Academia and faith

dr Asma Mustafa project ribcage interview


Ø  British Muslim.
Ø  Mother of two.
Ø  Sociologist.
Ø  Author of a book.

We’ve hit the books on the head with this month’s theme.

Meet Dr. Asma, she’s a Sociologist and a genuine leader with her research at Oxford university on Muslims in Britain.

Balancing research and interfaith work she demands social issues are addressed and she's kindly answered some of our questions!


Meet Asma 


How do you describe what you do and how did you get into it?

Aged 16 I fell in love with Sociology and studied it during BA and then MPhil. My PhD at University of Oxford was funded by the ESRC and I knew that this was my vocation. I’ve been in my academic role for four years as a Research Fellow.

My area of expertise as a Sociologist is Muslims in Britain and Europe . I find research questions or areas that needs exploring, plan credible and strong research designs, submit funding proposals, conduct the research and ensure the outcomes are fulfilled such as publishing books, putting forward policy recommendations and present at conferences. My interests are wide ranging, but include identities, integration  and immigration.


Is your intention to inspire others, if yes, how so?

I like to encourage others to keep learning, not just academic knowledge, but knowledge of ourselves and understanding others.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "God, His angels and all those in Heavens and on Earth, even ants in their hills and fish in the water, call down blessings on those who instruct others in beneficial knowledge." - Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 422.

I love the concept of being altruistic with knowledge that is gained.

How? Well, we have run an annual Young Muslims Leadership Program for 11 years (for 20-30 year old British Muslims) and I’ve convened the two week program for six years. I really believe in its purpose - I love to engage with young minds, to challenge assumptions, to push aspirations and provide a space for them to forge strong British Muslim identities while making lifelong friendships.  Secondly, I try as much as possible to engage in outreach, whether it’s interfaith projects, speaking on radio shows, volunteering in my spare time, offering my services at school and so on.


Do you feel you are perceived differently as an academic because of your hijab?

Not really, I think people underestimate you though, maybe due to cultural assumptions? I have no evidence of being treated differently, in actual fact some academics want to work with others who bring something different to the table. Diversity is good.


What's the biggest obstacle you have overcome?

As a student it was statistics. It continues to haunt me, but I challenge myself.

As a researcher you never know how participants or interlocutors are going to respond to you – I was accused of being an undercover journalist once by some male Muslim teens! My Muslim visibility meant nothing to them because what they saw was a posh Queens English accent and skin colour as more relevant.

As an academic I constantly question my direct contribution to the betterment of others, I’d like to leave a legacy beyond just being a footnote in some other academic’s publication.


Does the hijab limit your capabilities?

Not at all! I’m limited more by my geographical immobility due to having young children and love of Oxford as a place to reside. My personal anxieties hold me back more than my religious visibility. Hijab is something that is my personal religious conviction and if people have an assumption that it holds me back, I hope they realise that it actually spurs me on to do better, to challenge stereotypes, to contribute in the best way possible.


Anything you would like to say to girls growing up in today's society?

I once had a teacher in secondary school who laughed when I said I wanted to be a journalist. I wish I could go back and say I’ve achieved more than I could have dreamed I would.

Don’t give up on the concept of achievement, but make sure your objectives are:
A.) Realistic.

B.) Have a positive purpose.

C.) You can contribute in some way to a greater good.

For any young lady who wonders if it’s possible to juggle married life, children and work, yes it is, millions of women do. It is my choice and I am a happier person for it. Life is not perfect, you make some sacrifices (I may not look most glamorous, I miss sports matches sometimes and I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema) but working motherhood is wonderful if it’s on your own terms and hopefully with a supportive husband. I have female Muslims friends who are mothers and also barristers, doctors, teachers and much much more.


Anything else you would like to share?

An inspiring quote I like:

J.K Rowling said: “if you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better”



Feeling inspired? Thanks for reading.

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