Community Organising - The secret tool that creates long term change
My name is Rafea Khan, and I am a mum of two children, living and working in Tower Hamlets, East London. Since I was a teenager I have always been interested in working for the good of my community, because the Prophet Muhammad (Peace & Blessing be upon him) said “The best of people are those that bring most benefit to people”. Since seeking to instill the teachings and meanings of that powerful quote in my life, I have been involved in my community one way or another. My faith inspires me to continually strive for a better society as I feel it’s my duty.
One of the ways in which I began my involvement with my community is through Darul Ummah Mosque, which has been one of the strongest member institutions of Tower Hamlets Citizens, a community organising alliance. Darul Ummah has been involved in many actions and campaigns, including leading the City Safe campaign, which aims to create safer parks for all.
It was Darul Ummah that gave me the opportunity of attending Citizens UK’s six-day training, which was where I developed my understanding around the power of community. There are many injustices happening around us every day and sometimes we do not know how to best solve the problem. Community Organising simplifies that process as it helps to identify which cause to pick and how to achieve the maximum impact. The training enabled me to understand where I was positioned as a Community Leader and what I can contribute to the process to achieve the desired change.
During this time, I was a mother to two small children, with much of my time and energy dedicated to raising and nurturing them. This meant that there was a limit to how much I was able to contribute to Community Organising. However, some years later, I was encouraged to join Citizens UK’s new initiative: the Women100 training. Women100 is a programme for women in East London, which aims to increase women’s participation in public life by providing leadership and Community Organising training for women from all backgrounds. Women100 encourages women to take leadership roles in their institutions and beyond, whilst equipping them with the tools needed to make change in the community, so that more voices are represented and accounted for in decision-making. The training was made accessible through its time-flexibility, running on weekends, weekdays and during school hours, which made it possible for anyone to attend.
Being a woman from an ethnic minority background and mother to two young children, a strong concern of mine centres around faith-based hate crime, especially towards women, which has seen a spike in the past four years. Being a visible Muslim, as I wear the hijab and niqab, I also worry about my own safety.
In September 2019, I attended the Law Commission meeting with London Citizens, where participants were sharing their experiences of hate crime. I got to hear personal testimonies from women who had been on the receiving end of hate for being a woman and in many cases a Muslim woman. Hearing women who were like me share their similar experiences made me feel heard and empowered. Sometimes society does not hear the testimonies and experiences of people with these harrowing and often quite traumatic moments, however, the Law Commission meeting provided the space needed for all their experiences to be heard, which could be collated and used to create change. This left me feeling inspired.
By bringing together my training, experiences and support I’ve received from Citizens UK, alongside the knowledge I have learnt around what challenges face my community, I began to develop new leaders, especially female leaders. Working closely with my institution Darul Ummah Mosque, we are in the process of building a core team of women and have delivered two cohorts of training for women in English and Bangla to make it accessible for all. The training developed many of the women’s knowledge of local community work, and my hope is for those women to become more organised and use what they learn to tackle injustices together.
Community Organising teaches individuals how to create long-term change, not just short-term solutions. An example that sticks out to me is back in 2019, when TELCO Citizens asked John Biggs, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, to install electric points for ice cream vans in a local park, resulting in less pollution and a healthier space for all who use it. It is my hope for more women to get involved with Community Organising and see how they too can be at the forefront of making significant differences in their community.
Citizens UK equipped me with the power and knowledge needed to organise, whilst further supporting my confidence in working for the wider community. There are many like-minded women who would benefit from community organising and developing themselves in order to impact society in a positive way.
As the Qur’an says, “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Surah Ar Ra’d 13:11).
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