in the refugee crisis, what came to heart many times during our work, is the role of women. Both refugee women and volunteer women meeting in the relational spaces in the refugee crisis. 

Meeting these women, made me reflect on Mary, the Mother of Jesus and her willingness to surrender to the will of God. It was through her implicit trust in our Source which brought forward the birth of Jesus. They say, “Let the Mary of your body give birth to the Jesus of your soul.” Could this crisis be birthing love and compassion on an epic scale?

Undeniably there have been many male volunteers and their contribution cannot be underestimated 

Although returning from filming, it fascinated me further to learn that in Arabic the names of God “Rahman” (The compassionate) and “Rahim” (The merciful),  the root letters of both R-H-M mean “womb.” It  stirred a deeper  reflection into how the outpouring of the heart towards humanity, hasn’t necessarily been met at an intergovernmental level yet there has been an outpouring of compassion, generosity and love from the hearts of  ordinary people, predominantly women. 

One local volunteer Jeannie Tweed for Elmbridge CAN for example shared: 

“It has been a privilege for me to get to know so many strong women from such different backgrounds to mine. Adjusting to life here is not easy, but their resilience and joyfulness can be humbling. We share limited language but we have connected over food, over children, over my terrible attempts at learning Arabic and my poor dancing, and most of all over humour. About 75% of the volunteers in our team of English teachers, volunteer drivers and general helpers are women. They give their time, their compassion, their understanding and often their professional expertise for no charge because they believe in what we are doing and because they want to make a difference. I have just had a discussion about a job opportunity for one of the refugees with a fellow local Mum while on the school run – women’s networks are amazing.”

So why do women turn up to volunteer?

From Calais, to Greece and into Lebanon, the motivation for volunteer women choosing to turn up varied. For some it was almost as if they were taking a protest vote against the current climate of increased polarization, fear and extremism. 

For others it was the red thread of humanity that simply called their hearts to turn up and serve. 

This flow of compassion sitting in contrast to what official government policies on the crisis have been. 

It’s been exactly this outpouring of humanity from women founded organisations such as Help Refugees, Refuaid, Refugee Action Colchester here in the UK, which witnessed assistance arriving to those displaced by wars. Their contribution is starting to be recognised. Recently Anna Christina Jones  co-founder of Refuaid was listed as one of the forbes 30under30s in their 2019 30under30 in Europe category while  Maria Wily of Refugee Action Colchester  in 2017 won volunteer of the Year for Essex from all her hard and determination assisting Syrian refugees. 

Maria and Iman Mortagy , through their work at Refugee Action Colchester have transformed the lives of many Syrians finding themselves in the coastal town in Essex. Maria Wilby shares how her own experience on entering the country aged 2 was a huge catalyst towards setting up Refugee Action Colchester. She was able to fully empathise with what it’s like to be an outsider.

Together Iman and Maria with Syrian refugees pioneered the Syrian Café at First Site in Colchester, a space bringing together Syrians and the local community through a shared love of food. 

Yet for Iman Mortagy, the reason to turn up and help refugees was more an expression of spiritual activism. 


By Tazeen Ahmad

Taken is founder and producer of Humanity’s Heart. She is a daughter of a migrant, a British Citizen, a mother of two and a believer in the power of humanity. In June 2016, she traveled to Calais. The trip confirmed for her that we have far more in common than which divides us.

It also raised in her a deep curiosity about ‘what motivates others to turn up and serve?’. And ‘what spiritual lessons to humanity are emerging in the largest crisis since WWII?’ It was at that moment, she realised her background in broadcast journalism and finance, fundraising and philanthropy could be put to use. So humanity’s heart was born. She will be running a “How to make a documentary film workshop in June here is the link for the documentary workshop https://www.tazeendhunna.com/media-consultancy/howtomakeadocumentary

Videos and images are the copyright of Humanity’s Heart  follow them on Twitter


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Book review: ‘Let Me Tell You This’ by Nadine Aisha Jassat

You know when you come across a poetry collection so good, you just want to go out and buy a copy for all your friends whether it is their birthday or not? Well, this is it!

‘Let Me Tell You This’ by Nadine Aisha Jassat is just so compelling, I kept on going back and re-reading each one and every time I did so, there was a new meaning, a new layer. Split into three sections; Hands, Words and Voice with each section taking on different aspect of Nadine’s journey in life and her relationships with those closest to her.

“There is so much raw, visceral passion in ‘Let Me Tell You This’ the reader is on a roller coaster all the way through…”

A child of dual heritage, Nadine talks about growing up with her mixed heritage, and doesn’t shy away from sharing the ignorance of her peers. ‘Conversation as Girls’ is layered with hidden, hurtful meaning “I’m glad my parents are the same, Pure Blood’ while ‘Things I Will Tell My Daughter’ may be the shortest of poems but packs a powerful gut punch nonetheless.

There is so much raw, visceral passion in ‘Let Me Tell You This’ the reader is on a roller coaster all the way through, whether it is sharing Nadine’s pain as a customer brands her fake-tan stained hands ‘Paki hands’ or when she talks about the racial and sexist abuse she receives from random men in ‘Hopscotch’. You can’t help but feel her anger, frustration, outrage but also marvel at her bravery and the way each poem leaves an imprint in your mind, so that you’re still thinking about the words, the meanings days later. 

Who said women of colour couldn’t speak out? Because if it is one thing that Nadine does well, it is to use her mastery over the English language in such a way, it will break your heart, soar your spirits and have you demanding more!

By Aisha Ali-Khan

‘Let Me Tell You This’ is available to purchase from Amazon.

Aisha Ali-Khan is a campaigner, activist and avid book reader. As a child of Pakistani migrants, she felt that there just wasn’t enough voices from black or minority backgrounds in literature with whom she could relate to and identify with while she was growing up. Later, as an English teacher, Aisha would use poetry to bring her lessons alive, and introduced her pupils to many new and upcoming authors and poets.

 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

 

 


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Book review: ‘What if it were you?’ by Elizabeth Arif-Fear

Image credit: Elizabeth Arif-Fear and Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers)

 The title of Elizabeth Arif-Fear’s excellent collection of poems, ‘What if it were you?’ is a reminder, if we need one, of the fragility of many women’s lives. Hopes and dreams may be shaped by the political landscape and the country we are born into. Often our belief in God is what helps to define us.

” It’s uncomfortable reading, the visual imagery is raw as if Ms Arif-Fear has cried her way through each stanza.”

The short verses of each poem pack a powerful punch through the exploration of FGM, free speech, genocide and mysogyny. Each poem is like a stick of dynamite, exploding myths and breaking down barriers. The force of the descriptive language literally takes our breath away.

It’s uncomfortable reading, the visual imagery is raw as if Ms Arif-Fear has cried her way through each stanza. The poetry is gripping; it’s a book which draws us through it at an incredible speed, as if you are on a train passing through the very worst and occasionally the best of human nature. The book contains stories of women that must be told, deserve to be applauded.

It is a book detailing the power of faith and the equality with which that faith is bound to. Elizabeth Arif-Fear seems to effortlessly step into the shoes of an unimaginably large number of women, each with their own extraordinary story. Her writing is so perceptive that it is as if we are taken on a journey through the depravity of the human soul. We do not leave unscathed, our senses are left reeling from the experience. Ms Arif- Fear has a gift for propelling the reader on a real life roller coaster through the streets of Syria, the UK and within the confines of any place where a woman is suffering.

Sometimes we are filled with despair, at other times we sniff a glimmer of hope for a future where true equality between women and men is a reality.

By Anna Hussain

Elizabeth Arif-Fear is also one of our regular contributors. ‘What if it were you?’ is available to buy on Amazon.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Muslim & Jewish Women are going above and beyond to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’

The power of going beyond our limited thinking to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’. Mehatma Gandhi

At this time of uncertainty it’s easy to take our fearful thinking seriously and not question it. We can either retreat into ourselves and/or become more fearful of others. 

We may not realise it but our thoughts create our experience of life whether consciously (like when we are thinking about what we are going to say to someone) or unconsciously (like when we automatically make a cup of tea and are not aware of the thoughts that instruct us to do it).

But since thoughts are constantly flowing through us, often at great speed and ever changing, how trustworthy are they? 

When our thoughts look real, we live in a world of suffering. When they look subjective, we live in a world of choice. When they look arbitrary, we live in a world of possibility. And when we see them as illusory, we wake up inside a world of dreams.” – Michael Neill (2013), taken from ‘The Inside-out Revolution: The Only Thing You Need to Know to Change Your Life Forever.’

We are constantly, and innocently, making judgements about other people then acting out of that thinking; often without even realising we are doing this. It’s easy to make judgements about people but what are these judgements based on? How reliable are they? How much do we really know about the people we are judging? 

I was reminded of this recently when I had dealings with someone who I judged unfairly. I later found out that what I had interpreted as being pushy was in fact a passion for what they do as a result of them personally overcoming adversity that had a profound impact on them. Until I understood this I had interpreted their enthusiasm as something quite different. Needless to say I felt very remorseful but glad to have been retaught this lesson. 

We often think that our experience of life comes from what other people do and our circumstances rather than how we are viewing those other people and our circumstances in any given moment, a view that can change with our mood, how we are feeling, fresh thinking we have etc.

An example of this was when I was contracting at work and my contract was coming up for renewal.  I came into work one day feeling a bit insecure and no one spoke to me. I started to think maybe I had done something wrong and maybe my contract wouldn’t get renewed, so I started to feel even more insecure. Then I noticed that everyone was just working really hard and were up against it because of a deadline they had to meet and I realised they weren’t talking to me because they were busy and it had nothing to do with me. In that moment of realisation that my insecurity was coming from me and not from them it disappeared just like that. If I hadn’t noticed this I could have innocently acted out of my insecurity and done something that could have put me in not such a good light. 

Sometimes in life we need to step outside our comfort zone and go beyond the limitations that we and what we perceive others think is possible. A few months ago I did just that by passing my driving test at the age of 44. Something I and I everyone else I knew never thought I could do. How was I able to do this I hear you ask? Well partly I had a good reason that helped to motivate me beyond my fearful and self limiting beliefs (that I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t have good spatial awareness, that all other drivers were scary etc.). But also I had the understanding that fearful and self limiting beliefs were just thoughts like any other that ebb and flow. So when this thinking crept up on me, which it often did when I was attempting to drive, for the most part I was able to see beyond them and concentrate on the here and now of driving rather than the noise in my head. 

What I’m learning is that when see our thinking for what it is we start to see our thoughts as arbitrary which liberates us to go beyond their limitations and opens us up to people and possibilities in the world far beyond what we would have thought possible. 

In less than a month’s time an organisation that I am very passionate about – Nisa Nashim, the Jewish Muslim Women’s Network – will bring together Muslim and Jewish women from around the UK, who are bucking the trend of fear and separation and what they think is possible to come together for a one day conference on “Faith and Friendship: Shaping the future together”. We’ll explore what it means to view cross-community friendship as an engine of social transformation. We’ll ask, what does it mean to practice friendship as a form of social action? What role does friendship play in unlocking women’s leadership? What can our faith traditions teach us about being better friends and changemakers?

As Jo Cox so poignantly said in her maiden speech to parliament “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” The programme for the day reflects this with a wide range of sessions on issues that affect both Muslim and Jewish women such as Islamophobia and Antisemitism, campaigning and advocacy, and caring from the environment. It features a range of high profile women each courageous in their own way, including Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick, MP Naz Shah, Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, Deputy Mayor Debbie Weekes-Bernard and Annette Lawson OBE, the all-female team from Solutions Not Sides.  

So why not go beyond what you see is possible, “be the change you want to see in the world” and join us on Sunday 7 April

By George Halfin

George Halfin is on the steering committee for the Nisa Nashim Conference. She is an Innate Health coach and author of the blog Confessions of An Overthinker. She is also a Project Manager for Terrence Higgins Trust where she is currently working on a series of interactive films called ‘Their Story, Your Choice’ that aims to challenge people’s views and perceptions about HIV. 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.