LONDON – The Queen’s Birthday Honor List saw British Muslim Akeela Ahmed, founder of She Speaks We Hear, awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for her work in empowering women from across the diverse faith communities.
Among her objectives is to correct stereotypes of Muslim women often portrayed as being oppressed or threat to society.
1- What does getting an MBE mean to you?
On a more personal level, the award has a profound significance. Both my parents were immigrants to the UK. My mother a British subject, was expelled with family from Uganda and my father came from India. If it wasn’t for my mother and my father, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So this honor is for them, and a testament to the sacrifices they have made and the obstacles they have overcome to give us a better life than their parents could have ever dreamed of. Indeed, this honor is not only for all my immigrant grandparents; it is for all immigrants who come to the UK with aspirations, hopes, and dreams.
2- You got it for She Speaks We Hear? Can you tell me more about the project and why you began it?
She Speaks We Hear is an online platform bringing together the unfiltered perspectives and experiences of a diverse range of everyday women, with a particular focus on Muslim women. I started the platform as I was fed up with the binary way Muslim women were portrayed in the media, as either oppressed or a threat. Often Muslim women are discussed in the media in negative terms but very seldom did we hear Muslim women speak in their own voices on their own terms. Since the platform was created we have run campaigns to engage Muslim women in the media, getting them to vote and participate in democracy, influence policy and connect with government.
3- How do you feel the MBE will add value to your (social) work?
The coverage of me receiving the MBE has been very positive, so it has already made a difference in terms of providing a positive story about a Muslim woman in the media. It is also a message to haters and far-right extremists who believe that people like me do not have a place in the UK. I’m hoping the Honor will also continue to help promote the work I do and help elevate and support the empowerment of Muslim Women.
4- What are the biggest challenges you are trying to address/change/improve?
Currently, I am trying to address growing anti-Muslim sentiment and negative attitudes towards British Muslims. 2017 was a challenging year with various terrorist incidents and tragic events, including the Finsbury Park attack. In my experience, it is harder for people to remain divided once they know one another on a social and personal level so I am also involved with interfaith work, as a Trustee of Nisa Nashim, the Muslim Jewish Women’s network and a member of the Christian Muslim Forum. Both organizations bring together people of faith and no faith to overcome barriers and work together on common issues.
5- How do you feel your faith has helped you achieve your goals/objectives so far?
This will sound cliche but in recent times, my work is primarily motivated by my faith and inspired by my faith values which are shared values with other faiths and British values. Faith means different things to different people, however for me it provides a grounding and feeling of being centered despite the challenges. It also informs the way I engage with people and I try to do so with compassion and respect, even if I do not agree with them on many issues.
6- You are married with 3 children, do you feel your husband and children are an integral part of your journey, supporting you, encouraging you?
Yes totally is the short answer! Without my tribe of my husband, children, parents, siblings and beyond I would not be motivated or able to do half the things I do. I’m also inspired by the many women I meet and work with, who provide encouragement and support.
7- What message would you give to other women (and men) to encourage them also to be more active/aware/socially responsible etc?
I would say that the benefits of contributing to your communities and those around you are huge. It can be something small but whatever it is, I would say to just do it.
She Speaks We Hear is always on the lookout for contributions from women.