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15 April, 2011

Zahra A Hassan (Photo: Stacey Mangal)
Zahra A Hassan (Photo: Stacey Mangal)
Zahra A Hassan, Director of Women of the Horn and Project Co-ordinator of the Somali Initiative for Dialogue and Democracy (SIDD), gave this reflection one morning whilst attending the UK IofC fellowship weekend at Cliff College, Derbyshire, which took place 8 - 10 April 2011.

I am grateful to be part of the national fellowship of IofC in the UK taking place at Cliff College in Derbyshire.

Living every day with passion is something that should come naturally to most people. I have passion just being alive. But, by adding in each day things that I love to do it can develop my life.

Life can be enjoyable every day once you recognize that each day we are given is a blessing and a true gift from ALLAH. Of course it is understandable that some of us are born with silver spoons, others struggle their entire lives and never get ahead.

I pray five times a day and thank ALLAH for the passion that is in each day and I do read the holy Quran.

Through one of IofC's programmes called Agenda for Reconciliation (AfR), I learnt about the tradition of silent reflection of IofC. This tradition also includes the central moral principles of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love.

Agenda for Reconciliation and SIDD attracted me and I play a major role in bringing peace and reconciliation along with my others colleagues; I work hard to convey change in the community together.

Every Thursday, I share experiences and develop new initiatives through change. I come voluntarily a long way to attend the meetings on a voluntary basis. I often meet people from different countries, cultures, languages and religions working together for common goals and building their trust.

Alongside opportunities, there are problems. Diversity, racism, exclusion, and inequality are some of the problems faced by many communities. For instance, I work with Women of the Horn Association; I campaign to end the practice of Female Genital Mutilation or FGM as it is commonly known, which needs a lot of courage to raise awareness in the community.

FGM is an illegal practice but one which has a long history of cultural acceptance. It is impossible to change perceptions and bring about real change without involving the wider communities who practice FGM. It is carried out in a very sensitive manner. I disseminate information, drop-in sessions and workshop training programmes.

This practice is exceptionally high in North west London as the population of Muslim origin is particularly large. According to the Muslim Council of Britain, 32,000 Muslim families live in Brent alone. An estimated 15,000 girls are at risk, it is well documented in the community source. I raise awareness at grassroot level to give advice and counselling to young girls and families dealing with FGM.

I adopt a ground-breaking approach to this problem by enabling victims from the Horn of African communities to access help and support from within their own communities. In addition, I am building their confidence, and empowering the victims and the communities concerned.

Today, I see Somalia divided into states with their own presidents - Somalia is known as the country of 15 presidents. But we are one nation, one people, one language, one culture and one religion. Many countries in the world are suffering for lack of peace and security. Somalia, where I was born, is still in civil war and people and babies are dying. When I think about our current situation, I feel wounded. The only revival will only be when each one of us takes responsibility for cleaning up our lives with honesty and being guided by true motivation and thoughts in our daily life.

I witnessed peace and prosperity are difficult to understand. I came from a divided community based on clan loyalty, where some tribes are superior to others. This pattern wounds our society and needs healing through forgiveness and reconciliation. Throughout my faith of Islam, I was encouraged to live with the commitment in the Quran where ALLAH say, ”you can only seek forgiveness when you do so first”. As a result, I started forgiving and healing the broken relationships and build the trust within the family members and friends. This is one of the significant moments in my life.

As I begin to think, many African and Arab countries, to name a few like Libya, Yemen, and Ivory Coast, are collapsing because of the failure of good governance and others are suffering on violation of human rights. Let all of us pray and play a bigger role for gaining their peace and security in those regions.

I am a very religious Muslim woman; during my time with IofC I have been offered a new life that gave me an opportunity to identify the value in each individual, and the acceptance that we all belong to one family. I came to recognise its core values of forgiveness, sharing, respect, integrity. My conclusion to live a life of moral trust and integrity has come with significant decision to persistently “Not who is right, but what is right”. 

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