“Sometimes I think the Muslim community is not really aware of the gravity of the situation when it comes to Islamophobia – or, they’re aware… but don’t know how to effectively deal with it.” says Mahmooda Qureshi, a HOPE not hate community organiser in Birmingham.
Mahmooda has been active in the Muslim community for decades before she joined HOPE not hate in building resilience against the far-right’s divisive rhetoric. In 2007, she received an award from the City Council for her community work within the Islamic Society of Britain. She describes Birmingham as a very mixed city, with some areas that have no community intermixing at all while others are very connected.
Her goal is to reach out to people who would not show up at an interfaith or another community’s event. “Sometimes it feel like we’re preaching to the choir so we’re looking for new solutions such as training our volunteers to do more effective door knocking for example”.
She is struggling however in getting members of the Muslim community involved in the long term. “There are groups of people coming to me from different parts of Birmingham wanting to run community activities to bring people together,” she says. “But I want more people to be involved, with the open mindset of ‘we’re not perfect, we have issues, but let’s work with others to try and fix it, let’s look at commonalities.’”
Earlier this month, she organised a Sunni-Shia event to bring Muslims together. “I’ve never seen Shia Muslims any different from any other Muslims. I often attend our local Shia mosque – They are great at being active and organised,” she says.
Mahmooda does have a core group of organisations that she works closely with and who share the same goals. “There are some people I hardly see but feel I can approach and work with because we share a mindset. On the ground, we work very closely with Near Neighbours, KSIMC (Clifton Road Mosque), TellMAMA, Sultan Bahu Trust, however, I’ve a whole list of others who I can pick up the phone to at any time,” she says.
A challenge Mahmooda tackled two years ago was the One Day Without Us event she organised in support of migrants. Working with an eclectic group of different organisations such the Polish Expats association, the Ort Gallery and Time Together, they put together an event that has been repeated since, with far less input needed from Mahmooda herself, as the interested groups knew what type of event they wanted to organise this time.
“Sometimes communication is an issue between communities and organisations,” says Mahmooda. “So if the City Council is starting a project on refugees, I would link them up to people that are working on the same issue – the more people and support organisations have, the more effective they can be.”
Mahmooda had trouble running events initially, with people not aware HOPE not hate existed at a local level. “We didn’t have a strong network in place and I also learnt that some of the people I most wanted to get involved had issues with each other or with different organisations, so I had to navigate that pretty carefully!” Says Mahmooda.
Funding is another issue Mahmooda has to tackle, with government cuts affecting the facilities and support the City Council has to offer. Mahmooda says small pots of funding from organisations like Near Neighbours can really help build up a community.
“I think the networks we’re building are making everything click. People are approaching me with projects they would like to get communities involved with. Sometimes it can be overwhelming but it’s very rewarding,” she says.
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