Monday, 21 February 2011

BFTF Interview with Muhammed Sajid (2009)

Back in 2009, the BFTF radio show interviewed Muhammad Sajid – a volunteer at the Islamic Centre, community activist and general force-for-good.

The interviews were spread across three shows and covered a lot of ground.

Quite a bit of time was spent discussing the Community Aid Nottingham refugee assistance programme that was being set up at the time. That project has has now run its course and is likely to be the subject of a separate post in the future.

But there was also a lot on the situation of refugees in Nottingham, charity, apathy in the Muslim community and other issues. Extracts from these parts of the discussion are shown below. As with any discussion involving Sajid, I think you will find it a riveting, realistic and educational read:

So, Sajid, just to provide a little background, I understand that the main issue you are trying to address relates to people seeking asylum or refugee or asylum status, have had their initial case and are now in the appeal process – during which they receive no state support.
Sajid: That is correct. Currently the issue for locally in Nottingham is that there are sixty destitute Muslims in Nottingham. Now what we mean by destitute is people who have no set income so they’re not on state benefit s at all. They haven’t got a fix abode they are homeless either living on the streets or living at friends’ houses. These are basically people who, for whatever reason, have left countries which are not safe to live in anymore, which is either due to war, i.e. Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan or countries that are suffering from civil strife (places like Darfur in Sudan). Sometimes they are single young men, sometimes elderly people, sometimes families.

The only support at the moment they’re getting is from an organisation called Nottingham Refugee Forum (NRF) On a Tuesday they give them a cash fund which is £10 for the whole month, that’s £2.50 a week in cash they have. Then on a Saturday they are provided a hot meal and they are provided a shopping bag of products worth £7 which will probably be half a litre vegetable oil, tin of tomatoes, a tin of soup, (occasionally) fresh fruits. So this is the level their living at. Absolutely, technically misqeen. Complete destitute so if you want a translation of destitute it means misqeen. They absolutely have nothing.

Basically, say 70% of the asylum seekers are Muslim from Muslim backgrounds, Muslim countries that have left their countries and are now in the UK, and at the moment the destitute service or facilities at the refugee forum is completely run by volunteers. And far as I’m aware the volunteers comprise people from the churches, the various churches around Nottingham and unofficially some churches do provide facilities for them. I know, I was speaking to a Moroccan man two days ago and he was telling me how good the Salvation Army was and how much support the Salvation Army gives to these destitute people.

There’s a brother who came to Islamic Centre yesterday and a Christian lady offered to house him offered to house him and out of his own ghayrath and out of the fact of his own practicing of the deen he said to her I can’t share a house with a strange woman so he lives in her shed I repeat he is living in a shed and he is over 60 years old. Look at your grandfather that could be your grandfather, look at your father that could be your father that could be your own brother.

To give one example of how the non-Muslim community is helping these predominantly Muslim refugees, a lady called Connie Lloyd, I believe she is in her early 70’s, goes to Asda every Saturday morning and she buys 60 shopping bags of products. That’s just one activity Connie does.

It is unfortunate that the Muslim community is not more active in this area. . . 
To take a historical example, people from central Asia and the Middle East went into the Indian Subcontinent e.g. Hazrat Ali Ajweri otherwise known as Data Saab in Lahore. They went there and they said ‘what are the issues?’ They said right there are human beings here suffering from oppression and they are being starved so what I’m going to do is collect money, I’m going to buy food, I’m going to cook that food in a big pot and serve the food to the destitute.

You know there was a time not too far ago when if a guest came to your house or your locality people used to fight over to entertain that guest. Now, I’m sorry to say but, I want to emphasise this is there any kind of I use the word ghayrath(shame), is there any kind of shame in the Muslims that we completely reached the level that we cannot even help our own any more. That we have to, are we so being habitualised to victimisation we been so used to being victims that we no longer can become the pillars of the community and help other people. Or is it a case of being habitualised to being a victim or is it a case that we are now selfish? Where’s the shame? Where’s the shame in the Muslim community?

I tell you something else. I was speaking to one of the elders at the mosque and he goes Sajid all you have to do is just to knock on everyone’s doors and say can you give us your leftovers? He says that’s what its come to, perhaps about 2 or 3 weeks of asking for leftovers, hopefully this what he said, the community will have enough shame to say look we’ll just pay for them, pay for their food because you have to take it to that. The lowest denominator for them to understand that.

Regarding zakat(charity), could you let us know what the priorities are in terms of its allocation.
You first give it to your family and that’s only people on horizontically on your family tree. So your cousins and your brothers. The next group who have the most right is your locality, your neighbourhood, your neighbours and like I said these people for the majority of Muslims in Nottingham are no more than 1-2 miles away from you.

And just to be clear that doesn’t mean your Muslim neighbour that means your neighbour full stop.  

That means anyone. The dignity of humanity in their property in their person and their well being.

And you know its local, it’s real and you can participate. You don’t have to go to Sudan or Kashmir to help. You can help here. 

It’s about you getting empowered and getting involved. If you cannot provide any financial help we understand. Ok. Not everyone has got excess money to give. We understand. But there’s absolutely no excuse why you can’t physically help. Like I said on those 2 days at the refugee forum why isn’t there a group of Muslims cooking that food on a Saturday? Why aren’t they sitting there and providing support talking to them? Making them feel welcome? These people suffer from isolation they don’t have they have no one to talk to. Where is the mercy and where is the love in the ummah? We go back to this. You have to get involved, if you do not want to get involved in this project because you know it’s a bit hard its emotionally very stressful you don’t want to get involved then there’s hundreds absolutely hundreds of volunteering operations at every single organisation whether it’s a Muslim organisation whether it’s a non-Muslim organisation and there’s no excuse for you to not getting involved.

Now. I mean through my experience, when you do voluntary work in many cases you end up in contact with dealing with, surrounded with people who have good character. They’re not going to earn any money out of this. By definition their doing it for the right reasons.  
Absolutely. Let’s make something very clear if we were going to run on capitalist ethics then people volunteering is something bad cos your losing out! And you’ll find that in every single act in volunteering you get a better skill set, you get the opportunity to meet more people, you get the opportunity to probably get to put something on your CV. I tell you this my background is infrastructure project manager I interviewed a lot of people and one of the things we actively looked for was how much time did this if this guy is serious then he would be involved in volunteering. It was one of the criteria. You know in that section where you say “hobbies and interests”? It was actually one of the criteria that we want serious people to work for Vodafone. We don’t want guys just to sit at home and never you know just couch potato out on us. We want serious people who get involved who get stuck in.

Basically the bottom line is this and I’ll put it crude. So I apologise is get off your backsides and help people. Helping yourself isn’t good enough. That’s sorry that’s for people who are selfish and who are in capitalism. You are Muslims. You help yourself and help other people and by helping other people you help yourself.

I want to take that little bit further, now I’m sure you’ll agree with me that when we’d have natural disasters or there are families around the world what you’re not suggesting is that we shouldn’t give to that?
Sajid: Absolutely. I just want to make that very clear. Whenever there is a natural disaster /major disaster you have to provide immediate help but in the preference of zakat distribution, zakat is about purifying the wealth of the wealthy and giving it to the needy. And hopefully empowering the community financially to lift people out of permanent destitution.

I once asked a Sheikh a very similar question and he goes to me the analogy is this is that if someone is digging for water or oil. He digs and stops says I’m not getting anywhere here starts moving somewhere else and digs a little hole here then moves doesn’t get any water and digs another hole or he goes and all he seems to have achieved is to dig loads of holes. But if you persevere in one thing and keep digging and digging in the first hole there’s a higher chance that you would have found water.

So the responsibility as a community first is poverty is relative. It’s all over the world; you know there are people absolutely dying of unclean water in the world. There are people dying of not having enough calories in their diet. There’s no doubt about that. At the same time here we have destitute people right here.


Note: The only reason that BFTF has been able to post these extracts is that a volunteer has kindly transcribed the interview, mashallah. BFTF always likes to say thank you to people who volunteer in this way, and in this case the thank you has been via some home-made butter biscuits and choc-chip muffins. Dear reader, if you work in a mosque or community centre, you may wish to reflect on how you treat the volunteers who generously give their time to your organisation.

1 comment:

  1. true but people in this country shoudnt need help they have human rights and under European convention of Human rights all these people need is a willing lawyer that would take european law to downing street and bang britain will have to provide them with basic living but who will do this!!!!!!! are yo a lawyer will you donate your time!!!!