The word ‘legend’ is often thrown around rather carelessly, but the word is hardly enough to describe the giant of a character who I have had the fortunate pleasure of hosting recently. Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool’s reputation precedes himself. The former premiere of the Western Cape and later South African Ambassador to the Obama Administration, spent time in prison (for all the right reasons) with revolutionary freedom fighter Nelson Mandela who praised his efforts for galvanising the Muslim community in the struggle against apartheid. With deep roots in his faith, he has dedicated his life to translating the vision and values of Islam into the world to make a lasting positive impact.
Fresh off a flight from literally the other side of the world, Ambassador Rasool shows no signs of slowing down as he thrusted himself into a world wind tour of Penny Appeal’s offices in Wakefield, sharing priceless feedback and advice from a lifetime of wisdom and empowered activism.
We scribbled down some of those gems to share with you all. Have included a little personal reflection for each one, I hope you find them as beneficial as we did, let us know thoughts and do share with someone that might benefit from them too!
1. “We need to become warriors of the grey”
Ambassador Rasool spoke about the need to not just move beyond simplistic black and white thinking, but rather master the nuance needed to navigate our work, politics, relationships and beyond. Yes, it’s easier said than done but remember we don’t grow in our comfort zones!
2. “Sometimes spiritual purity is an excuse to do nothing”
We spoke candidly about the idea of ‘spiritual evasion’ – using religion as an excuse not to do anything. Sometimes our zeal for staying on the straight and narrow translates to a reluctance to act and get our hands a little dirty, remember it only takes for good men to stand aside for evil to prevail (see point above.)
3. “We have to dramatise the middle ground”
Being balanced, middle-grounded, reasonable and so on just isn’t attractive these days. What attracts young people? What feeds media headlines? How do we grab attention and sell our vision? Being in the middle often means being boring but it doesn’t have to be that way, we just have to be inventive and purposeful when competing with the easily-sensationalised margins.
4. “We cannot fight the siblings of bigotry separately, we must fight bigotry as a whole”
The Ambassador challenged us as to how much we do for marginalised communities in our societies in beyond. It was an uncomfortable but crucial conversation. We’re ever ready to demand the rights due to us and our communities, but how often do we see Muslims on the front line defending the rights of others? It’s easy to give an example or two, but if we are honest these are the exception to the rule. We have a long way to go to shift this culture of entitlement and it begins in our own organisations and institutions.
5. “No one ever cleaned the world without finding himself in the mud”
We’ve got to roll our sleeves up and get into the muck of it all. It’s not enough to sit on the margins and mull over what needs to be done in our socities. There’s plenty of armchair critics and keyboard warriors, what the world needs, what our communities need, what our oranisations need is individuals not afraid to sweat it out in the heat of it all. The sweetness is in the struggle.
6. “We must master the art of the gesture; not just grandstanding”
This particular statement from the Ambassador really struck me, as did the anecdotes he shared to emphasise the point. There is so much beauty and brilliance brimming in British Muslim communities, however as much as we do good, we have to be seen to being doing that good too. We shouldn’t confuse the admirable spiritual value of humility with failing to choreograph the contributions the movements we belong to make day in and day out, especially when Muslims have such a tarnished reputation.
7. “We shouldn’t reduce ourselves to the lowest common denominator but rather call to the highest common factor”
I loved this little mathematical nugget of wisdom from Ambassador Rasool. When talking about bringing opposing ideas or groups of people together we often hear the phrase, let’s reach the ‘lowest common denominator.’ But why reduce our collective potential, when we could leverage what makes us different to maximise our output? All that’s required is some inventive thinking and a little faith in the greater good, and I’m certain there’s plenty of that to go around.
Hope your enjoyed these reflections, do let me know your thoughts and be sure to share with your networks too.