Akeela Ahmed

Currently, I sit on a national level government working group on anti-Muslim hatred, based at the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I am the Muslim Family Specialist with the Christian Muslim Forum.

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Who are you?

I have over 10 years experience providing support to vulnerable individuals with complex social and mental health difficulties – specialising in high intensity support services to young people and homeless people from diverse backgrounds, including refugees, asylum seekers, ex-offenders and BAME groups.

I was the Chief Executive of the Muslim Youth Helpline for three years, and have advised the NSPCC, Demos’s Faith Inquiry, Mosaic’s Ex-Offender Programme, Eastenders’ production team, Home Office, Department of Communities & Local Government and the Foreign Office, as well as the governments of the US and Singapore. Currently, I sit on a national level government working group on anti-Muslim hatred, based at the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I am the Muslim Family Specialist with the Christian Muslim Forum.

I have just returned from maternity leave and reprised my role as director of the family business, which provides vital accommodation and social housing to low income families/individuals. I also hold an MSc in Mental Health Studies from the Institute of Psychiatry. When I can, I regularly contribute to the media, both at a national and international level, having appeared on BBC Radio 4, BBC News, Five News, Sky News, and the Guardian to name a few.

 

Give us your favorite quote and tell us why it mean so much to you:

“Some of you say,’Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

This stanza means a lot to me, as often in life there are times of joy and there are times of sorrow. Sometimes during the times of sorrow, I have felt bereft, even despair but this stanza reminds me that sorrow like joy is part and parcel of life. In order to understand either joy or sorrow, one must have experienced the other. I find this comforting. To me, it means that life isn’t perfect and neither is it supposed to be. Life is full of ups and downs, and often through painful experiences we learn life’s most important lessons. And similarly during times of happiness, I have learnt that it is a time in which our minds have space to reflect, feel love and compassion for others who are not in the happy “place” we are.

 

Islamic Perspective:

What Ayah of the Quran do you hold close to your heart? Why?
Yusuf Ali: O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

Recent studies have shown that many of us are increasingly feeling lonely and alone. This sense of isolation can and is leading to depression and anxiety. This verse of the Quran resonates with me closely because through my work in mental health, I have observed how social bonds and support are a buffer against illnesses such as depression and illnesses. It is amazing that the Quran encourages us to get to know one another, across cultures (tribes) and nationalities (nations).

The meaning of this verse is multi layered; one can also use it as a prescription for marriage – to not restrict ourselves to marrying from within our own culture or ethnic group. It is also a signal that we should be proactive getting to know others from outside our own backgrounds and faith. Growing up in the UK, I have experienced anti-Muslim bigotry and prejudice, but I have also experienced racism from my fellow Muslims based on the fact that I am of Indian heritage. It comforts me to know that Allah has spoken against this in the Quran, encouraging us to know one another.

What Hadith do you wish more non-Muslims knew about? Why?
“And be aware that people fall under one of two categories: they are either your brother and sister in faith, or they are your counterpart in humanity.”
― Imam Ali bin abi Taleb

I would love for non-Muslims to be aware of the Hadith above, so that they can understand that the essence of Islam does not teach Muslims to be elitist, or hostile to others, and that this is in fact emphasised by not only the Prophet but those around him, like his nephew and son in law Ali ibn abi Taleb. This Hadith is humanistic in its values and is signalling to Muslims that when it comes to interacting with others, religion or differences are secondary to the values and way in which you treat people. I feel this Hadith is a perfect lesson for all Muslims to live by when interacting with non-Muslims.

 

The “Ten”:

1. What is your favorite book?
‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth.

2. Who inspires/inspired you?
My mother, Naisra and my sisters Sukaina and Fatema – for their unwavering support and unconditional love. And feminists such as Gloria Steinham, Bell Hooks, Professor Kimberle Crenshaw, Caroline Criado-Perez, and the numerous black and asian feminists whose voices and writing have helped me make sense of my life. The Prophet’s wife Khadijah.

3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
My mother taught me to be fair and just in the way I treat people. I always try to treat people as I wish to be treated, it such a simple concept but very transformative.

4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
To appreciate how I look and not to worry what others think of me!

5. What are your hopes for your daughter(s) and/or son(s)?
I hope my daughters can achieve their dreams without their gender being a barrier. I hope my son can be a true man who treats women as equals and opposes patriarchy.

6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
In my role as director of a Muslim charity, my personal information was illegally hacked and I endured months of harassment. During that time I felt scared, silenced and withdrew into myself. I also vowed to make sure that I fight all forms of misogyny: structural, violent and implicit gender inequality embedded within all cultures.

7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
I regret not standing up for myself and having the confidence to believe in myself. I wish I had thought less, and didn’t question myself! I also regretted putting the “cause” before my family.

8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
I try to reflect on what I have done and why I am doing it. I always ask myself if what I have done will please God.

9. How do you bring about real change?
I have learned that real change comes through dedicating yourself to making that change. It is important to be committed and consistent in your principles, whilst trying to achieve your goal. And most crucially change can be achieved by enrolling the people around you, in your vision. Fundamentally however change begins within yourself, start there and everything else will follow.

10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
For being compassionate and having treated people justly and fairly. And for being a good mum.

Video Message from Akeela:

http://youtu.be/onH7JMWcLc0

 

More About Akeela:

http://akeelaahmed.com
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