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How can the British Army engage with UK Muslims?

Photo credit: Hifsa Haroon Iqbal

This week, Akeela Ahmed, (Founder of SheSpeaksWeHear and chair of the UK government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group) arranged for a group of 20 Muslim women to visit Pirbright Army Training Centre. This incredible opportunity proved to be a real eye-opener in terms of forming a better understanding of the Armed Forces’ values, moral principles and ethos. The visit gave me plenty of food for thought, especially regarding what it means to be a British Muslim and our place in wider society.

Read on to understand more about this trip and some of my reflections from this important visit.

Driving up to the gates of Pirbright Army Training Centre initially felt intimidating, but this all changed when we were greeted with a warm welcome by senior members of the armed forces, and offered tea and biscuits. If there’s one thing that brings British people of all persuasions together, it’s the universal love of a good cuppa and a biccie.

Photo credit: Akeela Ahmed

Diversity and representation is crucial.

It is evident that the job of the British Army is to protect all the citizens of the UK. And, as the UK becomes increasingly diverse, so must the makeup of traditional institutions including the armed forces.

The British Armed Forces currently has around 10% women, which is still below the government’s target of 15%. There are currently around 450 Muslims serving in the regular armed forces.

Photo credit: Akeela Ahmed

Throughout the day, it became apparent that the army is extremely accommodating when it comes to faith. Padres are Christian ministers whose job it is to guide soldiers of all faiths and those without faith, with humanistic principles. In addition, there are also Armed Forces Chaplains available for soldiers of other specific faiths, including Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh.

Additionally, prayer rooms are available, as well as halal food on-site. The dress code can also be aligned with Islamic principles; Muslim men can wear a full beard, and for women, hijab can be incorporated within the uniform.

Universal human values and moral standards.

My personal highlight of the day was a presentation by Padre Nigel Kinsella, talking about the values and moral principles of the British Army. In particular, the military uses the mnemonic CDRILS, which stands for: Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty, and Selfless Commitment. It’s pretty clear to me that these values are universal human values, that align to principles at the heart of Islam.

The British Army has a duty to protect all UK citizens.

As Muslims, one of the biggest threats comes from radicalisation, especially given that the majority of the victims of terrorist attacks have been other Muslims. Radicalisation is one of the biggest problems in the world today, and it affects all of us. It seems to me that the British Army is there to provide protection against all threats that are affecting UK citizens, and that of course, includes the Muslim community.

It’s clear that the job of the army is to do the things that other people are not willing to do. This does not simply mean reacting to real-world events. It also means providing humanitarian aid, disaster recovery and providing assistance in the event of a large-scale emergency.

We will not be divided.

Islam is by no means a pacifist faith. As Muslims, we have a loyalty to the country we were born into and live in. In addition, the rhetoric of the far-right, including that of Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson, seeks to divide us. Major General Duncan Capps, Muslim Champion for the Armed Forces was unequivocal in disassociating this dangerous rhetoric from the values of the UK armed forces. Any form of racism or discrimination is taken extremely seriously.

Robinson, in particular has used the army to push forward his anti-Muslim ideology. The army has absolutely denounced Robinson’s attempts to hijack their cause and have signalled a zero-tolerance approach against all forms of extremism.

The Army needs to do more to champion diversity to connect with young British Muslims.

My perceptions of the British Army are very different after this visit. I now have a better understanding of what the British Army does and how it affects me as a British citizen. As someone with a background in digital marketing, I feel the army needs to be doing a lot more to get their message across. There’s definitely an information gap and more needs to be done to engage with people of different backgrounds.

A couple of years ago, the British Army released a new campaign video entitled “Keeping My Faith – This is Belonging”. The ad featured a Muslim soldier praying, overlooked by other troops. In my mind, this is little to do with so-called PC-culture, and actually pretty reflective of the army’s ethos of inclusion. The military is one of the few institutions that doesn’t care about your background, your upbringing, your lack of an education or what you have been through. For many recruits, it offers a second chance at success or redemption.

Although the focus on on recruitment, the objective should be to change the perception of the armed forces. It may take a generation for there to be more Muslims serving, but that journey begins with changing hearts and minds. Certainly, it’s not something that will change overnight, but undertaking initiatives for different communities to get to know each other better is a great first step.

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

Author Bio: Aliya Zaidi is a self-confessed geek, a blogger, an avid foodie, and a mother of two. Aliya is a freelance digital marketing writer and research professional, writing mostly about online marketing and advertising. Check out her About.me page: https://about.me/aliyazaidi or read her tweets at https://twitter.com/aliyazaidi.


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Ten questions with Zohra Khaku from the BBC’s Muslims Like Us

zohra-khaku

What is it really like be a modern-day British Muslim? The BBC’s Muslims Like Us, broadcast at the end of 2016, sought to find an answer to this question, by making ten Muslims of different backgrounds share a house with each other. There was conflict, there was controversy, but there was also connection.

We caught up with Zohra Khaku, one of the housemates to find out more about the programme and her experience of sharing a house with ten complete strangers.

1. What made you want to appear on a programme like Muslims Like Us?

When talking to the producers of the show, I had been emphasising how strongly I feel about standing up and taking responsibility for our narrative as Muslims in the UK. When she asked if I’d come on the show, I couldn’t really say no!

2. What was it like staying in a house with ten random people?

At times it was brilliant – meeting new people, getting to know them better and experiencing the beginning of new relationships. We had some really fun moments including playing charades and staying up late talking through the night. Some bits were difficult – sharing a room with someone I didn’t know was hard, and the mess in the kitchen really bothered me!

3. Was there anyone you particularly got along with?

Mehreen! We got on really well, and are still in touch almost every day.

4. Was there anyone in particular you clashed with?

I found Abdul Haq’s views really hard to deal with. As you saw on episode two, it was particularly difficult for me when talking about coming from a Shia background. His views on it being okay to harm people who he deems to be ‘outside the fold of Islam’ really disturbed me, and I decided to challenge him. For the rest of my time in the house, every time Abdul talked about prejudice, I pointed out his cognitive dissonance and just couldn’t bear to listen to him any more.

5. Did you find there were a lot of differing views?

So many differing views! People came from such different backgrounds and life experiences, so as expected there were lots of opinions. Eventually we found a way to be functional, although many discussions were difficult and make for difficult viewing.

6. What would you say were the main points of discussion that you all agreed upon?

Nabil’s ‘Feed the Homeless’ activity was such a uniting time for the housemates. We all loved the values that the afternoon represented, and worked together as a team without any issues at all.

7. What were your main concerns going into the house, and how did the reality of the experience match with your initial expectations?

I decided to go in with a really open mind, so I didn’t really have many concerns. I told myself I’d be myself and go with the flow, and that’s what I did. The experience was intense, with some fantastic and some horrible moments.

8. What were your main takeaways from this experience, or what did you learn?

I learned a few things about myself. It seems that I cry when I’m angry and upset! And I learned that there are circumstances under which I would call the anti-terrorism police.

9. Do you feel the programme will help to change the image of British Muslims (either in a positive or negative way)?

I hope so! From some of the posts I’ve seen online and messages I’ve received already, a lots of people seem to have learned some things about Muslims, even if it’s just realising that Muslims are not a monolithic community.
Within the Muslim community I hope it causes some debate, but most of all, I hope that the idea that we need to stop judging each other spreads a bit more widely. I’ve seen comments already calling the group horrible names. At the end of the day, we’re taught to have good akhlaq (manners) and I think some of the comments online could do with a bit of that.

10. Did the experience change your perceptions of what it means to be a British Muslim?

I think I learned some things from the other housemates. Hearing their experiences around issues they deal with in their daily lives was as fascinating as ever. Peoples lives are interesting, and the housemates were no different. My own perception of what it’s like to be a British Muslim hasn’t changed.


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What are British Values?

By Anjum Peerbacos

@mamaanji

David Cameron visits the Harris Academy in Bermondsey

David Cameron visits the Harris Academy Bermondsey where he meets with students and teachers.

 

“Eating Fish n Chips Miss” was the response when I asked my Year 9 class. I posed this question as David Cameron has asked teachers up and down the country to teach our young people “British Values”, but as a person born and bred in Great Britain, I’m not entirely sure what he means.

Do I agree with the Year 9 students? Is being British eating fish and chips on a Friday? Well then in that case I’m very British, the school canteen serves fins and chips every Friday and the alternative can be limited. Or is it going to a sporting event and standing and swearing your allegiance and loyalty to the Queen as the national anthem was blasted out of the speakers in the stadium. I did this yesterday at the Olympic Park whilst watching a basketball game with my family. Is this being British or instilling British Values?

Or is it supporting team GB regardless of the catastrophic defeat which they claimed! Every basket, foul, challenge roared through the supporters in the crowd. Is this being inherently British? If so then that’s a big yes for me.

Or is it supporting Andy Murray at Wimbledon, or Mo Farah at the Olympics? Tick

Or is it merely putting the kettle on in a crisis? Or when celebrating? Or having a chat with friends? Or having tea and cake in the afternoon? If that’s the case then I’m definitely British. The afternoon tea and cake is a staple in our household, so that must put us high up in the Britishness stakes.

Or is it the painful politeness of being trodden on and then apologising to the person who has done the treading?

Or being so extremely excruciatingly close to someone and still not uttering a word, in other words, on the crowded underground train during rush hour. Sounds extremely British. Then again, by that measure, I am definitely British.

Or is being British never crying in public, “I don’t cry, I’m British” taken from the children’s movie “Planes”. Yup not me, cry like a baby behind closed doors but never, ever in public.

The list could go on and on, of course, but what does Cameron actually mean? I actually believe that the tolerance and acceptance and the humanity in Great Britain makes it Great. Charity events, humanitarian aid, people feeling persecution from all over the world being able to seek refuge here; that’s what makes us Great Britain. Having an understanding of the value of human life, all human life makes us Great Britain.

 

Anjum Perrbacos is a mother writer living, teaching and learning, in 21st century London. Of Asian origin (beige- ish), wearing a hijab – not a terrorist! A Londoner through and through and proud to be so. Currently Vice Chair of local Constituency Labour Party. Promoting Political engagement within diverse communities. You can follow her on Twitter @Mammaanji or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IAmLondonToo/
Image credits: Number 10 on Flickr
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.