Kya sahi tha kya ghalat wo jatana ab kya  
Yahan tak laa kar nazar se girana ab kya 

Raha rooba’ru andaaz e ibadat mein bhi wo
Roz-e-hashr apne anjaam se ghabrana ab kya 

Kuch to soz e intezar ka barham rakh lete 
Mudat baad bazm mein aye ho youn jana ab kya 

Jab nahi teri sargoshian mere sarhanay to
Batlao root’hi neendon ko manana ab kya 

Qubool hai ye talkh andaz e sukhan bhi ab to
Roohtna hi bhool gaye phir tera manana ab kya 

Na mauj e leher, na hun tere asmaan ki koi uraan 
Bataa ye na’muqammal saffar nibhana ab kya 

Teri awaaz mein koi saaz e qurbat bhi to nahi 
Lehaza adhoori si ghazal gungunana ab kya 

Meri taqdir ke registano se hai raghbat usse  
Ek dariya ankhon se phir bahana ab kya 

Azad -e-ehd-e-waffa ho tum to ghabrana kaisa 
Iss yaqeen o intezar ka jalna jalaana ab kya

Na waada-e-manzil na naseeb-e-raah-e-safar
Bhatakti rekhaon kay saffar ko mitana ab kya 

Be’khayali mein bohot door nikal aye shayad 
Dair hogayi, raftagar ko sadaa dena ab kya 

Waqt e rukhsat ye chiragh madham kar dena 
Be’maqsad inn roshnion ko satana ab kya 

Uske kissi tootay khuab ki chubhan ho tum 
Zara sa ruk jao Zaib uski aziyat barhana ab kya 

Rooba’ru / in the direct presence
Roz-e-hashr / The day of reckoning
Andaz e sukhan / conversational style
Ehd-e-wafa / Promises of faithful 
Na’muqammal / incomplete
Waqfiyat / famililiarity 
Registan / desert
Raftagar / someone departed
Raah-e-safar / way of journey
Be’khayali / lost in thought 
Sadaa / Calling out to 
Aziyat / pain or troubles

“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?