Since September 2018, Rubab Ali has chosen to speak in West Midland schools as part of our School Workshops Programme. Rubab heard about the speaker programme through participating in F&BF’s Parliamentors university programme. Born Muslim, she believed her journey to Agnosticism would help others understand the complexities of faith. She was also curious to see how students would react to her story, as it is rarely heard in schools. This led her to share the ‘powerful and moving experience’ she had at Hall Green Secondary School.
Year eight students, on a February afternoon, heard the faith and belief experiences of two speakers. Rubab was one of them, the other was a Catholic speaker. All ‘Encountering Faiths and Beliefs’ workshops give speakers, from different religious and non-religious backgrounds, the opportunity to share their own faith and belief journeys with primary and secondary school students. Rubab’s story, in particular, tackled topics such as doubt and conflict, and she recalled the ‘buzz’ in the staff room before the workshop. She was initially nervous, but she relaxed after seeing the happiness on the faces of three Asian girls in the classroom.
After she had shared her story, students were given the opportunity to ask questions. These ranged from philosophy, her family’s reactions to her beliefs, and discrimination. However, the most memorable question that she was asked was about whether she had ‘rejected religion completely’. The answer was unexpected. Although she chooses not to follow a religion, sometimes she will take part in Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, for her family’s sake. But what shocked the students the most was her continued involvement in religion. Rubab hopes of becoming an academic in religious education challenged the assumption of agnosticism leading to the rejection of and disinterest in religion.
Looking back at her experience, Rubab says this: ‘everyone has the right to be the narrator of their own story’. When assumptions and stereotypes are confronted, there is room for dialogue and understanding. Our school workshops help do this by building the skills needed to communicate sensitively and effectively in today’s diverse society. Rubab’s hope is that her story will help others find their voice and become the narrators of their own faith and belief stories.
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