Kulsuma Begum, a Women 100 leader, was refused entry into her children's schools because she wore the niqab. This is a powerful reflection on her Community Organising journey and how the method she learned was accordant with her faith and helped her to make a change in her local community.
My name is Kulsuma. I am a mum of 4 kids, the wife of an Imam, and a Muslim woman who wears the niqab (face veil). Being a part of and working for the betterment of my community has always been important to me. My father taught me faith and my faith taught me the importance of neighbours in Islam. A hadith that has always resonated with me is, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever,” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī).
I have been involved in my local community from my early teens, from sisters’ circles in the mosque, interfaith groups in my community, to parents’ coffee morning in my children’s school. Community involvement means we get to know each other and talk about issues that affect us. We develop leaders and work on channelling anger into positive change instead of focusing on the problems.
I became passionate about community activism after winning a change surrounding school visitor policy for parents who wear the niqab. When visiting my children’s school, I was given two options: remove the niqab, or leave the building. I wasn’t happy with the options I was given and created another option – Change.
Leaders from Women100 took my issue and built a campaign team around it. They did not see it as a Muslim issue but as a justice issue. Throughout the process, I learned the methods of Community Organising, how to identify where power is, who to build relationships with, and their self-interest. The result of every campaign is to build relationships, develop leaders and bring change.
After 7 months of organising, the school changed its visitor policy.
After this win, I began taking Community Organising more seriously. I started attending Women100 training, Catalyst Training and focused on developing myself as a leader to fight for the justice I want. I believe the concept of ‘Relational Power’ goes with my faith. The Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock.” I understand it is a responsibility for me as a believer to look after and develop the people who follow me every day, the women in my sister circle, the parents in the school.
The idea that fascinated me the most is that ‘if you are not around the table, you are on the menu’, advising to individuals who are seeking for justice to be part of the decision-making process. Although I have been involved in my children’s schools as a parent and took part in consultation meetings not all discussions lead to the decision-making table. I know the feeling of not being heard and valued, therefore I started to think about how I can put myself at the decision-making table. I started to build relationships with parents and hear what they wanted and needed. I was courageous enough to nominate myself to become a Parent Governor at my children’s school and was elected last week. I now have a seat at the table for meetings.
Through Community Organising training I didn’t just make changes on issues that affected me but also developed myself and extending my potential. I believe Community Organising is a step to making a change to live in peace and harmony, uniting individuals to value each other for who they are.