5 steps to creating your legacy

Esmat Jeraj community organiser
We are often sitting in front of huge issues, and we can see them but have no idea how to even begin addressing them.
  If you're wondering what it looks like to be genuinely influential without being an "Influencer" on Social Media, this is what we mean. So we sat down with Esmat so she can take us through her method of divide, delegate and conquer as we ask her the question of how she got involved in changing her community and what we can do to help.
  This is here to inspire you to help. Start. Just start now and help.

 


 

Meet Esmat. 


 

I wear many hijabs.

 

 

Whatever you do, do it the best that you possibly can.

Everyone’s constantly talking about: “Did you see that hijabi present channel 4 news?” or, “Did you hear how Mehdi Hassan on Question time dispelled this person?”. Or Nadia Hussain/ Amir Khan/ Mo Farrah. These people are arguably what you would call Muslim role models. But they’ve all gone into careers that I believe most of our parents would discourage us from. And so what’s more important than the profession that we’re doing; is encouraging us to work hard at whatever our chosen career is and to make sure that we’re always doing our best. Because through that, you can gain that recognition.
 
".. what’s more important than the profession that we’re doing; is encouraging us to work hard at whatever our chosen career"

 

 

Introduction to Esmat Jeraj

My name is Esmat Jeraj, I work for Citizens UK, which is an organisation which does community organising with faith group, educational establishments, trade unions, etc. And I currently lead on a national commission looking at barriers that Muslims face participating in public life.

 

 

How Esmat started

I’ve been involved in Citizen’s UK since I was sixteen. I first got inspired to get involved primarily because of 7/7. Before that I always felt like I belonged and that I was accepted. Suddenly things were changing, I remember facing racism that I’d never really encountered before. I then felt there were two distinct parts of my identity; one being British, and one being Muslim, that couldn’t fully gel together. I just knew that something needed to change. It was at this point that I came across Citizen’s UK.
  "..I then felt there were two distinct parts of my identity; one being British, and one being Muslim,"

 

 

Justice for one, justice for all

I remember attending a local assembly; a gathering of people from South London. There was testimony being delivered from a cleaner who was not being paid the living wage. i.e. he was not being paid enough to make ends meet. He was in tears and I think he moved everyone else to tears. I remember seeing the room change from quite emotional to very angry. But it wasn’t an uncontrolled anger, it had purpose. And they knew what they had to do to improve things. This was towards the beginning of the Living Wage Campaign which has gone on to see hundreds of thousands of people lifted out of working poverty.
  ".it wasn’t an uncontrolled anger, it had purpose. And they knew what they had to do to improve things." 

    Whilst that wasn’t an issue that directly affected me, it was a way I could plug in some of my frustrations with the world and see things being improved for others. I then went on to participate in other campaigns including; making the streets safer for young people to fighting for migrant’s rights and refugee rights.

 

Faith and activism

For me, that really tapped into a core part of my faith. There’s a saying from a prominent Islamic personality; Ali ibn Abu Talib that always sticks with me. He said: “a person is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity.” And so, what I would want for myself, I should want for my brother or my sister. But similarly, I should want for my neighbour. My neighbour isn’t necessarily the two people who live either side of me, it’s my wider community. For me, that’s the whole country, if not, then all Human Kind.
  “a person is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity.”

Since then, I have always been involved in many social justice groups and struggles. Particularly those areas where I feel that I hold some privilege. I try to tap into that and use it for the benefit of others.

 

The grand finale

We started this National Commission approximately 20 months ago. It was off the back of conversations we were having with Muslims describing the challenges they were facing in finding the time or the energy to get involved in broader political activities. We bought together a few members of parliament, a few academics to try to understand what some of those challenges/ barriers are. But more importantly to try to propose some very practical and tangible solutions that could hopefully shift that status quo.
  "propose some very practical and tangible solutions that could hopefully shift that status quo." 

 

 

The challenges

Some of the challenges were not surprising for a Muslim involved in their local community. Whether it was about the rising tide of islamophobia, the additional scrutiny, the backlash you receive from social and main stream media. Whereas some were much more striking for me. Particularly comments around the disadvantage that young Muslim women face entering the employment market and the challenges that they face due to cultural pressure rather than external pressure. This was often due to low expectations from family members, from the broader community or even teachers and mentors. Which made these young women think that they could not excel in their chosen areas.
  " disadvantage that young Muslim women face entering the employment market and the challenges that they face due to cultural pressure rather than external pressure."

 

 

The silver lining

We also had excellent case studies on women who had gone on to defy the odds and expectations and really excel in their area. They were role models, not only for young people in their community but also a way for employers to realise the value and enrichment that diversity bring to their workforce.

 

The resolve

And so, we are currently working with employers, and going into communities, working with parents, working with community leaders to demonstrate the value of people of all ages and all backgrounds getting involved.
  "... a way for employers to realise the value and enrichment that diversity bring to their workforce." 

 

 

The conclusion

I guess I am a cautious optimist and am quite pragmatic. I recognise where the current struggles are and am constantly looking for ways to circumvent that. Or change the status quo. For me, the real thing is what legacy are you going to leave behind? Not just for myself, but for others. If we want to create the world that we want to see, then we have to be instrumental in creating that change. We can’t be apathetic and sit back waiting for others to do it. We have to be the change makers.
  "We have to be the change makers."

    Our religion is constantly encouraging us to do more for others. Often we focus our efforts on charity work, and we tend to do that for overseas and international causes. Whereas there is so much need here locally, that I feel like even if I don’t have the money, then I can give some time and energy towards that.

 

The Recipe

It’s about: 1) Recognising that we are stronger together, and we work better together. So, 2) Find those people, build those relationships. 3) Identify individuals who hold talent. 4) See how you can work with them to empower them to 5) Create that long lasting change.
  "Create that long lasting change."

   

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