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#KidBoss in The Gambia

After making waves across the UK it was time to bring our amazing #KidBoss to see our front line work in the field. Shakira wanted to get some hands-on experience on the ground and we hoped to explore what we could learn about our work from a child’s perspective.

The trip was both eye-opening and moving. We visited a feeding distribution programme, a medical unit, a school and ‘The Medina’, our renowned Orphan Home complex. For Shakira, this was the first time she had seen the reality of poverty in the developing world. She saw what it meant to have no electricity, no running water and no toys to play with.

“We’re so alike,” she said, as she skipped and danced with a group of young orphan girls she met on the trip. Shakira could see how these children had the same hopes and dreams as she did, but what they lacked were the opportunity and resources to turn those dreams into reality. “It’s just not fair,” she said, putting into context her first-world problems that seemed so tiny in comparison. Without any direction, she bonded with the children she met, playing games with them and sharing stories with each other.

Children, by their nature, are hopeful, idealistic and innocent, and we often forget that we were once all children with those same values! Somewhere along the way we lose those positive attributes and become sceptical and embittered by our experiences. Our amazing #KidBoss, however, is changing all of that. She’s brought the hopes of her generation to the charity and has reminded us old fogeys that one day it will be her generation in charge!

It’s been especially important for Penny Appeal to have a young person at the helm as it is often young people who are most impacted by poverty. Not only are we learning from Shakira’s experiences and insights, it’s also important that we support and nurture young people and provide role models for our children to aspire to.

On returning to the UK, Shakira has been sharing her stories and has even been featured across mainstream television channels where she has been inspiring millions across the nation with her incredible energy and stories.

What’s next for our amazing #KidBoss? Stay tuned!

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Taking Your Dreams to the Sky with Firnas Airways

I’m a big believer in the saying that success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. As my career as an entrepreneur enters its third decade I’ve come to learn the preciousness of that 1% – inspiration can be found in the most unusual places and sometimes its right in front of your face.

I was thus inspired to join fellow entrepreneur and trailblazer Kazi Rahman as the fruit of his years of blood, sweat and tears took the skies with the launch of Firnas Airways. It seemed almost inconceivable to me at first. How on earth do you go about launching an airline?! But the more I spoke with Kazi the more I saw how he has diligently built his company, and assembled a brilliant team of aviation experts around him.

Kazi reached out to me a short while ago, inviting me to an investors launch event. I was touched to learn that he had been spurred on by my journey with SingleMuslim.com and Penny Appeal. I’m reminded that a good entrepreneur learns from their past and a great entrepreneur learns from others too. Being part of Firnas Airways’ maiden flight was a truly uplifting (excuse the pun) and eye-opening experience, not least to be amongst fellow entrepreneur’s and witness someone’s dreams literally take flight.

Launching a business is fraught with obstacles, challenges and risks, not unlike a ride on an aeroplane. You chart your journey, assemble a committed crew who have your back, perform your safety checks, build up speed on the ground and then hit the launch button. The better you prepare for that launch, the more momentum you gather, the higher and faster you will go and there’s nothing quite like that feeling when you first lift off the ground. I could see it on Kazi’s face; a beaming ear-to-ear grin, eyes filled with relief from what’s passed and in anticipation of what’s to come. As much as you prepare, you’re guaranteed to face some turbulence, one way or another, and speaking with Kazi it’s clear he’s anticipated the possible risks and mitigated as much as he possibly can. His leadership inspires trust and vision, you can be sure Firnas Airways is piloted well!

What touched me most from Kazi’s pitch was how he took inspiration from the 9th century aviation pioneer and polymath, Abbas ibn Firnas. Over 1,000 years before the famous Wright Brothers took flight, this Muslim inventor and engineer, born and raised in Spain, is thought to be the first human to attempt flight. Kazi confidently and proudly stands on the shoulders of this fellow European Muslim innovator, albeit twelve hundred years later or so! It’s an incredible thought and an important reminder that we, especially as Muslim entrepreneurs, are building on the legacies of those before us and leaving a legacy for those who are still to come.

Firnas Airways are just at the beginning of their journey, and I feel honoured to have been at the beginning of their story. Kazi has reminded me that no matter how outlandish or unorthodox your dreams may be, if you’re willing to put in the perspiration and ever-ready to take on the inspiration, you can really touch the skies.

Check out my Vlog of the launch above and be sure to share

Adeem Younis

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My Top Ten Moments Celebrating a Decade of Big Difference

penny appeal

Somebody pinch me! 10 years?! Time has certainly flown by! From humble beginnings a decade ago, through the generous support of our donors, the inspiring dedication of our staff and the bold vision of our board, Penny Appeal has become a household name and a global movement that has directly transformed more than 20 million lives.

Although we may have registered as a charity in 2009, the seeds for Penny Appeal were planted many years before that. When I was 8 years old my father unexpectedly passed away, leaving the entire responsibility of caring for our young family to my mother. Despite struggling for many years, my mum made sure our every need was attended to. We may not have had much materially, but our home was always overflowing with so much light and love, and this really became the inspiration for our programme of activities at Penny Appeal. We crafted appeals from the heart and built a humanitarian organisation that was doing more than just giving handouts – we gave people in need a hand up, restored their dignity and broke the vicious cycle of poverty.

Looking back over the years, we’ve come an incredibly long way and I wanted to take a trip down memory lane to share some of my fondest memories and achievements with you all.

Launching our UK Programmes Portfolio

Penny Appeal is a confidently Muslim-led, comfortably British, humanitarian charity. We began with an international focus, however in 2014 we launched our first suite of welfare projects here in the UK. Initially branded as “Love Thy Neighbour” and then later as “Penny Appeal at Home” we wanted to give a clear message to the faith-led charity sector that Britain is our home and we have a responsibility to serve vulnerable individuals and communities as best we can. Our award-winning work has made a real difference to so many lives here in the UK and has been regularly featured on national and international media – and even cited in Parliament!

Penny Appeal Twinning Programme

Building upon our work in the UK, we wanted to further cement our intention of serving those in need across the country – so we made an industry-first decision to launch a unique ‘twinning programme’. Since 2017, for every campaign and appeal we launch around the world, we now have a sister campaign here in the UK. OrphanKind, for example, is twinned with our domestic Fostering and Adoption work, Education First is twinned with our UK Educational Outfit, the Alif Institute – and so on and so forth. Comprehensively serving those right on our doorstep is not a marketing exercise for Penny Appeal, rather it’s putting our money where our mouth is and showing once again that charity really does begin at home.

Rapid Response

They say every crisis is also an opportunity. Whether it’s natural disasters or man-made warfare, in the face of emergencies Penny Appeal has been leading the way in responding to the call, channelling the generosity, care and concern of our donors. In recent years we’ve established an industry-leading emergency response programme which coordinates with our global offices and leverages our relationships with various partners on the ground. It fills me with so much honour to know that within hours of a disaster striking almost anywhere in the world, we can respond and help address both short-term and emerging long-term needs of communities who are experiencing humanitarian crises.

Gambia Orphan Complex

The Gambia has become a home from home for everyone at Penny Appeal. We’ve piloted some of our best programmes in orphan care and water-poverty solutions and we have dozens of staff working on the ground, coordinating various projects across the country. With support from the Amir Khan Foundation, after years of blood, sweat and tears, we were honoured last year to officially open “The Medina” – our state-of-the-art Gambian ‘Orphan Village’.

Comprising 10 orphan homes, each home cares for 10 orphan children, giving us a maximum capacity of 100 vulnerable children at any given time. The eco-friendly secure complex has been built to the highest possible standards, with solar panels used to light the facility and power the heating and cooling systems. The Medina also contains a Masjid, herb garden, medical clinic, outdoor play yard and an administration block which now serves as a hub for Penny Appeal’s extensive West Africa development portfolio.

Our Ambassadors

Recruiting global leaders to be ambassadors for our work is more than just winning a quick celebrity endorsement, rather it’s a testament that the exceptional humanitarian work underway at Penny Appeal is being recognised and supported at the highest levels. In the past few years we’ve created winning collaborations with Olympic boxer, Amir Khan, globally renowned singer-songwriter Yusuf / Cat Stevens, business tycoon James Caan CBE and most recently, the entrepreneurial genius behind PureGym, Peter Roberts. This is in addition to a number of collaborations with supporters from across the world from Baroness Warsi to the Mayor of London!

Team Orange – Answering the Call – Grenfell Tower Fire Crisis

In the summer of 2017 we saw one of the UK’s most heart-wrenching tragedies unravel on our television screens. While most of us were left paralysed in horror by what we were seeing, within an hour Penny Appeal’s Team Orange Responders were on the ground helping those in need. In the days, weeks and months that followed, Penny Appeal worked with local communities to empower those impacted and support those working on the ground. While the fire was a terrible indictment on so many who were charged with our well-being and welfare, it was also an inspirational moment to see so many communities band together and cooperate. Team Orange members were recognised by HM The Queen and the Mayor of London, but more importantly than that, we were honoured and thanked by the survivors and those who had lost loved ones in the tragic fire.

Thornes Park HQ aka ‘The Medina’

Perhaps the boldest move for Penny Appeal yet has been the acquisition of our new premises in Thornes Park, Wakefield. Formerly the site of my old school, Wakefield College, the new building has been named ‘The Medina’ and represents the sum total of our collective hopes and dreams for the charity. The new site will be a landmark for British Muslims and bring together the best of our thinking. Plans are shaping up beautifully and I can’t wait to reveal more of what we have in store!

‘Charity Chair of the Year’ 2018

Over the past decade Penny Appeal has racked up an impressive array of awards, achievements and accolades. From trending number one on Twitter for our winter campaign to being recognised for our ground-breaking fundraising efforts and programmes. However, one award in particular stands out on our trophy shelf, being awarded Charity Chair of the Year at the annual Third Sector ‘Excellence Awards’ which highlight the incredible contributions and achievements made by almost 200,000 charities, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations registered across the UK.

We’ve set out to disrupt the charity sector, and this award recognises our efforts thus far, as well as the incredible dedication of our staff and supporters. Fending off stiff competition from the biggest and best charities in the UK, the award is a testament to the remarkable achievements of our organisation!

Leading a Cultural Shift

As a charity we have pioneered fundraising and community events that have invested in and led a cultural shift in our primary donor community; British Muslims. For example, the first ever Muslim pantomime, which received extensive national media coverage. We’ve also organised charity-themed matchmaking events for Muslim singletons and raised millions of pounds in our annual Super Muslim Comedy Tour.

Around 50% of our staff at Penny Appeal are not Muslim, but the other 50% that are gives us the legitimacy to engage with some of the most dynamic and current conversations in the Muslim community. We do this from a place of genuine concern and care for all our communities.

Kid Boss

Penny Appeal has always prided itself on being a youth-led and youth-filled charity. However, with our greying (and balding) heads, we thought it was long overdue to reinject some youthful optimism, energy and creativity into the charity, and hence we introduced our new #KidBoss CEO, Shakira Rahman.

Shakira has a real job that has a real impact, and she is already changing the way we do things at Penny Appeal. Her mission will be to raise awareness about the effect our world is having on our children, because whether it’s poverty, Islamophobia or domestic violence, children are often the worst affected.

Well, that’s our whistle-stop tour of the past 10 years!

I could honestly have listed a hundred more moments and achievements that we have accomplished in the past 10 years, from smashing Guinness World Records to expanding now into more than 50 countries worldwide! None of this would have been possible without the support of people like you, so I wanted to extend a sincere thank you to you all once again for being part of the journey and helping us in whatever way or form you can.

With a simple vision and sincere hopes, Penny Appeal has come a long way in our first decade, but the truth is, we’re just getting started! We have so much more in store for the coming years and decades and I for one can’t wait to get stuck in!

Adeem Younis

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48 Hours in the Motherland

I’ve written before about my love and connection to Pakistan, as I did then (click here to read), I often call the country my home from home. The places we call home are the places we feel safe, loved and cared for. They are also the places we raise the next generation who, inevitably, grow wings and soon fly away to make homes of their own and this weekend I travelled to Pakistan to bid farewell to one such individual.

Nadeem Tahir, the outgoing CEO of Penny Appeal Pakistan, was with us from the very beginning and we owe him a great debt of gratitude. His incredible vision and tremendous hard work is the very reason why so many poor and vulnerable people, young and old alike, have been able to find a home in Penny Appeal’s various humanitarian projects. Nadeem has been instrumental in all our projects, across the length and breadth of Pakistan, and he has always been someone we could rely on to deliver the very best.

After many years with Penny Appeal, Nadeem is now moving on to focus on his studies, and in doing so he has left a big hole that will be hard to fill. It has been an honour to have entrusted him with the responsibility of managing our work in the region and he is someone we will all sorely miss. We wish him all the best on his new endeavours and take comfort in knowing that our loss is the gain of whoever he is fortunate enough to work with in the future.

My trip to the motherland was primarily to oversee the transition and handover between Nadeem and our new incoming CEO of Penny Appeal Pakistan. I was also able to visit our national headquarters and get an update from the team on a variety of our active projects. This included a whistle-stop tour of both our OrphanKind and Hifz Orphan programmes, our Adopt-a-Gran programme and our state-of-the-art Orphan Village. Even though the visit was brief, every time I’m fortunate enough to visit one of our programmes around the world I feel re-energised and inspired, knowing the generosity of donors and the hard work of our staff are transforming the lives of so many people.

Of course, no trip to the motherland would be complete if it didn’t include a visit to see family too. I felt blessed to be able to sit with my elders, listen to their stories and share updates about all the work they have inspired.

As I leave one home and head back to another home, I’m reminded of the saying, ‘home is where the heart is’. Pakistan most definitely has a piece of my heart and God-willing, will always be a place I call home.

 

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10 Photos Celebrating 10 Years of Amazing at Penny Appeal!

Last week we spent an evening with those nearest and dearest to us looking back and celebrating the incredible milestone of 10 Years of Amazing at Penny Appeal. I’m often asked, what’s the Penny Appeal secret? How has Penny Appeal accomplished so much in such little time?

Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it’s team work that makes the dream work, and here are just a small handful of the stories behind our success.

  1. My Amazing Mum

My inspiration and my hero. When I was 8 years old my father unexpectedly passed away, leaving the entire responsibility of caring for our young family to my mum. Despite struggling for many years, she made sure our every need was attended to. We may not have had much materially, but our home was always overflowing with so much light and love and this really became the inspiration for our programme of activities at Penny Appeal. She believed in Penny Appeal when it was just an idea in my mind and gave me the love and encouragement to turn the dream into a reality.

2. Dr Hany El-Banna

If Penny Appeal has been able to achieve anything, it is because we have had the fortunate blessing to stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. Dr Hany is one of those giants. From day one he has been one of Penny Appeal’s strongest supporters, sharing wisdom from his decades of experience. He’s never been one to hold back on frank, constructive and specific feedback, helping us grow in untold ways. We are forever grateful for his continuous support and guidance.

3. Mary Creagh MP

Mary has been my Member of Parliament for almost 15 years and since the early days of Penny Appeal I’ve been fortunate to be able to call her a friend too. She has flown the Penny Appeal flag from her constituency in Wakefield all the way to the Houses of Parliament. Her ongoing commitment to Penny Appeal remains a central pillar that supports our work both at home and abroad.

4. Sir Rodney Walker

Sir Rodney is one of the most accomplished and inspirational people I’ve had the fortune and pleasure of knowing. With a lifetime of experience leading charities and large-scale organisations, Sir Rodney is a man of the city and has always been particularly moved by our investment into Wakefield. His guidance, mentorship and support have gone a long way to help transform Penny Appeal from a small-scale idea into a movement that transforms lives around the world.

5. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Lady Warsi is one of the most senior British Muslim politicians and has been a personal and organisational inspiration and support. She is the embodiment of wisdom, talking the talk and walking the walk – in a stylish salwar kameez too! She has championed our work in the corridors of power and has collaborated with us on social mobility programmes for young people in our area. Her sharp, positive, can-do attitude have helped make Penny Appeal who we are today.

6. Small Change, Big Difference Awards

If it was up to me, I’d give every staff member, board member and volunteer a big shiny trophy. It was a real honour, nonetheless, to award a handful of especially remarkable individuals who have contributed to Penny Appeal in their own ways, shaping us into the charity we are today. Pictured here is one of our long-term supporters and friends, Ahmad Bostan. His energy and passion for the charity is infectious and he has been championing the charity from our very first appeal many, many years ago.

7. Aamer Naeem OBE

What can I say about our Chief Exec, Aamer Naeem? His dedication, vision and sheer hard work is perhaps the primary reason why we are where we are today. He has led our growth, nurtured our teams and taken us far beyond our own imaginations with his brave and bold leadership. We are incredibly proud of him, not least given his recent OBE in the New Year’s Honours List. I’m proud to have him as our CEO and even prouder to call him my friend.

8. Sharing the Journey

Part of where you’re going is knowing where you’re coming from, and so as Penny Appeal has grown, it’s important that we remind our existing staff and supporters and inform our new ones about where and how we began. It was those humble beginnings, taking small change and making a big difference with it, that catapulted us to where we are now. We should never forget that. As our charity evolves to rise up to new challenges, it’s important that we always keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, and this is one of the messages I shared on the night.

9. Team Orange

There are so many people that deserve our thanks; too many to mention. All across the UK and even around the world we have people who support us, work for us, advise us, guide us, volunteer with us, donate to us and pray for us. It’s their hard work and their heart work that have both made the charity what it is today and what it will be in the coming years and decades. Old faces leave and new faces arrive all the time and each of them leave their mark in their own little way. So, to each and every one of you, a sincere thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.

10. Three Generations

I wanted to end with this picture here that really encapsulates the spirit of our 10 year celebration. Dr Hany El-Banna called me and our new amazing #KidBoss to the stage to celebrate three generations of humanitarian work. Just as we build on the work of the giants that came before us, so too must we build for the generation to come. Our Child CEO reminds us that all that we do will be passed on to the next generation. What we hold in our hands is a trust for them and it is they who will take our charity far beyond anyone’s imagination. I just hope I live long enough to see it!

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#KidBoss Turning the Charity Sector Upside Down

Penny Appeal has always prided itself on being a youth-led charity. Having set it up when I was still in my 20s, we offered the faith-led charity sector a breath of fresh air. Dynamic, responsive and in tune with emerging trends within our communities, our youth-led strategy catapulted us to soaring heights.

However, it’s been a long time since then. This year we are celebrating ‘10 Amazing Years’ at Penny Appeal and have come to realise we’re not quite the young spirits we once were when we started all those moons ago! Conscious of our greying (and balding) heads, we wanted to re-inject some youthful, wide-eyed wisdom into the heart of Penny Appeal and so we’ve made a ground-breaking move to appoint the very first child-CEO of a charity!

Introducing Shakira Rahman, our 11-year old amazing Kid Boss! Shakira now enjoys unprecedented access to the length and breadth of the charity, from visiting our programmes across the UK and around the world, to spending time with our different teams, offering unique insights and wisdom that only a child’s mind can offer.

Research by the Charities Commission demonstrates a lack of representation of young people serving on the board of trustees for charities. In fact, 92% of trustees are between the ages of 55 and 64 years old.

At Penny Appeal we like to buck the trend and hence, we’ve broken from tradition to bring a young person into a position where they could have real impact within the charity and the world beyond!

Children are naturally curious, hopeful and matter of fact, their innate optimism and energy naturally inspire change. They are directly vested in the future as it is they who will inherit the world that we hand over to them. Appointing Shakira into a real job that has a real impact is already changing the way we do things at Penny Appeal. Her mission will be to raise awareness of the effect our world is having on children, because whether it’s poverty, Islamophobia or domestic violence, children are often the worst affected.

One of Shakira’s first assignments as our Kid Boss was to visit Penny Appeal’s state of the art orphan complex in The Gambia. There she got a real sense of the work we are doing and the big difference it is making to orphan children’s lives. Shakira went to school for the day in The Gambia and spent time playing and talking with the children. Seeing her interact with the children was eye-opening. She was able to connect on a much more personal and relatable way, exploring how surprisingly similar her life was with those of the orphan children, and how the small change of our generous donors made a big difference in their lives.

Penny Appeal has come a long way in 10 years but in reality, we’re just getting started. The charity has grown far beyond my hopes and dreams for it and with bright sparks like Shakira at the helm, I can’t wait to get stuck in the next 10 years, onwards and upwards!

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Standing On The Shoulder of Giants

One of the biggest things that shaped me as a child and young adult was seeing my inspirational mother take it upon herself to provide for our family when my dad passed away unexpectedly. By no fault of her own, overnight she had to be both mother and father, looking after the home, raising the children and earning an income too. Instead of giving up or being paralysed by grief, she channel led her emotion and energy into setting up a small market stall in our town centre. She showed me how entrepreneurship, ingenuity and sheer hard work can be a gateway for personal transformation.

My mother has always been my greatest role model and I can’t but credit her for all the things that I have been able to achieve in my life thus far. She inspired in me that entrepreneurial spark and sense of responsibility to always do the best I could, in spite of my circumstances or what others might have expected from me. Years later, I realise how my mother’s greatest hope for me is the same the hope that I have for my children, that they will able to see further, dream bigger and accomplish more than I can ever imagine.

Just by getting into university I was already exceeding expectations that people had of me, but even being able to launch my own business and pay for my studies as a teenager wasn’t enough for me. My mother taught me to push boundaries and see beyond my own horizons, she instilled in me values and a work ethic that allowed me to lead in an industry that hadn’t even been invented when I was a child!

Now, as my children get older and begin to have their own dreams, I wonder how I can best inspire them to see beyond their horizons. With the rapid rate of technological change, who knows what the world will look like when they reach my age. Instead of pushing them down a certain career path, I want to inspire them, just like my mother did, with a world of opportunities that weren’t available for me when I was a child and pass on to them the values and ethics that will serve no matter where they may end up.

Bringing along my eldest daughter, Hajrah, on a recent visit to Buckingham Palace was doing just that. I watched her eyes light up as we walked through the Palace gates. When I was her age, even the idea of visiting Buckingham Palace as a tourist was beyond me, let alone going inside and meeting the Royal Family. How will it chance the outlook of a young 11 year-old girl, getting to visit the places and meet the people that most will only ever see on their television screens – I suppose time will tell.

I want to instil in my children the idea that anything is possible. Whatever difficulties and obstacles lay in their path, if they work hard, trust God and stay sincere, they can realise their dreams. Isaac Newton is famously reported to have said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – My mother was that giant for me and in the same way I hope my shoulders can be the platform for my children to see beyond what I can and achieve more than I could ever hope for them both in service of the Creator and in love for His creation.

Adeem Younis

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My 10 Spiritually Infused New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve never been one to make too much of a fuss on New Year’s Eve, but this year was one night that will stay with me for the rest of my life. A series of (fortunate) random coincidences – some would say divine providence – meant that as the clock struck midnight to welcome in the New Year, I was circling the Holy House of God in the blessed city of Makkah, completing my Umrah – what’s known as the lesser pilgrimage of the Islamic tradition.

Dressed only in two plain white sheets (try not to let your imagination go too wild), I joined hundreds of thousands of worshippers as I fulfilled the rites of the ancient ritual, established by the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, that retraces the steps of his great-grandparents, Prophet Abraham and wife, Lady Hajar.

Since my last visit over 10 years ago, I’ve longed to return to the blessed sanctuaries of Makkah and Medina, but always managed to find excuses. They say that, ultimately, if you find your way to the Holy Lands it’s because you’ve been invited, and that invitation comes with a duty and a responsibility to commit to an inner and outer reformation of one’s self and one’s character, hence these resolutions!

The Umrah levels you. Draped in the most basic of clothes, a billionaire and a beggar could be praying next to each other and have no idea who the other is. Disconnected from the world and dishevelled, the various rites force you to introspect and reflect on every aspect of your life.

This trip has been doubly special as I have been travelling with an incredible scholar of Islam, Sheikh Hisham Mahmoud, who has been guiding us through the history and deeper spiritual lessons of this pilgrimage. His words moved our hearts and his character and company have left me in utter admiration.

Despite my body feeling exhausted, my heart, mind and soul feel refreshed with a renewed sense of purpose. As the trip came to a close, I was reminded of the timeless words of Rumi who said: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

With this in mind, I’ve set myself a series of resolutions for this year, and with each one I’m hoping to improve some aspect of my personal, professional or spiritual life:

1.With the help of an exceptionally insightful new app (check out HisLo) we were able to locate the exact birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad in the City of Makkah. Sheikh Hisham talked us through his miraculous birth and his not-so-often talked about relationship with his mother, Amina, may God be pleased with her. The whole time all I could think about was my own mother and how blessed I am to have her in my life.

So my first resolution will be to better serve my mum – as much as I have strived to be there for her, we can never repay what our mothers have done for us. Any personal and spiritual growth that does not coincide with a better relationship with one’s family simply isn’t true personal or spiritual growth.

2. After talking us through the story of his birth, Sheikh Hisham spoke about the Prophet’s childhood and later his relationship with children. In contrast to the culture of his time, the Prophet would make special time for young people, showing them love, care and attention. His relationship with his own children was even more incredible; he was a role model for the best of parenting. My second resolution will be to invest more quality time with my children, drawing inspiration from the life of the Prophet, and breaking away from the mundane routines that we all too often fall prey to.

3. One of the highlights of the trip was being with an awesome group of people. We served and supported each other as we went through all the rites and rituals. As we spoke and caught up over lunches and dinners, it struck me that they were all just regular (awesome) people. We formed such a close bond in such a short period of time because we were all focused on the divine, and that collective vision and intention bound us together for the duration of the trip. Eating together, travelling together and most importantly praying together helped forge relationships that will, God-willing, last a lifetime and beyond. My third resolution will be to take this spirit of fraternity back home. Instead of finding a quiet corner to quickly get my prayers out of the way, I hope to spend more time building and contributing to the spiritual community at work and beyond, starting by praying together more!

4. Sheikh Hisham would often impress on us the stark difference in the attitude of many Muslims today and the attitude of our pious predecessors who built and inspired Islamic civilisations across the word. One of the things that stood out was their firm commitment to Ihsan, spiritually-infused excellence, in everything they did. We must be role models for the best we can be in all that we do and not settle for anything less, and this is my fourth resolution for this year.

5. One of the amazing features of this trip was visiting famous historic sites, including the Mountain of Light which is home to the famed spiritual retreat of the Prophet, the Cave of Hira. It was here that the Messenger would escape the hustle and bustle of the city and spend time reflecting and praying. I live a 24/7 life as a philanthropist and entrepreneur and I have long needed to spend more focused time on self-care (and I don’t mean massages and mocktails). For my fifth resolution I hope to spend more time in spiritual retreat, taking care of my heart and soul, reflecting, forgiving, realigning myself and always recentring mind, body and soul.

6. The blessed cities of Makkah and Medina are overflowing with every type of human you can imagine. Every nationality, ethnicity, language, colour and culture, all united with a sole focus; to intimately know and worship their Creator. More often than not I found myself in conversation with people who did not speak a word of English. Despite the language barrier, we connected on a higher level, heart-to-heart. There is so much kindness in these holy places, people offering food to one another, making way for each other, praying for each other. My sixth resolution is to channel this spirit of kindness back home. More than just wishing for others what you wish for yourself, it is about preferring others over yourself, giving up a little so that someone else may enjoy a lot – it’s a small change, but it makes a big difference!

7. Working in the Muslim community is an honour and a blessing, and I often get to spend time with leading Muslim voices around the world. Sadly, but perhaps as to be expected, there is a vast range in the quality of what or rather who we deem to be scholars and leaders of Islam. Sheikh Hisham, however, really was a model for what Prophetic leadership should look like. His genuine sense of humility was matched only by his confidence in drawing from the Islamic tradition to address the contemporary challenges that face us. Beyond his knowledge, his conduct left us all truly inspired; he was the first to do any good deed, whether it was picking up a piece of rubbish or helping a stranger on the street. His words were always measured, uplifting, hopeful, positive and crucially, contextualised. Inspired by the Sheikh, my seventh resolution is to seek out quality company, and befriend and spend time with the leading teachers of our time who impart wisdom, wit and most importantly, character. The best company nurtures your soul and expands your heart and I can’t wait to get more of it!

8. With all the languages spoken in these blessed lands, you quickly learn how to communicate without words too. We’ve all heard the Prophetic saying that a smile is charity, well, here in the blessed sanctuaries you’ll find some of the most charitable people on earth! I think most people who know me would say I’m a cheery person, but after 10 days of rejuvenation in the Holy Lands, I hope to be smiling from the inside out as much as I possibly can – that makes eight resolutions.

9. Part of the Umrah rites include running between the mountains of Safa and Marwa, retracing the steps of Lady Hajar, the wife of Prophet Abraham. We reflected on her struggle, rushing between the hilltops in search of food and water for her starving child. Sheikh Hisham guided us through an important lesson, that while she had utter conviction in God, she still did whatever she could, seeking out the means to her safety. God will always provide. What is written will always come to pass, but we are tasked with seeking the means. She didn’t just wait for water to appear, she did whatever she could to find it, all the while having trust that God would provide. I thought about the story, and I realised I’m pretty good at seeking the means; I work myself hard and demand the best from my teams. What I need to learn to do more, however, is to let go of the outcomes. God will always provide, sometimes in the last place and through the last people you might think of. It’s liberating to know that despite your best efforts, the only thing that will ever come to pass is what God wills, and submission to His will is the very definition of our faith. Thus, my penultimate resolution is learning to trust in God’s plan more and accepting His will in every sense of the word.

10. Lastly, this trip has quite honestly been one of the best I’ve ever taken in my life, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The group was fantastic, the teacher was phenomenal and the organisers were a dream. My final resolution is not to wait so long to return to the Holy Lands and bring the family too, so that they can enjoy the peace and the pleasure that this trip has offered me!

As I began the journey back home, I felt honoured to have been given such a beautiful start to the new year. 2019 already feels like it’s going to be a special one and I can’t wait to see what’s in store. Thank you for being part of my journey so far and I hope my resolutions have offered you some food for thought! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

2019 – here we go, let’s do this!

Bismillah

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2018 in Review: Changing the Game

Just like the pulses in our wrists remind us we’re still alive and (hopefully) in good health, pulses in time are a great opportunity to check up on other aspects of our lives. The annual pulse of the New Year affords us a time to reflect on all that’s happened in the past 12 months and consider what the next 12 months might look like too.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a reflection on my New Year’s resolution entitled, “Changing the Game”. I spoke about hoping to play by the rules a little less and nurturing the art of ‘changing the goalposts’ instead of just running around the pitch – and ultimately work to shift paradigms in the industries I work in and beyond. Big words, and on reflection, I think we did a pretty decent job.

To start with, alongside veteran business tycoon James Caan CBE, 2018 saw the launch of Penny Ventures which looks to sustainably support Penny Appeal projects by building a bridge between the worlds of philanthropy and business. We also launched SalaamGiving, a new crowdfunding platform in partnership with JustGiving.com, which raised hundreds of thousands of pounds in the first month the site went live.

In other firsts, something I haven’t spoken much about (yet) as it’s very new, is the Mu’allif Initiative. Named after the word in the Quran that refers to those whose hearts have found contentment in faith, the Mu’allif Initiative is Penny Appeal’s pioneering work in the field of convert care. With over 5000 people coming to Islam every year, there exists little in the way of institutional support in caring for and nurturing new Muslims, assisting them and their families and raising the profile of the importance and need for convert care. With support of leading scholars from Cambridge to California, it is sure to be another game changer!

In the Gambia we opened our most ambitious orphan complex to date – home to 100 orphan girls – in partnership with Olympic champion Amir Khan. Construction of another orphan complex is well underway in Pakistan.

We also had the our largest group to date running the London Marathon in support of our award-winning Thirst Relief campaign. Speaking of awards, our trophy cabinet is bursting at the seams with our long array of accomplishments and accolades.

We finished the year with one of our most innovative campaigns, our #WhatWouldJesusDo Winter Appeal saw ice-sculptures of homeless people unveiled in the heart of London’s financial district. The powerful metaphor of the ice melting away symbolises how fleeting our concern for the homeless can be and the urgent need for us to act.

The campaign had the additional intention of clarifying misconceptions around Muslims and the festive season. Whilst we might not drape our homes with tinsel and mistletoe, by serving those most in need, we are a lot closer to emulating the spirit of Jesus than many who are drowning in the empty consumerism that he specifically warned us about!

The campaign has shifted paradigms around Muslims and Christmas and was featured extensively across various media outlets, backed by a social media campaign that trended number one on Twitter across the UK, reaching millions around the world.

On the business side of things, this year has seen more leaps and bounds in the inner workings of SingleMuslim.com than ever before. For the very first time we have opened the doors of SingleMuslim to investors and partners and have radically shifted our digital marketing strategy too. We have a new creative and a new business development team, and this year saw SingleMuslim.com enter the global matchmaking space in an entirely new way. Our presentation at the Global Dating Insights conference was said to be the most informative and inspiring of the day. We built SingleMuslim.com from the ground up in our little silo, and now opening up to the wider industry for the first time has been an eye-opening experience. Not only were we performing at the same level as some of the Silicon Valley tech giants in the matchmaking sector, but those giants, from Google to Microsoft, were keen on working with us too.

On the marketing side, our #SingleMoji Animoji campaign was particularly successful and our social media feeds have transformed with new viral content that explores Single Muslim life in a unique and refreshing style. There’s so much more happening behind the scenes at SingleMuslim it feels like a new company – and the best is yet to come!

So, did we change the game? I think we’ve had a pretty good stab at it, but as always there is so much more we’d like to do. As the famous Lion King song goes, “There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done,” and this has given me pause for reflection. The more we’ve accomplished, the more I see there is to do, and the truth is, no one person can do everything, nor should they.

I write this reflection in the beautiful and blessed City of Illumination, Medina. Just a few hundred yards away from me is the final resting place of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him. If anyone was a game changer, it was him. One man and one message that has transformed the face of this planet. Learning about his life, you realise something interesting, that the scale of his impact on the Earth was not realised in his own lifetime. He planted seeds and nurtured the generations of people who would come to realise his Prophetic vision.

As the year comes to close, I think of how fortunate and blessed I have been to see and do all that I have been able to see and do, and for everything that I’ve been able to give, I’ve received so much more in return. Changing the game also changes you. It matures you a little bit more, gives you new eyes with which you see the world. You make mistakes, you live, you learn. Being in Medina has reminded me that the best work we can do is plant seeds for future generations to come, that truly changing the game is trans-generational work. We’ve accomplished so much, but in truth, it’s a just a small scratch compared to what might be possible.

Ultimately our vision must be to outlive our time in this world, and it is with this in mind that I begin to think about what the next 12 months might look like, not least given we will be celebrating 10 years of Penny Appeal and 20 years of SingleMuslim.com

So, once again, thank you for sharing this journey with me Insha Allah, see you in the new year!

 

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Back to College – Dream Chasing

They say your days in college are some of the best times of your life. I remember hearing that when I was younger, running between classes, cramming for my A-levels, trying to stay out of detention – surely this wasn’t what they were talking about? I was so eager to achieve more, to see the world and make my mark that I never stopped to appreciate what was right in front of me. Looking back at it all now, I’d do anything to go back to those golden days, and with Penny Appeal’s newest and most ambitious project to date, I will be.

The best of my formative years were spent in Wakefield College. It was there that my teachers, Tony and Ron, organised my first-ever work experience, giving me a chance to look beyond my own horizons and dream a little bigger. It’s no understatement to say the college has made me who I am today. That work experience became a job, that job inspired me to set up a business, and that business led to Penny Appeal; a twice-Guinness World Record holding, multi-award winning humanitarian agency, credited as one of the fastest growing and most impactful charities in its sector.

Enclosed within the grounds of Thornes Park, one of Wakefield’s most beautiful green spaces, the college has an incredible 150-year history of educating the students of Wakefield. Ever since graduating I’ve kept a close relationship with my teachers and the school’s board, and in 2011 I was honoured when they nominated me as an alumnus for a prestigious ‘Hall of Fame’ Association of Colleges award. That year, I was guest of honour at the college’s graduation ceremony, handing out certificates to the graduating class and addressing the students with some words of wisdom.

As the years have passed by, much of my old campus in Thornes Park has fallen into disrepair and Wakefield College has moved most of its operations closer to the city centre. When I heard that they had listed the site for sale, I pounced on the opportunity to return to the college that had given me so much.

Walking through the building on our first survey of the site brought back a flood of memories. These were the same corridors where I dreamed up ideas to move the world, and by the time I left the building I was convinced that these could be the same corridors where those dreams can continue to become a reality each and every day.

Fast forward a few months and I was honoured to sign the papers officially transferring ownership of Wakefield College’s Thornes Park Campus to Penny Appeal, where it will serve as our new international headquarters. The move represents the culmination of my dreams as an entrepreneur and humanitarian, and builds on the deep roots that we have laid down within this city.

Sam Wright, Wakefield College Principal, Adeem Younis and the President of the Association of Colleges, Lord Willis.
Representing Wakefield College back in 2011. Won the prestigious national ‘Hall of Fame’ Association of Colleges Award.

As we approach our ten-year anniversary, the Penny Appeal story has come full circle. After consistently delivering on an international and national level, we are now redoubling our efforts in create a local footprint in Wakefield, resisting calls to move to major cities, and choosing instead to invest into the infrastructure and communities of Wakefield. I know the value and power of local investment. I am a product of it. Just as Wakefield College invested in me, Penny Appeal is investing back. Our commitment will ensure job creation across the region, as well as a sustained contribution to the economy of Wakefield and its surrounding areas.

The new site will be the platform to take our vision for humanitarianism to the next level. Just like Tony and Ron did for me, I hope that the work we do from this revived campus will expand the horizons of generations of young people, helping them dream a little more and helping to turn those dreams into realities too.

I can’t wait to share with you all that we have planned for the Thornes Park campus; the site will be a unique landmark unlike anything else in Yorkshire, a cultural hub with services for local communities that is set to inspire the world. Stay tuned for more updates and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Adeem Younis

Adeem Younis

Founder of SingleMuslim.com and PennyAppeal.org