British Muslim convert, community activist, and women’s rights advocate, Julie Siddiqi, is one of those awarded an MBE in the Queen Birthday honor list.
MBE is an honorary award in the British system; it recognizes outstanding achievements or remarkable community services.
AboutIslam speaks with Julie to learn more about her recognition and what it means to her.
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Q. Where were you when you found out about being awarded an MBE and how did it feel?
A. I found out from a letter out of the blue in the post a few months ago. You are asked if you would accept an award and give some personal info and then you send it back and are not allowed to tell anyone. So I just pushed it to the back of my mind so I didn’t get tempted to tell the kids or my mum!
I have been working in the community for 25 years now. My work has always been with people, so I feel humbled and touched to have been recognized but really feel it’s for those people too, who have been on my journey with me.
They are all part of the award in my eyes, from the first committee members I had in our local women’s group to the person who recently set up my website and hundreds of people in between, we are in this together.
Q. You’ve been involved in the charity sector for some time, what are the main causes you have been looking to address? And what challenges have you faced?
A. I see myself as a community organizer, a campaigner, a mentor, an educator, and a student. We are all learning and life is a journey. I love working with people of other faiths and have particularly focused on work with the Jewish community in the last 10 years or so including being co-founder of Nisa-Nashim, the largest network of Jewish and Muslim women in Europe.
I also established Sadaqa Day which is promoting social action, seeing charity as about time and service, not just about money. Also The Big Iftar encouraging Muslims to open up Ramadan more and invite people in to share the blessings which has seen hundreds of events taking place over the last few Ramadans.
I also co-founded Open My Mosque to challenge the status quo in Muslim communities around gender and leadership. My latest social enterprise, Together We Thrive, is bringing together all of that and also focusing on creating better links and support networks for Muslim women across the UK. I’m excited, here’s to the next 25 years!
Q. As a white convert to Islam, have you ever felt that you have been subjected to bias/abuse/mistreatment from those raised as Muslims? If so, how has that inspired you to carry on forward?
A. To be honest, I’ve been lucky in the way I have been respected and welcomed in different Muslim communities and my family who are not Muslim have always been really supportive too, I am very grateful for that. But yes, among Muslim communities there is racism and prejudice that needs to be spoken about and exposed more to be dealt with.
It’s not enough to keep saying “Islam does not allow racism” and then allow anti-black and other prejudice to permeate through our families and communities. I don’t like it when converts are put on a pedestal or when they are made to feel they are not really proper Muslims. Neither view is OK!
Q. As a mother how do you manage your time between family, work, and your charity work?
A. I have 4 children who are now teens/young adults. I get asked this a lot and my main answer is always to say that if anyone gets the impression I have everything worked out and organized….they are wrong! For all of us there are a certain amount of hours in the day. We all have different energy levels and ways of working.
Every now and again, we must make sure we look at our life and where we are spending time and re-balance where necessary. It helps to be passionate and love what you do.
I am someone who tries not to over-worry and focus on small details that can weigh us down and generally, I am an optimistic person. I love walking and need to make sure I get outside and do that wherever I am in the world!
Q. Do you think having an MBE will open more doors for you? If so, how do you plan to use this recognition of your hard work to do even more positive things for society?
A. It has certainly given me an energy boost to continue, mainly because I have honestly been overwhelmed and inundated by messages and kind words by so many different people. My house has been literally full of flowers which has been so lovely.
Some of my favorite messages have been from Muslim women, appreciating the award and feeling it is a ‘win’ for them too. This is an acknowledgement that as Muslim women we have difficult spaces to navigate and that we can and must keep going. Together, we thrive.