Faith Inclusion with Halyma and Naz

November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month and Interfaith Week (8th-15th) and at Inclusive Employers, Naz Mir (Inclusion & Diversity Consultant) sat down with Halyma Begum, L&D Manager at the Co-op, to hear about their experiences as a British Muslim and their asks of organisations to create and celebrate Interfaith communities.

NM: Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you

HB: Hi I’m Halyma Begum, I’m Muslim and Bangladeshi, I’m born and bred in the UK and I work for the Co-op group. I’ve been here for 15 years and I work as the Council L&D Manager, I’m also really passionate about Inclusion and trying to help people learn more, so I’m also the Deputy Chair on the Black Asian and Ethnic Minority Network.

NM: Tell us a little about your experience as a British Muslim and your experience of Interfaith communities.

HB: Both my parents are from Bangladesh, but I was born here. I grew up Muslim, but it wasn’t until my 20s that I started to study it more in-depth and learn about the religion, which was when I loved it even more. I have completed courses on Islam and taught children about the religion, so I have strong roots in both the Muslim and Bangladeshi community where I live. It is by most accounts diverse in the surrounding city area, but as I wear a headscarf, there are occasions where I do not feel safe, or find that some people look at me funny.

NM: What is it like being a British Muslim in 2020?

HB: There are so many good things about being a Muslim in 2020. There is so much to learn and study, there are lots of specialists and scholars sharing their knowledge, it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world so there is a sense of community, it is constantly evolving. On the other side, there are also some negatives. The media are responsible for a lot of the Islamophobia that we see today. During the Manchester bombing in 2017,  I was in Manchester and the next day I automatically felt like I had to take responsibility for these awful actions, and following conversations consisted of me having to ‘back up’ my religion. Explaining to people that Muslims are kind and loving, that Muslim women aren’t oppressed, we dress modestly and cover our hair out of love for the religion. Really having to defend ourselves and some of the fundamental choices we make.

NM: Do you think this is unique to how people view Islam?

HB: It definitely is prevalent, that we all get tarred with the same brush. Last week I was listening to a radio conversation about the tragic events in Paris recently and it was a lot of the same narrative. And the religion is always brought into the conversation when it pertains to Muslims, but not necessarily other religions

NM: What would your advice be to Employers on how to be more inclusive on this subject?

HB: I’d say, just listen to your employees and meet their needs. Everyone has different needs, so being as accommodating as possible is key. I’m very lucky to work at the Co-op, they go much further than that and are actively role modelling inclusion, they’re always willing to listen and raise cultural awareness, we recently came out with our commitments to racial equality and for Eid, we even ask our non-Muslim colleagues to undertake a day of fasting for charity, which even our CEO gets involved in.

NM: And finally, what would your advice be to colleagues in the workplace?

HB: Reach out, connect and find out more about one another. I’m currently working with a colleague who is Hindu and we’re learning so much about each other’s religions. It really builds relationships and an appreciation for others experiences. We’re now organising a Diwali event together out of it. This is how we increase our knowledge, when we educate ourselves and raise our own awareness, it helps us to be more inclusive of other people and live together happily.