Blog: #StudentsNotSuspects. Reflections from a former University Islamic Society President

Reflections are great, therefore below, I try to best share my experiences as a former student group leader, in particular, my years as the President of Exeter’s Islamic Society, and why I'm not excited about the government’s latest 'counter-radicalisation' policies that will effect universities from today*, seeking to monitor student group activities.

For some strange reason, many students I encounter throughout my travels find it hard to comprehend that I was an Islamic Society President during my time at university. It must be the way I dress, talk or my (lack of) beardedness. If your name is Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, like myself, none of the above matters, as you're labelled just another Muslim Student, who apparently, has an inclination to care about issues affecting the welfare of [Muslim] communities. Some translate that to being ‘socially active’, or outwardly expressing your ‘political beliefs’ (or whatever). If you're a Muslim, a student and outwardly expressing your ‘religiosity’ on campus, local authorities will now keep an eye on your activism, as someone who may be at 'risk of being radicalised'. *yawns*

My university students' union (SU) was very chilled. I developed a phenomenal relationship with SU staff and even university staff in a variety of [none] academic departments. I was President of the Islamic Society (2012-2014) during years where student activism was borderline none existent at Exeter (on an institutional level, NUS related campaigns, etc). I was fortunate enough to not face many challenges as President, other than the normal "external speakers" policy that the SU had in place (like every university in the UK), which our student group had to comply with (like every other student group). It was easy: share details of who the speaker is, background, their associated organisation(s), etc. The rest was history. Not once during my years as President did I face any difficulty. The trust built between SU staff and student groups is something local authorities will never understand.

Post-graduation, I recognised (anecdotal social media analysis) Exeter students' becoming more politically active on a student level (than I was previously familiar with), and a great example of this was the recent formation of the Quilliam Society on campus. If any of you are familiar, I had some healthy exchanges via social media with the society founder, and of course, not so healthy exchanges with the popular *cough cough* Maajid Nawaz. The student who's introducing the Quilliam Society at Exeter, has been made to believe that this is a student group worth forming, proof he's out of touch with what's going on on campus. The Quilliam Foundation's relationships with and agenda against Islamic Societies is nothing new, and had this student done some research, they would know that Exeter is far from the extremes they are supposedly looking out for, and that the award winning Islamic Society* is a celebrated student group for all the right reasons, loved and supported by many staff members and student groups on campus.

The Quilliam Society student group leader says he aims to demonstrate the "need to break this cycle of fear and terror", whilst hoping to "promote(s) a liberal narrative - a narrative that champions free speech, human rights, the rule of law, political and religious pluralism, and secularism ", yet the 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security (CTS) Bill, in particular, Section 26, challenges what  the Quilliam Society aims to celebrate. I have previously communicated with the Quilliam Society student leader via the world of social media, and it seems the person has  a sound heart, but it's obvious that the person has  been absorbing the Quilliam Foundation’s obsession with a so called 'ideological battle with extremism',  not backed by an evidence based approach.

Call me all the names you want, but I'm a supporter of the NUS campaign, #StudentsNotSuspects, especially the work of the NUS Black Students Campaign. My experiences as a student group leader at Exeter, followed by my consistent engagement with a variety of Student Groups  at  UK universities keeps me in touch with how new measures will effect students’ free thinking, speech and engagement with innocent democratic political activism. The new CTS measure really does seem to dictate what universities can/can't do (despite already having measures in place to combat hate speech) and insults students’ intellectual ability to challenge and engage with what lecturers or external speakers believe and spout. My studies at university were not limited to the School of Exercise and Health Sciences. I studied some modules outside of my school, one being in the Social Sciences. My then lecturer, Prof. Jonathan Githens-Mazer, encouraged us to challenge opinions, and not just conform to what he taught us. This module was by far the most intellectually stimulating classes I took during my years. Just imagine another lecturer in any department, who may not be so fluid in his teaching, having to report a student who's expressing opinions he translates as extreme? The lecturer will now have a legal duty (under the new CTS bill) to raise concerns of a student and referring their name to local authorities. Sounds crazy to me. Universities should be a hub for students to challenge and engage with intellectual discourse, which will often mean challenging public opinion. I love that, and so do university lecturers and researchers. Their purpose is to foster intellectual discussions, to challenge, and harness the confidence of students to speak on important issues effecting communities. 

We can certainly take lessons from the creative tech wiz that is Ahmed Mohamed, a young 14-year-old Sudanese-American 9th grader, whose own exploration of creativity labelled him a suspect, for bringing in a 'suspicious' looking item (according to school officials), which happened to be a clock that his engineering teacher had already approved of, before it lead to his arrest. On the contrary, cases in Britain (although not as extreme) for example in which  a young Muslim student who appeared to lack a proactive engagement in Music class, lead to his details being passed onto local authorities, without parental consent,  became a new a Prevent indicator of someone who's at 'risk of being radicalised'. This is already the direction Britain is taking when monitoring the activity of students, as well as the monitoring of nursery school children, who are at 'risk of becoming terrorists'.

As a former student group leader and Islamic Society President, the trust I and many student groups built with the SU was sufficient enough for them to not follow our every move, because measures in place regulating hate speech sufficed, and like many students groups, we all complied. But for Muslim student groups, it's not just about complying with current SU measures; it's about feeling alienated and being made to feel like a suspect community, living in a cycle of paranoia and fear, where their every move is being monitored, with measures like this leading institutions to potentially foster Islamophobia.

I'll leave you with this. Being from the UK, I'm reminded that this sort of anti-Muslim prejudice that Ahmed Mohamed from the U.S experienced (among other examples) is not exclusively limited to the American Muslim struggle, nor is living under a monitored police state. My friend's Facebook post sums up my urgent need to write this blog:

"It is so important that we do not think that this is just an 'American problem'. With laws like the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill in the UK, there will be many British Ahmed Mohameds because of a police state that sees young Muslims and their development only through the prism of national security.” – Zarah Sultana (Student and Activist)



*Exeter Students' Guild Awards Student Group of the Year 2013, Exeter RAG Awards Society of the Year 2014, Exeter Students' Guild Awards Highly Commended - Event of the Year 2015.

Blog: Poetry, Climate Change and Muslim Conspiracies

(VIDEO) Why do UK Muslims care about Climate Change? - Muslim Climate Action

To be fair, my poem at the beginning was only 22 seconds long, but none the less, I'm sure it will change many peoples' lives. *puts 'idealist' hat on*

I'll come back to talking about what Poetry can do in contributing to the Climate Change discussion.

Following last month's Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, yesterday the Muslim Climate Action (MCA) launched at the Houses of Parliament, and can you believe it, I was invited(!). This event really made me feel like someone important (I legit felt like this). The image I had floating in my head was that famous Jonathan Goldsmith meme, with the caption envisioned I don't always get invited to important events... but when I do, it's to change the world.  If you attended this launch event and you're reading this, you know exactly what i'm talking about. 

The Muslim Climate Action (MCA) is a group of UK Muslim organisations concerned about climate change. Currently consisting of five member organisation (three of which are NGO's):  MADE in EuropeIFEESMuslim Charities ForumGlobal One and Islamic Relief, they aim to: 

" on British Muslim communities and the UK government alike to take urgent action to protect our planet and save billions of lives." 

The thing that stood out to me the most was MCA's tag line "Stewards of the Earth".  Not only is this a wonderful and pertinent reminder, but it's also something that strongly manifests the role Muslims should be playing in the action for Climate Change. To cut a long story short, looking after our planet is part of our faith. This tag line is inspired by the verse in the Qur'ān (chapter [2] The Cow, verse 30):

"I am going to place in the earth a khalifa (steward)."

The stewards are us. 

What excites me as a young British Muslim is the urgent action taken by some of the finest, active Muslims in the country. Growing up (I can only speak for myself), I only ever heard Muslims debating very trivial subjects, like whether wearing Nike was 'halal' (permissible) or 'haram' (prohibited), because the brand's name has some pre-historic allegiance to a Greek mythological God, which (those who argued) "could be blasphemous" to endorse (and other debates like the Coca-Cola label on the bottle conspiracy: "brozer, when you flip the label upside down and shine it under the light..."). I know, face-palm moment right? Maybe I kept up to date with those trivial debates because it bugged me when someone said I couldn't wear my Nike Air Force One's or how I was a sinner if I drank Vanilla Coke?

It's important for Muslims to be involved in major movements and campaigns such as climate change, and even more important, using faith as a tool to bring about this change. As Lord Bourne (Parliamentary Department of Energy and Climate Change) said at yesterday's launch: "Faith based declarations are critical in supporting action on #ClimateChange inc recent Islamic declaration', highlights how much influence Muslims can have with leading figures in the country, who support MCA's objective, spearheading campaigns through intellectual discussions, gaining institutional support or just through awesome social media hashtags like #Muslims4Climate and #GreenJihad.

Now, back to talking Poetry. For almost a year, I've always felt it was premature for me to formally get involved in writing poems explicitly for particular causes. Believe it or not, but I had some insecurities about the quality of my writing. The most common scenario: A charity would contact me to write a poem on a topic, and I never was 1) confident enough on the topic and 2) didn't think it was authentically me. This year, I overcame this. My friend from Islamic Relief contacted me to appear in this video and write a short poem on climate change. It was an immediate yes, because all it took was me to see inspiring faith leaders from all over the world to come together for global declaration and I was like "damn, that's fricking awesome", because I had never seen Muslims worldwide take such a topic so seriously. As a youngster, all I heard were silly debates, and now, here comes our local heroes, proving it doesn't take one small charity in the UK to take initiative, but uniting Muslim figures to take action collectively. That was inspiring. The confidence issue was overcome because I realised it's not hard to write about things you consider yourself to know little about, especially if you engage in it every day. How can I not understand Climate Change when I use water every day, switch the light on in my bedroom, sit in the passenger seat in my sisters car (I've given it away, I still don't drive) and eat meat regularly? Climate Change is effected by our lack of care to be more attentive when using all of these resources. To bring about change on such a simple level, is to put a limit on how you use these resources, or better, find alternatives. Start with recycling, not every day disposable bottles, and eating meat, some days, buy a bottle that'll last forever and fill it up, and eat more green.

I could go on forever but I'm going to leave it there. My poem may have been short, but those few lines gave me to the confidence to write about more issues effecting our world, not shying away from something I don't know, rather slapping it in the face so I learn to overcome my insecurities. I unlocked Battersea Art Centre's secret, that no art exist without taking risks, and using this art form to raise awareness, and hopefully, at least encourage people to talk about it. We can bring about change if we just make the effort. Now, scrap all the trivial debates and crack on with talking about real issues: Climate Change.

Ps, for practical solutions tackling climate change, check out MADE in Europe's GreenUp toolkit.

Blog: What's up!

You have now entered my page. From this point onwards, your life will change (that just about rhymes). Ah, who am I kidding?

Thank you for checking out my new website. It's pretty cool huh?

But in all seriousness, it's awesome to have a lot of support from friends, family and awesome people around me who've followed my work since the beginning. The Mo Rhymes years, the pre-college years when my tag name from school was Killzer (long story, just don't ask) and those very close to me who have the license to call me Momo! 

This is all part of my re-branding process, the changing faces, the flipping of spades (pretentious, I know). From Mo Rhymes Da [badass] Poet, the overly excited spoken word performer, just trying to share my storyMohamed Writes is the next step. A lil' more grown up (unfortunately not in height), using poetry to engage a variety of people through workshops and performances, creating a safe space for people to explore this art form.

I shall be using this page for a lot of regular blogging, ranging from personal journeys and my latest projects, to sharing my thoughts on what's happening in the world (no, i'm not trying to be a social commentator). If I offend you, I'm sorry in advance.

Once in a while, I'll share a new poem i've written on here, alongside some video performances and stuff. Expect the unexpected and possibly some flashy online videos too. 

I'm here for the long run folks. I hope you enjoy exploring my page.

Don't forget to join the mailing list. ;)