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Sunday, May 29, 2022

“If someone is gay or a lesbian, as a Muslim we cannot discriminate,” says faith activist

Following an Umrah trip that inspired her to give up her law profession, Maysoon Shafiq from Huddersfield, has spent the last five years as a community activist and Islamic teacher.

Maysoon Shafiq, 37, from Huddersfield, is the founder and Director of Al Mu’Minun (The Believers), a non-profit organisation dedicated to educating the public about the teachings of Islam.

Mrs Shafiq works in the community to promote inclusivity and diversity through open communication. An award-winning community activist, she holds events, seminars, and conferences in West Yorkshire and across the UK for both Muslim and non-Muslim members of the community to fill the gaps of knowledge surrounding the religion.

Her most recent accolade is the Religious Advocate of the Year Award at the ninth annual British Muslim Awards held in Manchester by Oceanic Consulting. In 2021, she won the Most Impactful Alimah award at the British Beacon Mosque Awards.

Mrs Shafiq spent fifteen years working in the legal sector before becoming a community activist full time.

Before her community work, Mrs Shafiq spent a decade-and-a-half working in the legal sector, after graduating from the University of Huddersfield with a law degree in 2008 and completing a legal practice course a year later.

Her most recent job was in medical negligence defence, representing doctors and nurses who had a case against them. Despite a successful and well-paying career, a happy marriage, and raising her children, she still felt unfulfilled.

She said: “Having worked in the legal sector for fourteen years, there was always a void in my life. I was happily married, I had my beautiful children, I had an amazing career earning a salary, but there was a void of completeness in my heart and my soul.”

She added: “I had a calling from God. I kept on thinking surely there is more to life than this? I went to visit the house of Allah on my first Umrah and ever since then, I have had a transformational journey. It wasn’t until I started my Islamic educational journey that my heart started to fill.”

Shortly after returning from Saudi Arabia, she stopped wearing jeans and a blazer to the office, opting to wear the hijab and abaya instead, and began an alimah course in Bradford with her then twelve-year-old daughter.

Speaking about wearing Islamic clothing in the corporate world, she said: “I never wore the hijab before the past five years, I wore jeans, I wore blazers and smart trousers. Wearing the hijab never appealed to me. When it came to my calling in the House of Allah, I came back and went back to work dressed in my black abaya and black hijab.”

“My husband was petrified!” she said. “He kept ringing me, asking ‘is everything okay? Is everything all right? You have gone from wearing trousers to the abaya in two weeks. I don’t know what he thought would happen, but I was absolutely fine, nobody batted an eyelid.

“It made me realise that these misconceptions we have as individuals, that people will treat us differently is not true. There were four hundred employees in my old workplace, and I was the only Muslim, and nobody said anything, I just continued doing my job.”

Mrs Shafiq completed an alimah course alongside her then twelve-year-old daughter.

The alimah course took almost five years to complete, but it helped not only fill the gaps in her knowledge and understanding of Islam but inspired her to help others know more about the religion too.

The community activist said: “I was born into the religion but there were gaps in my knowledge and understanding. I had to find my religion. I embarked on an alimah course, to bridge my own learning.

“As the years went on, I felt that there are many more Maysoon’s in society, that there are people that have this gap in their understanding. I set up Al Mu’Minun to narrow the divide and to not only educate the Muslim community about the religion of Islam but for non-Muslims.

“I started branching out to Church of England schools, hosting events and seminars just teaching about who Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) was. It was a whole cycle of community work, the more I put myself out there the more people I found need this education.”

Qualified law practitioners can earn a pretty penny, but Mr Shafiq says “even if they offered me all the money in the world, I would never go back.

She added: “The peace and contentment that I have from the community work could never be replaced with the things I’ve lost.”

As a community chaplain and faith leader, Mrs Shafiq teaches children from five to sixteen how to read the Qur’an and Islamic Studies. She also offers support to community members who are going through marriage difficulties, bereavement, counselling sessions free of charge.

During Internation Women’s Day week, Mrs Shafiq travelled to London to be recognised in two activism award categories.

Mrs Shafiq has won several awards for her community work teaching Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam.

Speaking about IWD, feminism, and the position of women in the Islamic faith, she said: “From an Islamic perspective, women have always been the frontrunners.

“When you look at the times of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), his wife Aisha, was the woman who would hold her fast to the mosque of the prophet (PBUH). She was the one who would lead the community and advise women on minor matters to major matters.

“Islam has always given women the right to an education, to go out and work, women are revered in Islam because they are the bearers of children, they have a higher stake than men. Women have such a high status but women themselves don’t know that.

“Women often do not know their true worth and how esteemed they are in Islam. This is one of the reasons why I am always educating women because women have such a huge role to play in society.”

At the start of her journey as a faith leader, she had men oppose the work that she was doing but now the whole community is on board. Mrs Shafiq said: “At the start, I came up against men saying I shouldn’t do the work that I do. With all praises to Allah, I had the community’s support behind me, I had other women supporting me, the voices of the very few men died down within almost a few months.”

For a lot of Muslims in the UK and around the world, discussing issues such as LGBTQ+ people and same-sex marriages is seen as taboo, and seldom talked about. Mrs Shafiq doesn’t shy away from these and instead embraces them as a way to talk about community support and inclusion.

She said: “I get questions on LGBTQ+ and same-sex marriages all the time, especially at interfaith events. My response is always the same. Allah created man and woman to create offspring but as Muslims, we cannot discriminate. If someone is gay or a lesbian, then we cannot judge them, the judgement comes from Allah, if we start judging then we take it away from Allah and that is extremely dangerous territory.

“If we start isolating people from mosques or spaces of worship then they will be in more isolation, so to be an inclusive society then we need to support others regardless of how they identify.

“I haven’t had any negative feedback because I speak sense; I speak of what the Qur’an says. It is about providing support for anyone, regardless of race, religion, or creed.”

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