Adventures in social mobility

British Islam Conference

Presenter: Hashi Mohamed

The topic of social mobility is a vexing question in British society.

Hashi was born in Kenya to Somali parents. The eighth child in a family of twelve. His father died when he was very young arriving as an unaccompanied child refugee at the age of 9. He grew up in a disadvantaged community with under achieving schools and the challenges associated with social and economic deprivation.

He was very lucky to have studied at Oxford under a full scholarship and then went onto become a barrister. The past 24 years have involved moving between very different worlds and the challenge of reconciling them and finding a place that is comfortable remains a challenge. Here are some thoughts on this topic:

He refers to Afua Hirch’s book where she writes about difference in generations; one that came here with nothing and works really hard for the future of his children and the struggles of the following generations in regards to identity. The first generations struggle was to survive and this generations luxury of understanding who they really are. But it is a real struggle and one doesn’t diminish the other.

Hashi has experienced both. Arriving as an impoverished child and now grappling with identity. Then there is the question of multiple identities. As a Muslim you are likely to be in multiple categories. Muslim + ethnic minority + woman and the associated challenges this brings. Add to this are the British aspects of Class, what type of education you had, your accent and the mindset you carry.

We need to adjust our own expectations as to what can be achieved by members of our own community. You need to be confident in your own skin.

Jews and Muslims: Shared ancestry and values

British Islam Conference

Presenter: Edwin Shuker

Jews have lived in what was known as the land of Babylon and is currently Iraq for 2,600 years. The past 1,400 years of which they have lived alongside Arab Muslims.

He paid tribute to the late Maureen Kendler who passedrecently before the talk was delivered. She taught us to have empathy for the ‘other’. The importance of understanding how the other side feels before engaging in any constructive dialogue.

There isn’t one truth in the world. No-one has a monopoly on how to reach God. We both believe in the prophet Abraham. We have the same objectives.

Conversion to Islam

British Islam Conference

Presenter: Batool al-Toma

Between isolation and integration

There are three distinct communities; The heritage Muslim community, the convert community and wider society.

For converts there is rapture and rupture. The rapture is the inner delight and excitement of finding a spiritual path and a relationship with God. The rupture occurs when you share your experience with those who are close to you. The tearing apart of your relationships as you face the negative reaction to your conversion.

You face alienation from both sides; Muslims and non-Muslims. You feel like a pendulum swinging from the society you came from and the Muslim society you are entering into. Trying to find a peaceful resting place in both these communities.

Your family expect you to come back from this temporary phase of conversion. There is little cultural sensitivity from Muslims towards converts. There is an expectation from the Muslim community of sameness. That all Muslims must be exactly the same. But we are all different with different identities. You can’t make us all the same. Muslims find it difficult to understand that we are all different and not the same.

We need to be comfortable with a sense of Britishness in Islam. Batool developed a marriage ceremony that made it easier for the families of converts to attend a Muslim wedding and for the process to be a better cultural fit for British converts.