News / Staff Showcase – Alyaa Ebbiary

Staff Showcase – Alyaa Ebbiary

Staff Showcase


31 / 03 / 21

Your name and job title:

I was the Programmes Officer for Education & Learning, and then Programmes Officer for the West Midlands… and now a volunteer for F&BF!


Tell us a little about yourself:

I am a Sunni Muslim and my heritage straddles three countries in the Middle Eastern – Egyptian, Syrian and Palestinian. I am based in East London but I grew up in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and mostly Lancashire. I studied Anthropology and Middle East Studies at undergraduate level (Manchester University), and then went straight to do a Masters in Religious Studies at Lancaster University, then after several years working in research, charities and as a teacher, I ended up doing a PhD on Islamic education.


What made you initially interested in interfaith work?

As a “third culture kid” I’ve never felt I belonged anywhere nor really understood by those around me. At school my friends were always different backgrounds to me and I was always interested in religious and cultural differences in order to understand myself and others.

What started my interfaith “career” if you like, was studying as an undergraduate at Manchester University. There were tensions building on campus around the Israel/Palestine issue which lead to demonstrations, some of which I was involved with. At the time I was enrolled to study both Arabic and Hebrew languages and my interactions with fellow students from a Jewish background made me realise that our narrative on the same issue were vastly different. A Jewish course mate initiated a Muslim-Jewish Dialogue Group to discuss some the political and personal issues that people were clashing on. It was mind-opening and the journey has continued over 15 years on!


What motivates you now, and why do you feel interfaith work is still required?

I have since designed and delivered interfaith training with different groups and when you hear the kind of questions people ask and the depth of inquiry it can motivate, it really inspire me. I have since trained during my PhD as an anthropologist – whose specialism is to understand human society through culture.

Interfaith work is still very much required but I do worry that as a participatory practice, it doesn’t reach the people who most need it. This is why we need to go online!


How did you first hear about F&BF?

When I first moved to London over a decade ago, I saw an advert requesting volunteers from faith backgrounds to speak at schools, for what was then called Three Faiths Forum. I had recently left working as an RE teacher, and missed the interaction of the classroom, so I applied and volunteered. 10 years later I came to work at F&BF in it’s current incarnation and it’s changed in many ways.


What parts of your role are you most excited about?

I love delivering programs and working with people at the grassroots, and I love designing things like resources and workshops.


What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about faith work in society today? And what are the truths?

When I started out interfaith work many years ago, there was a conception that interfaith work is dominated by Christian and Jewish groups, who may have the upper hand in the matter and more able to set the agenda for the interaction. This resulted in many Muslims I knew being hesitant to join such initiatives, because of a perceived imbalance. I think this has been the case in some rare contexts, so it is not entirely a complete misconception. However over the 15 years I have been working in this field, there has been so much more effort to engage interfaith partners in a collaborative and egalitarian way, and much more awareness about power dynamics between communities.


What are the three main issues relating to faith you feel need addressing on a societal level this year?

  1. I think COVID and other crises have led to scapegoating of minorities more.
  2. Brexit has exposed massive rifts in British society that has often been expressed through xenophobia.
  3. Black Live Matter movement has highlighted the necessity to understand racism and discrimination as intersectional, not just as relating to single categories.


And finally…What floats your boat outside of work?

I am a lifelong nerd, so I have way too many books. I have a burgeoning houseplant nursery, I love cooking exciting new dishes, 1980s toy nostalgia collecting, classic films from the 1950s & 60s, especially musicals!

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