Our Work: Reflecting on 2015
At the start of 2016 we would like to take the opportunity to thank all our supporters, friends and donors who have helped us in our work in countering extremism and supporting human rights. The work we do is difficult, challenging and sometimes downright depressing. We all witnessed families taking unsuspecting children, or young bright A-grade teenage girls who had all the opportunities to fulfil their potential in Britain instead choose to live under ISIS’ rule.
The killing of innocent people whether in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, the US, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries did (or should have done) trigger off alarm bells that the threat of Islamist extremism is not only real but it is thriving. The tragic consequences impact ordinary people on a local and global scale.
From Syrian children (fleeing both ISIS and Assad) drowning in the Mediterranean to Shia Muslims and Christians being killed for simply being Shia and Christian. From cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo being gunned down for expressing their views, to Muslims being attacked on the streets of our country because of anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet the circle of hatred and violence continues. Post Paris, ISIS further encouraged Muslims to commit lone wolf attacks. Post San Bernardino Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
It is hard to feel optimistic about the future but giving up is no answer. Instead we must carry on with heavy but determined hearts. And we do so because after every incident, we have witnessed the greatness of the human spirit exemplifying hope and compassion: communities becoming more united, with support and protection offered to those most vulnerable. We have also met many inspirational young British Muslims over the year who have aspirations to contribute positively to society, who are comfortable with their identity and who recognise that diverse Muslim voices, who promote human rights and a British Islam, is desperately needed now more than any other time.
As a small civil society organisation this year we:
- Undertook over 200 local, national and international media interviews including for Sky News, Good Morning Britain, CNN Amanpour, ITV’s Loose Women, BBC News, Radio 4’s Today Programme, Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, Channel 4 News and many others.
- Delivered our anti-ISIS Making A Stand campaign and visited 9 cities across England and Wales reaching hundreds of Muslim women where we:
- Taught women theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology
- Helped them to recognise early signs of radicalisation and the role they can play
- Signposted them to external agencies who could provide help to vulnerable individuals in their family or community
- Encouraged them to take the lead in challenging extremism in their communities and to exert influence in their mosques and communities.
- Overwhelmed by the number of requests we have had from schools, we have delivered training to thousands of teachers and senior leaders across the country about how to safeguard children from extremism whether far right or Islamist extremism. We have also worked in partnership with the Association of Schools and College Leaders. Part of our training has included explaining the difference between Islamist extremism and Islam, encouraging staff to challenge extreme and intolerant views whether anti-Muslim prejudice or anti-Semitism., clarifying Islamic concepts that staff find confusing e.g jihad, as well as helping staff to understand vulnerabilities to radicalisation. Our contribution in schools has also helped create a comfortable environment for teachers to ask us questions on culturally sensitive issues which is of direct concern and relevance to them.
- We have been working with many parents and pupils at school. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. But struggling to meet the demands that have come from every corner of British society from many parts of the country has not always been possible due to the small size of our organisation. In 2016 we are working to expand our organisation.
- We have also spoken internationally in Washington, at the European Parliament, in Virginia and San Francisco to name just a few and here in the UK at many conferences.
- Sara was honoured to be named in BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Top 10 Power List of influencers.
Since the first day Inspire was founded, the work we do engaging directly with Muslim women in communities is the dearest to us. We have done so as individuals for over 20 years now and we never tire of it. Women have told us how important and in some cases, life changing our programmes have been for them. Their voices are too often ignored by the media and even by traditional Muslim structures. They share with us their untold stories of battling misogyny daily in Muslim communities or the reality of hate preachers targeting their children.
We do not doubt that it is women who are key to preventing extremism but too frequently the powerful role they play is discouraged and played down often by those same communities. While challenges such as anti-Muslim prejudice are real, we cannot turn a blind eye to the huge challenges that exist within British Muslim communities too. We have seen too regularly how when some Muslims dare point out the injustices, sexism and regressive and hate filled attitudes that exist within some British Muslim communities, they have experienced abuse in an attempt to silence their voices. This does not serve the interests of British Muslims or wider society. The vast overwhelming majority of British Muslims contribute positively to our country; this is our home but we need to challenge those who promote extreme and intolerant views and who seek to divide our society.
We would like to thank the great, considerate and generous British public –whose emails, donations, standing orders and kind words of support spurred us on and allowed our organisation to keep ticking. There are so many individuals and organisations – far too many to name – whether imams, theologians, to headteachers, activists and people from all backgrounds – who have sought to help us, for no other reason but for believing in what we do. We cannot even begin to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you.
We would like to wish everyone peace and blessings and a fruitful 2016.
Sara Khan and Kalsoom Bashir
30th Dec 2015