24 / 03 / 21
By Saba Malik
Just over 6 months ago, I received the following message from a friend that I made through previous interfaith work. She said, “I want to involve the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women in a community project in Birmingham”. I immediately thought this would be a great opportunity for the ladies in my faith group to experience engaging with others, especially with lockdown restrictions in place and our places of worship having been closed for so long.
I was looking forward to being part of a community dialogue project. In my mind, dialogue is not just about speaking and listening, it is also about learning. Through dialogue you can increase knowledge about people and the world. This was the main reason I was eager to play a role as a community connector. I was hoping to learn how to plan and run safe and healthy dialogue sessions between different communities. I was also keen to learn something new from other people and something new about myself.
As a community connector, I received a great deal of support from my community lead from the Feast and the Faith and Belief Forum and throughout this process, I observed them modelling good dialogue practices. During our planning sessions I was introduced to the guidelines for dialogue. When I read the following guideline, ‘Do not treat someone as a spokesperson for their faith or culture’ a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Finally, I could speak freely about my views without the worry that it will be linked directly back to my faith or community! Another guideline, ‘Be honest in what you say’ was a little trickier than I had expected. Does honesty mean sharing everything? If so, if I hide some of my views is that being dishonest? I am not sure, but sitting in my home, feeling relaxed in my own space whilst taking part in a virtual dialogue helped me speak up more than I would have if the session was face to face.
Through these community dialogue sessions, we explored identity and community along with our faith and belief. Identity inspired the Ahmadi Muslim women from my group to speak up as we face a great deal of persecution in several Muslim countries having accepted the claim of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be the Promised Messiah of the later days. From our group, several ladies have been forced to leave their home country due to persecution and know first-hand what it feels like not be able to practise their faith and beliefs. It was quite fitting and our good fortune that we were paired with the Women’s Federation for World Peace. Who better to understand and offer support to the Ahmadi Muslim ladies? Through the identity exercise, I learnt that we can always build connections with others through our teachings, history, struggles and successes.
Throughout this experience and my journey of learning through dialogue, one theory still puzzled me. As a teacher I am always encouraging children to ask questions because as they say, ‘asking questions makes you an active learner’. So how can I learn if I am too afraid to ask questions related to the belief of others out of fear of causing offence? In my last session I finally took this step. I tried to phrase the question in the best way possible, but I still felt terrible inside. However, the response was wonderful, it opened my mind and changed my opinion. Isn’t that what dialogue is all about? To be able to convince others respectfully that your views and beliefs have a place and are real.
I am grateful to the Feast and the Faith & Belief Forum for this experience. Every interaction and connection are like a building block. The more experiences I have, the taller my tower and the farther I can see.
Bio: Saba Malik has a degree in Medical Biology from Brunel University London and a PGCE Secondary Science from the University of Roehampton London. Saba is an active member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and has served as an outreach coordinator for several branches over the past 8 years. The work of the association includes service to local community through charity works and interfaith events to promote the peaceful teachings of Islam. The community motto is Love for All Hatred for None.