By Nabil Ahmed
I was fortunate enough not long ago to be invited to join a bunch of cool Muslim students out on camp who were socially and spiritually nourishing themselves off Snowdonia’s peaks and crisp air. The pleasant young gentlemen (I consider myself a ripe student-elder) could cook well, hike and even (when asked) give an excellent rendition of the Maori Haka. But take a look at the bigger picture and they represent an exciting future for Britain, presenting a trailer for the decade ahead. They are united, diverse religiously, culturally, socially and politically, they were able to discuss how universal concepts of justice actually are, and between them you could formulate more than a patchwork of social reform.
Many of the students sat in front of me, I thought, are tomorrow’s leaders. Planting Britain’s seeds of change today, and whose harvest will be palpable 10 years from now, God willing. And there are lots of them around the country. Shoring up our collective ability to lead activity and discussion on campus with confidence will, God willing, go a long way to leading discussion in society and creating opportunities for change. In the civic arena as well as the political.
Young people have been entrusted with creating ripples of political change for generations. This has been married with freedom to express and discuss, particularly on our campuses. A trip to the Main Debating Hall at the University of Manchester’s Student Union leaves you standing on the same platform that Malcolm X stood on 50 years before. You may struggle to fathom New Labour’s lynchpin Jack Straw once as a left-wing Student Union President leading an occupation of buildings at Leeds University in protest at his University. Internationally, look no further than the role of students at the University of Sobonne in 1968 and even Iran more recently. And amidst mass political apathy of recent history, early 2009 saw a wave of sit-ins across campuses in the UK protesting against the Israeli invasion of Gaza and to make their Universities disinvest from the arms trade.
These are strong headline examples that I use to demonstrate students potential – an inspection of campuses today demonstrates pragmatic and equally energetic campaigns, especially on Higher Education Funding and against the fascist-right, as well as student welfare and climate change. Palestine is not forgotten, and will not be by students. Members of Parliament are beginning to be held to account too by students, a necessary step to reinvigorate real political debate ahead of the next general election. Muslim students today find themselves increasingly at the forefront of diverse campaigns, and whilst much progress remains to be done, the Muslim representation at the student level is far ahead of the national political picture for Muslim-representation. In the civic arena, “Charity Week” led by Islamic Societies showed how students between them could raise a staggering £350,000 in a single week in aid of orphans. Community projects have resulted in student-led feed-the-homeless campaigns. Around the country students recently opened doors to each other, united through multi-faith collaboration, and I have seen visits to schools by University students to share experiences and act as brilliant role models.
But then there’s something extra for the young Muslim – it’s about knowing that God does nothing in vain and that our being young Muslims at this critical juncture in history has a purpose as part of a divine plan. As a scholar reminded me, the deeper our understanding of that plan the deeper our realisation the tremendous responsibility we shoulder.
We, the young Muslims, are the products of the experiences and challenges of our forefathers. With our faith as well, we now have something very special to bring to the table. So it’s crucial that the Muslim youth are empowered and trusted: for we are the future. And as for my fellow students, I encourage us all to get involved where we can – doing something we enjoy; there is something for us all.
In our principles I believe it is important to think of citizenship now – it is Islamic to be active in your debating society and your Student Union and upon universal issues just as it is Islamic to be active in your Islamic Society and fighting the cause of Palestine. Values of justice and the seeking of the truth aren’t just for Muslims – they are seeking values of justice and the seeking of truth for entire mankind. People like Usman Ali, a seasoned NUS campaigner for fairer University funding for future generations of students, or Nizam Uddin, President of University London Union, prove theory in action. It’s about respecting diversity too – it is Islamic to be left as it is to be right. It’s about loving Muslims, and loving your country, the good and bad of both.
Back to Snowdonia, and together we realised that the worst we can do is waste our time. The best we can do is envision change; improve ourselves, help improve mankind’s reality and help ourselves get closer to God.
Nabil Ahmed is Vice-President Student Affairs of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). His work actively seeks to empower Muslim students towards a culture of civic and political participation, represent the interests of Muslim students nationally, conduct research and serve welfare needs. He graduated in summer 2008 from the University of Manchester with a degree in Management with International Studies BSc. He has also worked nationally for the National Union of Students, and locally with diverse grassroots organisations.
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.