In the previous few weeks Zara Mohammed has been residing, respiratory and even dreaming about her new function as the primary feminine and youngest ever head of the Muslim Council of Britain. “My thoughts doesn’t cease. There are occasions once I have to go see the geese in my native park, simply to take a break.”
Aside from the duties of main the UK’s foremost Muslim umbrella group, with greater than 500 associates, Mohammed, 29, has additionally skilled an “ongoing media blitz” – together with a now infamous interview on BBC Radio 4’s Girl’s Hour. “I didn’t actually count on the extent of this celeb, when you can name it that,” she says.
However “what’s been actually beautiful is the assist, encouragement and positivity, particularly from younger ladies and girls of all colors, all faiths. It’s been a whirlwind however it’s additionally been difficult. You utilize the stress to energy you ahead. I’ve grown tenfold.”
4 days into the function, the BBC posted on-line a clip from an interview with Mohammed by Emma Barnett on Woman’s Hour regarding feminine imams. The company obtained tons of of complaints, and an open letter signed by 100 public figures together with the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi claimed the road of questioning bolstered “damaging and prejudicial tropes” about Islam and Muslim ladies.
“I’ve to confess I used to be actually bowled over [by the interview]. It was significantly hostile and aggressive,” says Mohammed. She felt like she was having “an out of physique expertise” as she went by means of what “felt like an interrogation if I’m trustworthy. I’ve no downside with daring conversations or being challenged, however [this was] once more about stereotyping us and vilifying us and never permitting us to outline who we’re.”
She says the open letter “highlighted the broader concern of Muslim ladies being sick of being represented in a sure approach. The media has stigmatised Muslim ladies and continued to perpetuate these very damaging stereotypes. The letter [was saying] ‘we’ve had sufficient of this’.”
On Barnett’s query about feminine imams, Mohammed says: “It reveals an ignorance [of] spiritual hierarchy in Islam. Muslim ladies don’t lead males in prayer. However the imam is a procedural function. What’s actually necessary is the function of Muslim ladies in management roles, together with scholarship, over 1,500 years, shaping and influencing our traditions in religion.”
A second encounter additionally generated headlines – this time a meeting with Penny Mordaunt, the paymaster normal, that contravened the federal government’s longstanding coverage of not partaking with the MCB.
“It’s not clear to us why they won’t interact,” says Mohammed. “In fact there’s a dialog available, and a relationship, as a result of [government] insurance policies are impacting our communities – have a look at Covid, the proper instance. Why wouldn’t they wish to speak to us about these items? I’d welcome that engagement, and I do assume the federal government ought to develop up. Let’s not get caught prior to now.”
In response to a query from the Guardian in regards to the causes for its coverage of non-engagement with the MCB, a authorities spokesperson declined to remark.
Mohammed, the eldest of 4 siblings, grew up in Glasgow and attended a state college that she says was “just about all white”. She studied legislation and politics at Strathclyde College, adopted by a grasp’s diploma in human rights legislation.
“In my second 12 months [at university] I put my headband on. I used to be affirming my id as somebody assured to be Muslim. And that’s once I actually started to face differential therapy.”
She has felt susceptible, particularly on public transport, she has witnessed and challenged abuse, and he or she believes a few of her job purposes have been rejected due to her title.
Now she advises firms on coaching and improvement, however that has been placed on maintain since being elected to the voluntary, unpaid two-year time period as MCB secretary normal. “I didn’t count on [the role] to alter my life a lot,” she says.
Her mom at all times labored, even when Mohammed and her siblings have been younger. “She was fairly headstrong and resolute, she needed to do stuff for herself. She’s sturdy and assured, she feeds all of the neighbours, she’s the household assist hotline – even now she makes positive I’m consuming. Each my dad and mom [urged me to] give attention to my profession and be financially unbiased. I acquired a whole lot of funding and encouragement.”
Regardless of such assist and her personal pure ebullience, Mohammed says: “Like all ladies I endure from impostor syndrome. I’ve at all times had crippling self-doubt. I’ll give you 100 explanation why to not put myself ahead, that perhaps another person – a person – is best.”
However, she won the election decisively, by 107 votes to 60, in opposition to a male opponent, Ajmal Masroor, an imam and instructor. She has set three priorities, saying she has an “superb alternative to make a distinction”.
The primary is inclusion and variety. “I wish to create alternatives for extra ladies, younger individuals, and underrepresented communities. I actually wish to be a champion for Muslim ladies. You at all times begin with your self earlier than telling all people else what they need to do. I’ve appointed extra ladies to the [MCB’s] nationwide council, we’re getting extra ladies’s organisations to affiliate, and there’s going to be a change within the panorama of Muslim ladies inside our organisation.”
Younger individuals want a louder voice, and the MCB should change into extra consultant of UK Muslim communities, she says. “We’ve most likely one of the vital various and Muslim communities on the planet at our doorstep – Malaysians, Somalis, mixed-race individuals, converts. We do have to do higher [at representing them].”
Tackling Islamophobia is second on her checklist. “I’m going to be difficult the narrative of damaging stereotypes and tropes, and the concept that Muslim communities are one homogenous block.”
The response to Covid is third on her checklist, “although it’s at all times primary actually,” she says. Muslim communities have seen a “spike in psychological well being points, a devastating financial impression, even mosques being unable to maintain themselves as a result of they’re not getting the funding they usually get from the members. We have to construct methods to assist us face that.”