“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 
(Murakami; Kafka on the Shore)

Written for the Leeds & York Partnership Foundation Trust – WREN Blogs

As I try to configure appropriate words to reflect on this year gone by, I quickly realise that simply no phraseology, nomenclature or usage of any word in any way imaginable can do justice to what I, and perhaps every individual working in the Leeds & York Partnership Foundation Trust, feels. I sit here exhausted, broken and failing to make sense of the world outside and inside of my existence.

My thoughts scatter to the opening blog for the Workforce Race Equality Network (WREN) in April 2020, where I had a feeling of blunted dread and, perhaps, a premonition pertaining to the difficulties this pandemic would bring for us not only as a workforce, but also as a society. I believed that it would test our resolve, individually and collectively, but what I did not know was just how arduous or endless the test would be.

The pandemic performed precisely as it was expected to. It took the rifts of our society, where the vulnerable suffered the most in health, welfare, education and economic spheres, and it tore through to leave behind gaping empty spaces of inequality. Not only did minoritised and marginalised communities feel the direct brunt of the coronavirus associated morbidity and mortality, it also worsened issues that we were already struggling to deal with such as a dramatic rise in domestic violence, worsening poverty, furthered gaps in education, and adverse health outcomes for women and children from specific backgrounds.

The havens, sanctuaries and safe spaces that we held close to us also suffered; important festivals were cancelled, community and religious spaces closed down and we were left socially isolated from our loved ones for months. We were not able to mourn and grieve properly; we could not say goodbyes to our loved ones, we saw delayed funeral prayers and the lack of crucial spiritual final rites that gave meaning not only to those who passed on but also to those remaining behind without them. As a society we have not been able to mourn as we know how to. The pandemic took away the tactile aspects of mourning where families come together and hold each other in their arms. It took away any consolation, hope and solidarity that as humans we are so used to giving in the ways we know best during hardship.

To think that this alone was not struggle enough; the world witnessed the oppression of individuals and communities in a brazen and unapologetic manner across the globe through various mechanisms. Communities identifying with specific faiths, cultures and race felt isolated and alone under the various lens and filters of their respective oppression. So forgive me when I consider the entirety of 2020 riddled with nothing but wounds, pain and sorrow.

However, there is something else that I also muse upon and that is the ability of the tiniest glimmer of a fading candle, which is enough to light up the blackest clouds of darkness. The light that I speak of has not been an external source though. It has come from the kindness, compassion and care from the people working in this very Trust. It has come from us and for us.

Grief has a fantastic ability to convince us that we cannot get back up; it makes us question whether we can do the simplest things as before; it takes away a part of us and leaves behind a conviction etched in stone; that all is lost forever. It makes us question our role and purpose in our private lives but also in the service and care we provide for our patients and if it is indeed good enough.

As I navigated the murky waters of my own loss, people from this very Trust gathered around me and supported me in ways they knew how. Whilst they could not change my circumstances they made their position clear that they were there for me. Whether this was an email at a crucial time from Sara; David’s regular phone calls just to ensure I was ok; Wendy’s regular check-ins and WREN task-based therapy and Sharon’s ongoing infinite amount of tea and time – they all played their part in ensuring this inexperienced junior doctor had some form of clarity and support in the most unclear and isolating of times. They have all given me insight into not only the type of doctor or leader I want to be, but the type of person I want to be in these roles.

Continuing this reflection of the people in LYPFT, I have found hope and solace in the individuals who make up this Trust; the staff on grass root levels. My colleagues in CMHT OPS who have continuously endured my rookie mistakes, my work family working in the North Wing who always have kept spirits high during the most difficult of times and the trainee doctors who have regularly messaged and checked up on me.

Any reflection and gratitude is incomplete without considering WREN, its members and their contributions. WREN has become the crux of wellbeing and a safe space for anyone wanting to join and be present in any capacity they can. Despite the challenges of this year, the network members came together to celebrate diversity and inclusion on every platform. WREN, individually and collectively, has supported its members in unlearning, learning and voicing our vulnerabilities through this process. It has been a platform where we have cried together, held each other and stood in solidarity together. Each and every member has done what they know best – supporting earnestly, endlessly and abundantly without seeking a return. Whilst the pandemic has taken so much from us and will most likely continue to take, the spirit of WREN members has consolidated my belief in resilience and that we WILL get through this. It has indeed made me proud to be affiliated with the Trust and call these people my colleagues and friends.

The journey continues, however, as we move forward not only must we reflect on the lessons of this year but we must also decide upon the values that will define us as not only as individuals but also as the organisation we represent. We may be different versions of our former selves through this year, it perhaps would be abnormal if we were not, however, the constant that should remain is the continuous process of togetherness, solidarity and finding allies in our colleagues for our causes.

The message, which remains the same as it was in my first blog, has to be one of equality, inclusion and rooted in collective humanity.

Now more so than ever.

“Asian men beat up their wives and force them to cover up. Mummy says Asians are bad people.”
“Really?! Thank God I am not an Asian!”.

This is a conversation between two five year olds where the first child spreads word about dangerous Asian Muslims for the safety of the other child, who is incidentally her friend. The second child is horrified that such atrocities are taking place and feels a sudden surge of anger towards Asians for their callousness.

I was the second child.

I was so horrified about what I heard that an immediate protest was necessary. I was adamant that the authorities must find out who these Asians were and make them accountable for their actions. Admittedly, at the age of five years, the only authority I recognised was my mother’s and so to her I presented my case and sought justice. She heard what I had to say and her first (and perhaps appropriate) response was educating this simple child before her. That was the day I learned that I was an Asian.

In a single moment I went from being Abbie’s “friend” to being her “Asian Muslim friend” – all within the span of a sentence or two. In all fairness, the revelation that I was an Asian Muslim was also shocking to Abbie. It turned out ok though. Mother provided us with some curry and rice and all was well again.

Whilst I continued to meander through life and explored my identity as a Muslim, I discovered that a lot of people had a whole lot to say about a Muslim woman and what her existence should entail. The voices disproportionately belonged to the male gender – both, in and out of the Muslim community.

Being a Muslim woman is not an easy task, especially if you are “visibly” a Muslim woman i.e. wearing the hijab. During sixth form and the first semester of my first degree, I decided that I wanted to wear a headscarf. Both my parents tried to talk me out of it as they felt I might experience a backlash. The Mothership, in her desperation, even tried the “it will ruin your hair” approach (we, the Khan’s are somewhat dramatic in our approach to life).

Nevertheless, it was not long before the hijab came off. A person’s decision to wear or not to wear any item of clothing should be their prerogative. My decision to take the hijab off was not based on a spiritual reflection or my journey as a Muslim. Rather, on a winter evening whilst walking from the J.B Priestly library to my car – a white man thought it funny to pull my headscarf off. As hilarious as it may have been for him and his friends, it made me question why someone felt bold enough to walk into my personal space and rip something off that was a part of me. I picked my scarf up, got into my car and went home.

The concept of identity is perhaps one of the most burdensome things I have tried to understand in recent times. Not only are constructs of identity determined by our perceptions, associations and experiences; they are also closely embedded in historical, political and anthropological frameworks.  Identity, unfortunately, is somewhat an essential disease of the human condition. Whilst it can give the security of being part of something bigger than oneself, it also provides the basis of othering communities and nations.

On the Equality and Diversity checklist I manage to score points for gender, race, disability and religion. Whilst any struggles I may have endured as a woman of colour with a disability have been supported and my causes championed, it’s the Muslimah (a Muslim woman) who feels isolated at times. I believe my feelings are a reflection of how we perceive these attributes as a society. I have never been challenged, mocked or belittled for the other aspects of my identity. A whole community of voices, rightly so, would rise to challenge that. However that is not the case when it comes to Islamic identity. In a true dystopian sense I found myself in a society that is compared to a letterbox, burglar and stereotyped as “traditionally submissive” by public servants. This made the headlines, led to 300%+ Islamophobic hate crime in a week and forgotten about by the next.

I have not experienced any significant backlash or direct Islamophobia. However, I wonder how much of that is related to my conscious decision to not talk about my faith. I avoid talking to the Muslim community about it in case I am not the right type of a Muslim. I also avoid talking about it to the non-Muslim community in case I am not the right type of Muslim for them, either.

Islamophobia has become brazen, amplified and accepted during my lifetime. Muslims will continue to feel isolated and outcasts of society so as long as political, institutional and social spheres continue to unapologetically let Islamophobic comments and actions slide. Silence in the face of human rights violations is not mere silence. It is the validation of the discriminatory act.

I have not come across any other religious group in my personal circle who has explicitly been asked to cite their position on fundamentalism. Prior to 9/11, it would seem absolutely bizarre to me if someone asked my views on terrorism or if I was a “moderate” Muslim. It has become a pathological norm to expect people to ask this question now. This is how much society has shifted. This is the impact of Islamophobia. We accept and internalise the narrative and that is what we pass on to our children. Unfortunately, the voices rising to support victims of Islamophobia have not been diverse. A progressive society cannot pick and choose the definition of solidarity and support and apply it in varying senses. In the words of my great friend, Priyam, single issue progressive is not progressive in the truest sense of the word.

The issues associated with Islamophobia are not distinct from racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or xenophobia – they are all constructs and modalities through which minorities are discriminated against. However, my concerns, specifically to this debate, are with the intersectional aspects of Islamophobia and its widespread social acceptance.

The media narrative has successfully juxtaposed Muslims against the West. The issue with the “us versus them” culture is that it forms a basis for prejudice and discrimination in society. The statistics regarding treatment of Muslims are damning – the highest unemployment rate, the highest likelihood of being restrained in prisons, worst health outcomes, highest proportion of society living in the most deprived local authority areas etc. You can peer into any public sector and find objective evidence of discrimination against Muslims be it education, justice system, employment or welfare.

I have reached the point in this piece where I must leave you, the reader, to question and reflect on all that has been said and all that remains to be said. However, my final and most important point is that the issue of Islamophobia is not an issue of the rights of a specific religious group. It is the issue of basic human rights, which are entrenched in international law, celebrated as fundamental pillars of a just society and applicable to all people regardless of class, colour, culture or creed.

And if we are not striving towards a just society – then what are we for?

Ya hain aajiz ya mohobbat ko zawaal hai
Poocha nahi shayad uska bhi yahi haal hai

Humari waqt se bhi koi wabastagi nahi rahi
Kya maalum mulaqat ko hua din ya saal hai

Tarq-e-taaluq ke dhang aaye nahi mujhe
Kabhi usse judai to kabhi shauq-e-visaal hai

Mere pehlu mein zikr kissi aur ka karta hai
Ye bewaffai nahi mehez uska jamaal hai

Uske sab jhoot kaisay sach na hon batao
Jabke vazaahaton ki uske paas dhaal hai

Ajeeb lagta hai dil ka sukoon bhi ab to
Lehaza silsila ranj-o-gham ka bahaal hai

Koi acha bhi laggay to harkat nahi karta
Ye berukhi kyun, apne hi dil se sawaal hai

Sab barbadian be’sabab nahi hoti Zaib,
Mumkin hai iss mein khuda ki koi chaal hai

Notes
/Bahaal/ – Ongoing
/Be’sabab/ – Without means
/Harkat/ – Movement/show signs of life
/Jamaal/ – Elegance/beauty
/Lehaza/ – Therefore
/Tarq/ – Abandonment
/Vazaahat/ – Explanation
/Visaal/ – Meeting
/Wabastagi/ – Association
/Zawaal/ – Decline/ending

Qissa hai bohot purana tumhe bataayen kaisay

Kacchay dhaagon pe bhatki yaadein piroyen kaisay

Na talkh nigaahein hain, na koi karway bol hain uske

Shayad khaffa hai wo mujhse ab usse manaayen kaisay

Agar roshan hai meri khaak-e-aarzu se kehkashaan

Dil kyun nahi bharta, iss dunya ko jalaayen kaisay

Bohot mushqilon se dobara zinda hua hai dil

Faraghat mein sochte hain isse phir rulaayen kaisay

Waqt e rukhsat bhool gaya mere paas kuch purani yaadein

Hum bhi hain bewaffa, aadab e firaaq nibhaayen kaisay

Palkon ke kinaaron mein ulajh sa gaya hai wo shakhs

Samajh nahi aata chashm-e-tar se usse giraayen kaisay

Jaffaon ke samundar mein qaed hain taqdeer ke jazeeray

Batao iss paishani mein garhay khamm mitaayen kaisay

Wo aksar khojta hai harf e waffa meri khaamoshion main

Bohot mushqil mein hain ke baat aagaye barhaayen kaisay

Uske dil-o-zehen mein hain naqsh-e-kadam kissi aur ke

Samajh nahi aata wahan apni jaggah banaayen kaisay

Na raheem hai tu, na hai tu beniyaaz, ae insaan bataa,

Tere sajde mein dobara sarr jhukaayen  kaisay…

Jazeeray: Islands
Paishani: Forehead
Khamm: obstacles
Naqsh-e-kadam: Footprints
Beniyaz: Unconditional
Kehkashan: Skies/galaxi
Faraghat: Free time
Firaaq: Separation
Chashm-e-tar: Tearful eyes
Jaffa: Oppression

Kabhi yaad kia to kabhi usse bhulaa kar bhi dekha hai
Iss be’mani dunya ko humne azmaa kar bhi dekha hai

Dhoka hai naya sa aur mein hoon adab-e-firaq se nawaqif
Us se nazdikiyan to kabhi faasla barhaa kar bhi dekha hai

Musavvir bhar nahi paata kissi bhi rang se iss khalla ko
Issiliye waqtan fa waqatan muskuraa kar bhi dekha hai

Munkir ho jaatay hain jab kahin uska naam koi leta hai
Uske afsanay ko dil mein kab se dabaa kar bhi dekha hai

Ke laut aye wo, kabhi diye vastey guzishta mohobbaton ke
Kabhi talkhion ka teer kamaan se chalaa kar bhi dekha hai

Dosti kya, koi humdardi bhi jataye to aetbar karte nahi ab
“Hote nahi sab aik jaisay” khud ko behlaa kar bhi dekha hai

Tumhe waffa seekhna hai to humari tareekhion ko parakho
Maujud rehti hai jab kabhi khud ko jalaa kar bhi dekha hai

Jalwon mein raakh to kabhi saleebon pe charha insaan
Tere aagaye ae khuda maine sarr jhuka kar bhi dekha hai

Tujhse nahi harjayi shayad apne naseeb se haaray hain
Issi khayal se hath ki rekhaon ko mitaa kar bhi dheka hai

Tumhari waahid adaa pasand ayee “Zaib” maut ko shayad
Ye jo saanson par tumne ehsaan jataa kar bhi dekha hai.

Notes
Musavvir – Artist
Khalla – empty space
Waqtan fa waqtan – occasionally
Guzishta – past/gone
Talkhion – bitterness
Tareekhion – darkness
Saleebo – Cross/crucifix

Baat barhi hai hayaa se agaye to hijab phir kaisa
Tumhe jaana hai to jao, roz roz ka ye azaab phir kaisa

Tum haqiqat bayan nahi karte aur jhoot ke qael hum nahi
Bachin hain faqat khamoshian to lafzon ka hisaab phir kaisa

Challo tasleem kar lete hain kay zaalim hum hi hain
Musalsal humse ye silsila-e-sawaal o jawab phir kaisa

Khuaab jalanay se bhi roshan hua na ashiyaana mera
Iss tareekhi se jhoota waada-e-mahtab phir kaisa

Bohot mushqilon se sambhala tha khud ko “Zaib”
Baar baar usse soch kar ek naya izterab phir kaisa

Notes
/Tasleem (accept)/
/Musalsal (continuous)/
/Tareekhi (darkness/night)/
/Mahtab (moon)/
/Izteraab (restlessness)/
/Haqiqat (truth)/
/Qael (convinced)/

Har shab ki tarah wahan viraana tha
Jo shiqasta dillon ka thikhana tha

Jamghat bhoolay bisray faqeeron ka
Aaj abaad saaqi ka maikhana tha

Mulaqaton ke silsile shuru huay to laga
Gham mein shareeq naya dostana tha

Kahin ranjish-e-hijr, kahin umeed-e-vasl
Silsila kahanion ka kuch rawana tha

Khamoshi se ki adaa rasm-e-mehfil
Qissa ajnabi ko shayad koi bhulana tha

Thamma uski ankhon mein saddio se jo
Samunder-e-gham wo koi puraana tha

Humare dhuk ka bandhan bana pukhta
K shariq tanhayi mein wo anjana tha

Jalaya itnay shauq se jisko dunya ne
Meri hasraton ka wo parwana tha

Aksar tanhayon mein dhoonda usse
Jab kabhi dil-e-veeran ko behlana tha

Kaisay batlaate jo guzri mujh par
Dastoor-e-dunya bhi to nibhana tha

Kahin manoos-e-waffa na hojayen
Issliye mera hausla usne azmana tha

Taqdir-e-barbad phir abaad nahi hogi
Jataa kar ye harjayee ne rulana tha

Milayeen nahi ankhein waqt-e-rukhsat
Mujhe chor kar achanak uska jaana tha

Ranj-e-judai bardasht karta wo bhi kaisay Zaib
Bewaffayi-e-yaar mehez uska bahana tha

March 2009

Kuch chiraagh armaanon kay jalanay aur bhi thay
Honay kayliye khaak yahan parwane aur bhi thay

Bichaye humne iss falak pe sirf yahi nahi
Tootay huay khuaab sarhaanay aur bhi thay

Ajab hai ye mohobbat jo mohtaaj kar deti hai
Warna takht to humne giraane aur bhi thay

Uss ranjish main kaisay guzra waqt kya malum
Tab to humme dil behlaanay aur bhi thay

Gar paar na karti ruswayi dehlees-e-zabt
To kuch dair ye zakhm sehlane aur bhi thay

Dar-ba-dar hotay hain bewaffa sunna tha, magar
Kyun mere baad uske thikaanay aur bhi thay

In roshniyon mein siyah honay ka waqt na aata
To kuch qisse tumhe “Zaib” bataanay aur bhi thay

February 2011

Jaanay kyun achanak ye raastay viraaan lagte hain
Jo thay apnay kabhi, aaj wo bhi anjaan lagte hain

Kya tha uss mein kay maan behte usse hum khuda
Aur usse inteha-e-ishq main bhi hum faqat insaan lagte hain

Paaye nahi jaatay zehen mein uske naqsh-e-mohobat
To dag-ma-gaaye huay kyun apnay imaan lagtay hain

Bhikre hain kitnay hoslay ankhon ki gehrayyon main
Thamay huay ye ashq bhi mujhe aaj toofaan lagte hain

Na firaaq hai na visaal hai, uska ehsas bhi ik saraab hai
Uske diye huay dhuk bhi aaj tak ehsaan lagte hain