Nasreen Saiad is former President, Sisters’ Wing of UKIM and is currently a member of its Central Shura. UK Islamic Mission (UKIM) is a registered charity organization formed in 1962 to “cater for the needs of a new growing Muslim community” in the UK. It works in “establishing mosques for worship, catering for the religious education of children, organising religious and community functions, and producing basic literature on Islam in English.” Apart from this, Mrs. Nasreen Saiad is also a parent group facilitator and relationship coach and a mother of four.
In my childhood, I was quite shy and timid – one of the backbenchers. From the beginning, there was always a little spark for Islam in my heart. I didn’t grow up in a religious community/household; although culturally my parents always kept that spark, throughout school and college I was very secular. I will admit that. After having two kids at the time when the Babri Masjid riots took place; I think that was a turning point in my life. That was the first time I started thinking and reflecting and at that time I read the book Let us be Muslims (translation of Maulana Maududi’s Khutbat). That book stirred me. I started reflecting on all the things happening in India. At the time I was a young mum; my daughter was just 6 months old and I was looking at the communal riots that happened in Bombay where young Muslim girls got raped. I was thinking being a Muslim, why is Allah not helping us; why are we being so humiliated; my heart used to cry when you feel things; then only you change.
The Prophet (SAW) when he wanted peace, used to go to Cave Hira but once he got the message, he never went back to Cave Hira; instead, he came to the marketplaces and gave the message from the plains of Mount Arafah; he came to gatherings of people. Therefore I believe community work is very important. We need to do community work in whatever way we can. Community work is quite a big spectrum. I think if any lay-person is asked what community work means; the reply would be only charity. But I think community work is more than that. The most important community work is developing future leaders. I have full faith in the youth that they have the necessary skills, knowledge and techniques. The community needs to trust them and develop them into future leaders. That is where we can see actual community work happening. Having a little trust in our youngsters e and allowing them to make mistakes will help them experience new ways of working. If our youngsters are encouraged we will surely see the community work happening across the spectrum, In Sha Allah.
‘Identifying needs’ doesn’t start just by an individual’s understanding. When a team does the work of identifying the issues or needs of the communities, it may happen that each one has his/her own reservations and cultural understanding. But separating one’s own reservations from what is happening in the community is very important because I may not agree with what is happening in the community but its needs should be definitely addressed
To come to common terms, I think having a dialogue with people who are aware and eligible to understand the problems is necessary. If you talk to any and everybody, then you may not arrive at a conclusion. But if you sit with like-minded people, then you identify and come to a consensus on issues. Doing so is necessary to have a wide understanding of things which may help in identifying real issues. Sometimes when you look at things with a clustered mind, issues may seem intimidating, but when you look at them together, you realize that there is one main underlying issue beneath all these other issues and then it can be identified. We need to understand the issue and the people that are related to it. We need to empathize with the people. If there is a lack of empathy on our part we are not going to solve anything.
So firstly, we need to have a team of like-minded people, then we have to get rid of our reservations in a very fair environment. We need to identify the issues and have strategies as to how we are going to solve them. Things may not go exactly as planned so we need to have patience and implement our strategy and keep monitoring every step. When you’re doing community work and addressing community challenges or issues, as organizers or as leaders we should be very clear in our minds. The leader should be very focused and organized. We need to have clarity of vision.
Britain is supposed to be a multicultural society. There are loads of opportunities available in Britain, different lifestyles; there is awareness, and there is education. Despite earlier reservations, British Muslims are working in the field of academics, as professionals, in business, and everywhere as mentors; there is a new face of the British Muslim community coming up. There’s lots of Islamophobia in the media and everything is there but at the same time, I think the British Muslims are really contributing and they want to show what Muslims and Islam stand for. So MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) for the first time in its history, elected a young woman as the President , a 31-year-old Zara Mohammad. They’ve trusted her with this position, that shows how the Muslim community has grown and matured and they are meeting the needs of the time. They want to contribute not only to the Muslim community but to the wider community as well. I’m very optimistic about the future of the Muslim community, particularly the youth who are working towards the future with a sense of moderation.
I was trained for this role as a parent group facilitator in 2010 in the UK. There’s a mainstream charity organization called Family Link. They had approached us as the majority of us had migrated from our homeland and were struggling with our parenting. We had migrated from one context to another context and we would always look at how our parents raised us and think that may not work today. So, So, this organization approached for the 10-week nurturing program they were running. they talked about the 4 constraints of parenting: about being positive, having empathy, positively correcting things, and the concept of punishment. It was a residential training program and when the organisers saw that we could become facilitators, we ran groups we ran groups for 10 weeks in which we took all the parents on a journey of parenting. The course itself was called The Nurturing Course.
It was nurturing the parents and giving them the techniques and skills and creating that healthy relationship between the parent and the child. It wasn’t about “my way or the highway” or “I’m only right”; it was teaching children about the right options such as teaching them to identify what they want so they can choose wisely and how to set their limits and boundaries. The most important thing was that it was carried out according to Islamic principles. So had we just approached Muslim community and said we’re doing a parenting course then it wouldn’t have been that effective. But because it was incorporating Islamic values, the community could see that and were very happy. At the end of the sessions, the parents were more self-aware about who they are. They were more empathetic about what their children are going through, they were more aware and conscious about how to fulfill their role.
I’m also a relationship coach. The community is in a crisis. One problem is finding the right spouse and another is the crisis of failed marriages. The divorce rate is high due to the issue of compatibility.
In the relationship coach program, again, I do it in a very Islamic manner, incorporating Islamic values. I try to get both spouses on board. We cover topics like what is the concept of love in Islam and one of the main things that I focus on is communication. That is where most couples are failing. We talk about “I” statements when the couple is talking to each other. When you start using “you” statements “oh you’re always doing this”; like a blaming kind of mentality, not taking responsibility for your own mistakes, that is a major concern. One of the major things that I do is talk about communication and the different love languages, the language of apology and we also talk about praising each other.
In conflict resolution, we first try to identify whether that conflict really is there or not. Conflict resolution will come when you understand the love languages and the language of apology. Maybe I’m happy if my husband gives me roses and rings but maybe my husband’s love language is acts of service so he comes home one day and says “hey I’ll make the food today.” Maybe, I’m not understanding his love language and I start assuming things about him. Suppose a mistake has been made and I’m expecting an apology but maybe my husband’s way of saying sorry is something else. So, there’s a huge problem with communication. Before coming to conflict resolution, we first talk about ‘non-negotiables’ in a marriage. Even if you don’t agree with each other as a couple, you should have some non-negotiables such as ‘I will never stop communicating with my spouse no matter what.’ So, you should have some non-negotiables in your marriage. We don’t have to agree, and we may not apologise, but we don’t have to stop the communication.
In many cases, the communication stops and that’s why the conflict arises. To resolve the conflict there must be a clear understanding on both sides. If I’m going to sit for a conflict resolution with a biased mind and many preconceived ideas about my spouse, then how will the conflict get resolved?
I’m still developing my course; I have piloted one of them and I do lots of couple counselling if they come to me. I’m not worried about the results because that’s for the couples to decide. I don’t have a magic wand but I can put sense into their minds.
The last thing I want to say about marriage counselling is, in our community when it comes to weddings, we worry about things like the wedding dress, makeup artist, the venue, etc. Everybody sits and talks about it. But we don’t give time to the would-be couple to sit and talk in an escorted environment. There should be Islamic courtship; they should discuss what are their expectations of their marriage, what is their vision, and where they see themselves – all these things are missing. Two unknown people; we just think because my parents and grandparents did it so then we should also be able to do it. There are lots of preconceived notions and ideas.
Well, there’s feminism and Islamic feminism as well. The boys and girls both want to prove themselves. Generally, we’re going towards “my rights”; we’re going towards how Western feminism arose. “Give me my rights”, but we are not developing wisdom or humbleness within ourselves. Both men and women, we’ve forgotten that we’re meant to complement each other. A man can never be a woman and vice versa. We’ve got biological differences, emotional differences, psychological differences, etc..
So, we have to remember that we are meant to complement each other and fulfill each other. Even among the Muslim community, there’s the rise of feminism. Having said that, yes, our communities have been mostly patriarchal in terms of men being seen as the administrative head. For all other things, we are equal. That’s why maybe the wider community thinks Muslim women are suppressed because they have to listen to men. That’s where mothers have failed to raise their sons; to take that responsibility, when it comes to financial control, defending and protecting women, that’s where men have greater responsibility. But when it comes to rights and duties, we’re all equal. But because that has been misinterpreted, we’re seeing the rise of educated women challenging men. Family systems are failing.
The biggest agenda that social media has is isolating people. It has taken away our social skills. I may have hundreds of followers on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, but as a person, I may not know how to communicate. I think social media is driving people towards fake things, towards fake notions of happiness and fame which really don’t exist. Social media is causing many mental illnesses where people envy others’ lives without appreciating their own lives. But we need to understand how to utilize social media as an opportunity rather than treating it as a threat and something with many negative effects. Today, 90% of the world is on social media, so you can’t ignore it. If they’re not on Instagram, then they’re on WhatsApp. It has connected people across continents but if it’s not dealt with properly, then, in the long run, it is going to cause a lot of mental chaos and isolation. But again, this is just my opinion, I don’t want to give a biased view because, at the same time, social media is a great means of communication; for motivating people and guiding them in the right direction.