Before I begin I want to tell you a little about my journey…
When I was a teenager, I went on a school trip to Westminster. I was in awe of what I saw so from that moment on, I decided that when I grew up, I would be back here to work and rub shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the world…and do dawa to them.
A degree in Economics, 200 job application forms, a 4 hr interview and beating 4000 other candidates, I achieved my childhood dream. I worked in Westminster, I rubbed shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the world, and I did do dawa to them.
Slowly in my spare time, I began to work with some of the most prominent Muslim speakers and organisations and began organising VIP Islamic awareness events in some of the most prestigious locations in British history, surely this would be my happy ever after? Wrong. After a couple of years, I was miserable and became deeply depressed because something was missing.
From the beginning, my intention had always been to make a difference. But all I was doing was laying on 5* catering and entertainment to an elite group of people who just wanted a free meal and soon forgot what the event was all about. In truth, I really wasn’t making any difference.
By a twist of fate, I resigned and left it all behind and moved to bonny Scotland where overnight I became a ‘nobody’. No one knew my name, where I had just come from or what I was capable of. And it was here, I tried from scratch to achieve my original dream. But this time, rather then working with leaders, I worked with the people at the grassroots, and I was happy to finally be making a difference.
Maybe I don’t have a big brand name or big organisation to boast about, but I’m fine with that. Because I don’t measure my success based BIG, I measure it by adding up all the small differences, especially the ones that have a domino effect. Due to my passion with food, I was able to teach people how to cook and eat healthily. Because of my passion to teach, people who didn’t know how to speak English could now communicate more confidently. Because of my passion for justice, after launching a humanitarian campaign, more people found out about what is happening to the children in Palestine. Because of my interest in motherhood, I set up a Muslim mums network using Facebook to get mums in the same area talking and meeting. Because of my passion to write and give dawa, I was able to set up my blog and get ideas and messages out to the world about Islam. These are just a few examples of how you can take something your passionate about and make it useful for others.
After 15 years of doing this, I can tell you that everyone has the potential to take one of their passions and turn it into an action. Very briefly I’m gonna run you through what I found works and what doesn’t from my experience.
The first thing you need to identify is what you are passionate about? I’m not talking about hobbies or spare time; I’m talking what makes your blood boil, tears flow and gets you excited and creative? Take a piece of paper and write down the first things that come to mind?
To be honest, it’s actually this passion that will decide how successful your project is. And this passion is what will convince others and win you support for your idea.
No 2. Intention.
You know what your passionate about, and you want to do something about it, now ask yourself WHY? Is it to be famous? win awards? Be well known? Have status? Get praise? Or is it because you can’t sleep easy at night knowing you could’ve done something to help? Is it because you want to be rewarded by Allah? Or just simply to help others? Make sure your intention is everything BUT showing off, and then you’ll see the blessings in your work. To be honest, in my experience this is the make or break of your project. And even if things are sincere at the beginning, you could get sidetracked in the middle or end. Constantly ask yourself why are you doing this project especially when things are going good, as that’s the prime time for egos to grow and insincerity to breed. Be very careful of yours and all those who are involved in the projects intentions. Don’t go looking for attention, it will come to find you.
No 3. Keeping things Small and Simple
I do get very irritated that we keeping hearing only about the end results of success stories of multi-millionaire business and well funded and well branded organisations. Everyone wants to be Steve Jobs, however, no one ever really pays much attention to the fact that all these stories had very humble beginnings and suffered many failures. Its only once these small ideas got their foundations and formulas right, they were naturally able to expand, it never happened overnight. That is why it is important to start off small. I remember advising someone who wasn’t doing any exercise to start of a hobbie, when they chose their sport, they were already talking about competiting in the Olympics! Damn! Slow down! Thinking small helps projects to last longer than the Olympic ones which tend to cause immense pressure and make you feel overwhelmed until you abandon the project altogether. Doing small things in a simple and easy to understand kind of way, helps people feel able to join in, and you will get support much faster and quicker that way.
There are a lot of unsung hero amongst us who are in every sense of the word, successful, even if their projects are small. There is nothing wrong with that. Big doesn’t always mean successful and vice versa. Plus you should only be as big as you can manage, especially when we have to manage our several other responsibilities in life like health, marriage and family, job etc, we must have moderation in all things.
No 4. Use what you already have.
Don’t need to feel like you need special qualifications just to start up a project. Don’t underestimate yourself. If your a wife or a mum, you pretty much already have 99% of the skills you need to set up. Just cause you have certain certificates, doesn’t mean you don’t have the skills to get going. But if there are part time courses available or training opportunities, then go for it as this will earn you more credibility and you can learn something new.
When I first arrived to Edinburgh I did a teaching qualification. When I was 9 months pregnant I was on a child care course. When my son was 2 yrs old, I did food hygiene and nutritional courses. All these came into use once my son went into school.
No 5. Do local, not global.
When you want to start up a project, do it in your local area, with local people and organisations that you already know. Don’t even attempt to branch out until you got your local project up and running and most importantly WORKING.
No 6. Open your work up to all.
Don’t pigeon hole your work, be willing to engage people outside your own religious groups/community. This is actually a very Islamic concept especially in the field of charity and in the name of justice.
No 7. Feed into projects, work and organisations already existing.
Don’t need to start from scratch as this will save you the headache of all that boring paper work. Rather then setting up my own cooking classes, I volunteered with a community health project up the road from my house. This made it so much easier for me especially having a young child. Furthermore, when you feed into or volunteer into existing projects, you can request free childcare and training.
No 8. Being the boss, mean getting your hands dirty.
Time and time again I have come across people who just want to have the title of boss in the project, but when it comes to the hard graft, sacrificing time, money and energy – these dudes are nowhere to be seen. If you don’t want to do the hard graft, than don’t expect your project to get very far.
No 9. Expect problems and do your best to avoid them.
There maybe times where you may need to do your project on your lonesome (and it will be a test of your sincerity when this happenes, will you carryon regardless or give up? If your really passionate, numbers don’t really matter). You may need to problem solve, you may suffer criticism, people may even get jealousy or you and slander you, you may encounter failures after failures, you may even at one point have to walk away if its not working, this is all part of the learning process. Better to be prepared then shocked and paralyzed by these when they occur.
No 10. You need to know your stuff.
You may need to be outspoken, you may need to have strong opinions – in fact without these, you credibility will be cast into doubt. If people ask you questions, you need to know your project inside out to have the answers at the ready.
No 11. Don’t Give Up So Easily.
Once you start and do all the above, don’t give up unless there is a good reason to do so. These things are hard work but worthwhile. Because behind the scenes, you making connections, having beautiful thought and heart provoking conversations.
In conclusion, the most wonderful thing I found about converting an idea into an action was actually converting strangers into friends. And as much as I wanted to give out to make a difference. I got plenty in return that changed me for the better too.
Allah would not change a favour which He had bestowed upon a people until they change what is within themselves. And indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing.
The Qur’an, Surah Al-’Anfaal (Chapter of the spoils of war) 8:53
Shabana Diouri is an aspiring writer and poet with a strong affinity toward the issues of women in Islam and spiritual needs of the heart. She is a qualified Economist and Statistician whose career began in Whitehall. Currently she spends her time in Edinburgh as a freelance writer and engages in outreach work with the University of Edinburgh to encourage a deeper understanding of Islam and Muslim culture. She currently manages ‘Muslimah Uninterrupted’, her personal blog where this was first published: http://muslimahuninterrupted.wordpress.com