We must collaborate to meet the mental health needs of young British Muslims

With Self-harm awareness last Friday the 1st March 2013, I was reminded of the high percentage of calls that the Muslim Youth Helpline received relating to self harm and suicide. Still very much a taboo subject within wider society, it is even more so within the UK Muslim communities. It also does not help that self harm is misunderstood and seen to be a “sin” within Islam. So young people that do self harm are often seen as seeking attention, succumbing to peer pressure and are chastised.

I wrote a short blog piece for the community care magazine website, which is still relevant today. If, as mental health workers and social care providers we are going to support young people in particular BAME young people, then we need to collaborate across agencies and sectors – mental health services and third sector – in order to reach those hardest to reach. Then only we can provide adequate care, ensuring that a significant minority of young Muslims do not slip under the radar. Like any other young person they need help to overcome their issues. In particular young South Asian females are more likely to self harm than their counterparts, the majority of whom are of Pakistani and Bengali origin, hence Muslim.

Muslim Power List

So at the risk of seeming narcissistic, I am posting stuff that relates to my past achievements and recognition. One blogger, who wrote about myself and hubby in not so nice terms, wrote that he likes to prick the ego’s of the famous and those in the public eye. At first I was appalled, now I take it as a badge of honour – never really thought of myself as someone in the public eye. Still do not. Just like to do good work.

Anyhow, a few years ago I was given the accolade of being included in the Muslim Power List. I was very honoured and humbled to be recognised in such a way, but didn’t have the time to mention it anywhere. The list was created independently and anonymously, so I didn’t actually know I had been included until a former colleague mentioned it.


Launch of centre for identities & social justice, Goldsmiths

I was doing a search on myself and this came up. Reminding me that I had spoken at the launch of the Centre for Identities & Social Justice, alongside Sunny Hundal and others, in October 2011.

I will have to dig out my speech, but the gist of what I said was that British Muslim young people were more than likely to be marginalised, suffered from fractured identity and had a significant lack of access to opportunities that ensured good psychological well being. Government funding under the prevent programme meant that much needed funds were available for Muslim communities to capacity build internally and begin to address these issues. Thereby promoting social cohesion and a sense of belonging for young British Muslims. However the lens of securitisation through which this funding came from, also meant that young Muslims felt pathologised and were often problematised.

Care needed to be taken to achieve the right balance of how this funding was used positively, and not to ultimately isolate young Muslims further. Through the discussion and debate, I agreed that a civil liberties approach could safeguard against this.

The socio-political landscape has changed a lot since I spoke at that launch. Prevent funding now focuses exclusively on counter-terrorism. And the coalition government only funds projects which tackle extremism, including far right ideology, and Muslim extremists.

Violent roots of radicalisation: submission of evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee

So as you can see I am posting a backlog of work which I think would be interesting for you. A while ago, I gave evidence to the Home Affairs select committee which is led by Keith Vaz MP, on the violent roots of radicalisation. You can read some of what I said here, although for the full inquiry you will need to buy the book.

When Two Faiths Meet

As promised previously, here is an example of a piece of work, I helped create during the last few months:

Heather has been working with couples in mixed relationships or interfaith marriages (ifm) for over 15 years. She was very passionate that the issues around IFM were not fully understood or even known about. Meaning that often couples and families were left in a vacuum of isolation with little support from families and communities.

I also have friends who had married “outside” of their Muslim faith, and as a consequence were ostracised by friends and family. I witnessed these friends suffer psychologically and face life changing decisions which ultimately meant that they either left their faith and/or family behind.

So Heather felt there was a need to produce ethical guidelines for Imams and Clergy on interfaith marriage, which were not theological or prescriptive but gave faith and community leaders the tools to navigate the reality of IFM. I wholeheartedly supported this initiative, and inputed into their creation, advising on the pastoral needs from a Muslim perspective.

The guidelines were launched in the Westminster Abbey on the 26th November 2012, I gave a short speech.

Christian Muslim Forum


A quick blog post to say that my details are finally up on the Christian Muslim Forum (CMF) website. Yay! After nearly a year and a half with the forum, I finally managed to send them an updated bio and photo to place on the website.

I joined the forum in June 2011, as the Muslim Family specialist, joining forces with my esteemed colleague Heather Al-Yousef. Since then we have worked together on workshops for Christian and Muslim mothers, on how to handle difficult teenage relationships, as well as more recently producing guidelines for Imams and clergy on interfaith marriage.

It has been a wonderful experience working with Christian counterparts on the same issues, and sharing the same values and vision.

I will try to keep the blog updated with more details of the work I do with CMF and other organisations. By the way you can also read my updated bio, on the link above!


Friday thought(s) of the day

Something I have observed during my short life. Everyone is born with the capacity to become a great leader, to have endless compassion, the capacity to forgive in their heart, overlook the faults of others and be kind when you see someone suffering (even if you do not agree with their actions). We are not born to be followers, but slowly over time our hearts are eroded and we forget we ever had this greatness in us. Following or appeasing the crowd/others becomes applauded and we can no longer see that this is another manifestation of our ego and ultimately results in the degradation of our souls.

Yet speaking up or standing up for what you believe in, does not mean attacking another personally or trampling over them. Something I always say, is that you can say anything you want – without hurting others or harming yourself, if you couch it in the right way, with compassion.

The Top 6 Actions that promote career success (from Forbes.com)

Here is a link to an article that I came across today. It details six actions that promote career success, sounds simple and when you think about it, it really is. Nevertheless, these actions really resonated with me so I thought I’d share them with you.

Although aimed at women, I think these tips are useful for men too: anyone who finds themselves on a career roundabout or with an attitude that holds them back.


Hope you find it as useful!

For my husband Dr Nafeez Ahmed

Below is a status I posted on my facebook for my dearest husband, on our 12th year marriage anniversary (25/10/12)…

People who know me well, know that I’m normally a private person, who tries to keep work and personal life separate, (as much as I could working in the community). Close friends would often tell me off for not, introducing Nafeez properly, or taking him with me to “high-level” networking type events. Often I was told, “I didn’t know you were married to Nafeez Ahmed!” In fact an MYH Trustee, whom I worked with for nearly four years, remarked in June “It was only recently I found out, (as a result of everything that happened at MYH), that you are married to the British Muslim who had a spat with Christopher Hitchens!”, “well yes”, I replied “our politics and professional work are so different ”. My Nafeez is a neo-Marxist academic (I think) and I’m well let’s just say more pragmatic than a radical.

But today is our 12th year anniversary of marriage and I’m breaking a long habit to come out of my protective bubble and wish Nafeez a happy 12th year anniversary in a very public way. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed jaan, I cannot believe it is 12 years since we embarked on this journey together. There has been tears, sadness, crises but all of these have just made the laughter, wonderment, joy, amazement and happiness all that much sweeter and precious.

For me, for many reasons this anniversary is a special one, despite everything that has happened this year in such a public way. For what is not in the public domain is that my personal email and records were savagely intruded upon by a group of individuals over indulging in voyeurism to know the medical records of my immediate family, to know the finances of the family business, and to know, and this has been the thing that I have found hardest to grapple with over the last few months, intimate and personal details of our relationship that no other is privy to. And for this my darling Nafeez I am sorry. I am sorry that because of who I am, where I worked, the values I held close to my heart and the dream I believed in, that we were violated in this way, but most importantly I couldn’t be that garment for you the Qur’an refers to. The irony hasn’t escaped me that over the last few months, whilst I haven’t been able to protect your confidentiality, I have and still am protecting the confidentiality of this group of individuals.

So my darling hubby Happy Anniversary. Here’s to, a lifetime together in this world and an eternity together in the next!

What does it mean?

I’m always struck by how much meaning we attach to conversations we have with those around us. I’ve done it myself, a loved one had said something completely innocuous, however I have taken it as a criticism or viewed it in a negative way, which then led to a confrontation or passive negativity. Often we are not cognizant of the fact that we are attaching our own views to what people are saying, effectively filtering what we hear and how we hear it.

‘Non-violent Communication’ by Marshall Rosenberg provides useful tools to unravel the way we hear, what it is that people are telling us and in fact disentangle that, from what it is they actually need. Thus, you are able to truly hear what is being said.

Communication is critical, to every aspect of our lives, so it’s critical that we can, not only communicate effectively but in a way that is non-violent and compassionate.

I have learnt a lot since joining MYH, however communicating in a way that is compassionate, and listening without judgement, are two essential life skills that I have had the opportunity to hone and continuously strive to embody. I am sure these will stay with me for the rest of my life and enable me to meaningfully connect with others.

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