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Isma's story

Photo of Isma Asif

"It doesn’t matter what religion you are, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, it’s about you and what’s in your heart"

I’m Muslim, so Islam is a big part of my life. It’s something that has really kept me grounded in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong in my opinion. I think the basics of Islam, which everybody seems to miss, is that it’s literally just humanity; being nice to anybody and everybody. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, it’s about you and what’s in your heart. It’s all about positivity and caring for humanity in my eyes.

I’m known as the Head Sister in the Islamic Society. In other societies that would be the Vice President, so I work just under the President. In our society you have a Head Sister and a Head Brother to take control of the segregation.

When you think of Head Sister you think of someone who is very much rigid and to the norms and that’s a great approach, last year it was that approach and I thought it was great, I just didn’t think it included everybody enough. This year, I feel like the way I’ve taken it, I’ve tried to get those people who are already at that level and everybody else in one place. When I joined last year I kind of thought, ‘I’m not quite here, but I’m not quite there’, so I didn’t quite fit in. The fact that this year I took a different approach really helped a lot more girls to be included.

One thing that I definitely changed when I took this role was that I took a more laid-back approach. In terms of religion, I didn’t say ‘you can do this, you can’t do this’. I said, ‘do whatever you want, but tell me.’ If you’re ever going clubbing, in our religion it’s kind of like you shouldn’t really go, but if you’re going to go then tell me, because if something was to happen I want to be the first point of contact. I had a lot of different girls come to me over the last year for different cases; I had girls with problems at home, problems with their friends, problems picking an outfit or make up, it was a wide range of things, and I was so happy that these girls could reach out to me. The way I see it is that everyone makes mistakes, you’re human, you don’t need to be perfect, that’s not what this is about. It’s about knowing where you are, feeling confident in your own person and then growing. That’s how I lead it.

There are some people who think the way I’m going about it is a bit liberal, but the way I see it is that I’m doing it for a bigger cause. I’m not justifying my actions; just because I’m doing this, you shouldn’t just follow me. It’s the religion which is right, so don’t take me as your main role model, but think of me as your contact point. If you ever needed anything, I’m not going to say ‘oh yeah, the Quran says X, Y and Z’, I’m going to pass you over to someone who has the right knowledge. When I took the position, I wrote in my manifesto ‘do not look at me as your role model for anything, I am exactly as you are. I’m literally the same person, it’s just that I’ll lose sleep over the society and you won’t!’

There is a quote from the Quran, I’m not going to quote it word for word, but to paraphrase it what it means is that God wouldn’t burden you with something that you can’t handle. That’s got me through a lot. I’ve been in situations where everything has felt like too much, but then I’ve thought I wouldn’t be in the situation if God knew I couldn’t handle it, so I can do it and there’ll come a point where I get through it.

Our society events are open to everybody, it’s Muslim and non-Muslim. In October we had Charity Week, where girls were bringing in baked goods to sell on campus and at the end of the week we had a charity dinner. At the beginning of this academic year I was in charge of that, so it was all about the decorations, the fairy lights, having guest speakers come and give a talk. Then we had our ‘Believe and Do Good’ campaign, so for this I was heavily involved and lost a lot of sleep! Within the week we did different tasks, so we gave out free water bottles and on the water bottle it had the Islamic Society logo and it had something positive written on it, which was quoted from the Quran but written in English. One of my favourite things was that we gave out free roses. So anybody I saw, I was literally running over like ‘do you want a free rose?’ I met so many lovely girls through that. Literally just from that day handing out those roses when I met a couple of girls, they all came to an event and they happened to sit next to each other themselves, I didn’t have to do anything, and then they started sitting next to each other over the next few weeks. Now we go for dinner together and they’ll tell me things they’ve done together and it’s just so nice because they’ve met because of this society. They’ve met because I told them, ‘you don’t have to be a certain way, you can come dressed however you want, you can be your own person and be a part of this. You don’t have to change yourself to be here’.

Throughout the year we do collab here and there with other societies. We had an event where a speaker came in and it was an opportunity for anybody and everybody to ask questions. A lot of the questions were to do with marriage, because at this age in our religion everybody is like ‘I want to get married, I want to get married!’ And then other questions were like ‘what does our religion say about Muslim women? What does it say about women being allowed to work?’ There are a lot of misconceptions; people think that women can’t do anything, but actually in our religion women are at the top, but it was all about understanding.

That society collab was with the Humanist society, so we did have a bit of a debate going on. It was a bit of a tough event because it was a debate and we didn’t know that there needed to be a mediator and certain rules and regulations, but given that event and given the way it came out, I think definitely in the coming year we would collab again with any society that would approach us.

 

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