Community Starts with two
I’ve been wanting to write for a while. I want to make it a thing but the truth is I really struggle with writing.
It dawned on me recently that I often do public speaking and there are things I have prepped that are sitting gathering dust in google docs so it would be worth digging them out and re-purposing them as blog posts.
The below is a speech I gave at Open Iftar in May 2019. It’s about social cohesion and the lessons I learned from setting up a community.
Lessons we’ve learned running Muslamic Makers
Muslamic Makers started as a meetup community around 3 years ago. It was born from the frustration of poor representation in spaces like tech and creativity. Murtaza and I wanted to create an inclusive and safe space to bring people together. The marks of a startup event are typically alcohol, pepperoni pizza and lack of diversity so we wanted to create a space that wasn’t centered around this.
We wanted to create a community and environment where Muslim Makers can share, learn, collaborate and strive in our fields and in faith. We believe that people should bring their whole selves to their work and what they do and as we’ve grown we’ve tried to always tie back what we do to our community needs.
So a few lessons we have learned:
Share your idea.
Muslamic Makers was born simply by sharing an idea.
Murtaza and I connected on Twitter. He messaged me asking for my email address as he had an idea about creating a space for Muslims in the tech/making space to come together. Funnily enough I had the same idea 2 years previously when I was first starting up. That was the birth of Muslamic Makers. Murtaza shared his idea, which I also had, and together it led to build a team of volunteers who, in turn, supported us to create a community of over 1000 people.
I find sometimes in the Muslim community we can be very precious of our ideas. We come from a place of fear, are secretive and scared someone may copy, this might be to do with being a minority in tech and we can only feel like there is only space for one of us to make it.
There are so many people in the world and I can guarantee you someone else probably has a similar idea and what we should focus on is executing that idea. An idea is nothing until you do something about it.
As Muslims we know everything is written from Allah SWT, so whatever is in your destiny will be yours. Why not make it easier for yourself and share it? Someone might be able to connect you to someone who can help and before you know it, it could be the beginning of something great.
Consistency is key but so is experimenting.
After Murtaza and I shared our idea, we decided we were just going to run one event and see what happened. I had a venue space and I knew of a Muslim person in the tech space and we hosted our first in conversation. Alhumdilliah 50 people turned up, we got a lot of positive feedback, from this we decided to run an event every two months for a year, to see how it went.
This led to 20 events and partnerships with tech companies like UsTwo and Transferwise. We’ve taken the message of inclusion further and spoken about Muslamic Makers at Google, Bloomberg and Facebook.
Consistency was key for us to build momentum and the community and even though we might do less events compared to our first year, we make sure we still do something.
Being consistent is what has allowed Muslamic Makers to flourish and grow.
Be generous with your network
One of the events we hosted in our first year was a Muslim Women in Tech Panel which included Nafisa Bakkar and Zohra Kakku, the founder of Halal Gems. Amaliah was in its first year and I had met Nafisa at the first Muslamic Makers event. I approached Nafisa to speak on our panel and it led us to become friends. Since then we have found countless ways to help each other with Amaliah and Muslamic Makers by simply being generous with our networks.
Amaliah this year acquired Halal Gems, and put on StreetEats which had 90,000 people walk through it’s doors. Both women have achieved so much and it’s very humbling to know that they first met at the Muslamic Makers event they spoke on together.
You might not directly be able to help someone but you might know someone who can. Make those connections, stand back and witness people go beautiful journeys. I’ve seen all sorts, from giving a nervous talk at Muslamic Makers to seeing people transform into a confident public speakers. It’s been the most fulfilling part of running Muslamic Makers as we can provide that first safe step for someone on their journey.
Work with allies.
When we started Muslamic Makers, we were very focussed on showcasing Muslim role models but as we have grown we have realised the importance of allyship. From day one, we worked with different tech companies to host our events in their spaces. For us it was important to expose the community to companies they didn’t know existed and realise that they are welcome in these spaces.
Our events now have non Muslim speakers too because those non Muslims can be very powerful in opening doors and it’s our role to help facilitate those connections.
Collaboration over Competition.
Always think about how you could work with another organisation. The power is in our collective. Sometimes my Nafs (Nafs (نَفْس) is an Arabic word occurring in the Quran, literally meaning “self”, and has been translated as “psyche”, “ego” or “soul”) does get to me as I see other initiatives kicking off especially if I was sitting on that idea for a while.
When I did my Fellowship in America I came across a Mosque that was teaching coding. I really wanted to replicate this in the UK but I’m not a developer and I just never got around to kick starting it. Now I know of a mosque in Slough who is doing this.
While I was disappointed that I didn’t get this idea off the ground I realised it didn’t matter who was behind it, as long as it happened and we supported each other.
Muslamic Makers exists in helping to build creative confidence for our community, helping them be unapologetically Muslim, by collaborating with non Muslims, creating prayer spaces in tech companies, and we want our community to realise that it’s okay to ask for a prayer space, it’s okay to ask for non alcoholic drinks and it’s ok to be a Muslim person working in this area.
So if there is isn’t a space that caters to your need, put your idea out there, create it and experiment. Community, after all, starts with just two people, so spark something and create that safe space.
If you want to work with Muslamic Makers on an event email email@example.com
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