Category: Personal

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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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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“Pakistan: My Home from Home”

Growing up in the 1980s it wasn’t uncommon to hear the racist slur: “Go back to your country!” In fact, with the rise of the far right, the infamous words are sadly making quite the come back on our streets. The strange thing for me, as a British Muslim of Pakistani origin, was that home was always Yorkshire. Going ‘back home’ for me was really just a short walk from the playground to my house!

As I began to come of age, I saw amongst my friends and family a diverse set of responses to how they understood the fusion of identities. On one side there were the die-hard, Pakistan-flag bearing patriots; they only ever spoke about how great their nation was and how every other country was inferior (especially India!) On the flip side, there were those who wanted to rid themselves of every possible connection to their motherland, right down to staying out of the sun to avoid further-browning their naturally tanned skin. Ditching curry for crumpets, they were more British then the Brits themselves! Then there was me, somewhere in the middle and somewhat confused.

I grew up with enchanting stories of Pakistan, however having lost my father when I was 8 years old, I think I also lost a big part of my connection to the country too. After that, we focused mostly on getting by as a family and it was only many years later, as my business endeavours enabled me to look more outward, when I began to consider again what it meant to be Pakistani. I thus set off to visit the village where my father was born, hoping to meet estranged family and explore my roots.

Never did I realise the life-changing journey that trip would take me on. I saw a piece of me reflected in the people I met; they spoke the same distinct pothwari dialect that I spoke at home, they ate the same food and like me, they were surrounded by strained circumstances. However, unlike me, they didn’t have the opportunities available to transform their circumstances, they were trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. I realised what I considered to be small change could mean a big difference to the lives of the people I met and so there and then, I made a pledge to myself to help the people I met and that was the birth of Penny Appeal.

Fast forward ten years and after £60million+ of incredible causes supported worldwide, I find myself once again back in Pakistan. This time I was honoured to visit one of our “Mera Apna Ghar” (literally translates as ‘My Own Home’) Orphan Complexes in Chaksawari, Mirpur, North East Pakistan. On my first trip to the region I was a bona-fide bachelor, avoiding the infamous aunties at all costs, now as a father of four, Penny Appeal’s orphan welfare and education work in Pakistan has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Al-Shukr Apna Ghar Orphan Home Complex is made up of three homes for 25 girls aged from 3 to 16. Most of children hail from unspeakable backgrounds, but now, through the generous support of our donors, they enjoy fully furnished homes with dedicated study and play areas. It was important that we created an environment that the children could call their own and be proud of, somewhere where we would be proud to send our own kids. Visiting for the first time, I was met with happy and healthy children, with beaming smiles, keen on showing off their games and toys, not unlike my own!

Built in the loving memory of late Mohammed Al-Shukr, the complex includes a specialist school, founded by The Read Foundation, that serves the wider area, admitting almost 300 students and ensuring the orphans we care for are well integrated with the wider society. Also on site are residential facilities for the teachers, the rent of which sustains the day-to-day running of the complex. I was pleased to see Al-Shukr Apna Ghar employs 24 hours security, 3 full-time foster mothers, 2 on site tutors and as well as a full-time coordinator. In addition, on the edge of the complex is a mosque that has become quite the local landmark and serves the wider society.

As I have delved into the world of development and poverty alleviation I’ve learnt how crucial it is to understand the poverty cycle and thus each of Penny Appeal’s programmes are designed to disrupt this the cycle at different stages. One of the most fundamental is education, or as the UN Sustainable Development Goals put it: achieving inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Education is as passport out of poverty, just as school provided me with the opportunities to transform my life, the education our orphan children receive on their secure complex is helping to transform theirs.

On this trip I was blessed to meet two delightful and intelligent girls named Alisha and Qurutal-Ayn, who were among the first children to be enrolled into our Orphan Complex over three years ago. Today both girls are A* students, having achieved over 90% in their most recent exams, including science and maths. They both dream of becoming doctors in the future, hoping to help others just as they were helped. Had it not been for the on-going support of our generous donors, these children would have remained a burden on their society and could even have found themselves exploited in the worst of ways. Instead, they sleep sound and dream of shaping their society and country for the better.

Speaking to the girls about their dreams and ambitions was a stark reminder to me of why I had founded Penny Appeal in the first place and why we work so hard each and every day to build stronger, empowered communities. Our small change has transformed the lives of these children and they will in turn transform their society – that’s what I call a big difference. This is why we exist, so children like Alisha and Qurutal-Ayn are free to dream big and beautiful dreams and have the opportunity to turn those dreams into a reality.

Al-Shukr Apna Ghar is just the tip of the iceberg, we now have Oprhan Home Complexes across Pakistan including in Muzafarabad, Sohawa, Islamabad and Khanewal. Growing up I never knew these places exist, let alone feel much of a connection to them, but now when I think of Pakistan, these thriving Oprhan Homes are the images that come to mine. It’s more than bricks and mortar, they are the seeds that we have planted and that we water for a better tomorrow. They say a house is made of bricks and beams but a home is made of love and dreams and this is what we have built in Pakistan.

When I arrived at the complex, I was greeted by a group of children holding a banner that said: “My world is brighter and more beautiful because of you”- In reality, it’s my world that has become brighter and more beautiful because of them, it’s in their hearts that I have truly found a home from home.

 

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Prince Charles’ 70th Buckingham Palace Birthday Bash

Now, there are birthday parties and then there are BIRTHDAY parties. Six months before his actual birthday, celebrations for Prince Charles, the future King of Britain, are already underway and somehow, I found myself in Buckingham Palace enjoying the festivities and avoiding the wafts of delicious food that was being served throughout the day.

It was my fourth time at Buckingham Palace and each time I have to pinch myself when I’m here. It’s a far cry from my familiar haunts in inner-city Wakefield but despite the opulence and majesty of Royal Gardens, the day was a celebration of Prince Charles’ charitable achievements that had brought us together.

I was honoured to be invited on behalf of the British Asian Trust, to whom Prince Charles is a founding patron. As with my previous trips to the palace I was expecting to catch a glimpse of a Royal or two but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in face-to-face with the man himself.

He faced me fully and was genuinely engaged in the brief, but rich conversation we had. We spoke about Ramadan and fasting long summer days, the work of the British Asian Trust and Mosaic, another charity that the Prince has launched and with whom I have had the recent pleasure of working with. He was quite concerned with our iftar plans and made sure all the Muslims in attendance went home with a packet of Buckingham Palace’s finest royal biscuits!

It’s easy to think of the Royal Family as aloof and out of touch but the incredible legacy of the charity work has left me inspired. Prince Charles is responsible for literally hundreds of millions of pounds of charity work, countless number of initiatives that simple wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t take a personal interest.

Being above the politics afford the Prince a unique position to direct the rich and powerful to important causes and campaigns that they might not otherwise be connected to. It may come as a surprise to some, but the Prince has an incredible connection to Muslim communities, personally propelling projects like the Young Muslim Leadership Programme which runs with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and Mosaic, which engaged young Muslims from disadvantaged backgrounds and raises their aspirations as well as supporting Muslim prisoners in their re-entry to society.

It’s strange to think this man that I spent a few minutes with will one day be King of our country. As British citizens we will all, technically, be his subjects and it’s reassuring to know that humanitarian work, both home and abroad, is a passion that I share with him and the spirit in which he will shape our country.

There are few people in the world who could get away with a birthday party six months before the big day, but if it’s celebrating the difference we are making for others, then party on I say, cake for iftar anyone?

Adeem Younis

 

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Meghan & Harry – A modern day fairy-tale?

Just a week ago the new besotted Royal couple was exchanging rings in front of perhaps one of the biggest TV audiences in history. As much as I’m gutted they didn’t meet on SingleMuslim.com (I’ll have to hold out for Prince George), it is nonetheless a wedding that will go down in history+ for more reasons than one.

As a British Muslim, immersed in the world of matchmaking, I was struck by the story of these star-crossed lovers and found myself a little caught up in the Royal Wedding fever and was honoured to catch a glimpse of the couples at their first official Royal engagement. As I listened to Prince Harry address the crowd sprawled out across Buckingham Palace’s beautiful gardens, I had to remind myself how far away this place was from my inner-city upbringing in Wakefield. Now, there’s a time and space to think critically about the role of the monarchy in modern-day nation-states, notwithstanding all of that, I wanted to reflect on what we might be able to learn about this blossoming love.

To start with, a friend of the newly anointed Duchess of Sussex reflected on the way humanitarian work had brought the couple together in the early stages of Meghan and Harry’s relationship. “I remember when Meghan told me about Botswana,” said Janina Gavankar, in an interview with Good Morning America. “I loved how she was… pleasantly surprised. Like, this boy is actually just doing this for real. This is not some flouncy trip. He really means it…They fell in love with nothing around them… No frills. No bells and whistles. All they had was each other, doing good work in a place where nobody was watching them. They did that separately. Imagine what they can do together.”

How incredible. She was drawn to him not just for what he does but the sincerity by which he does it. This theme of charity has stayed with the couple, with Kensington Palace thanking all the well-wishers and guests who came to the wedding asking that “anyone who might wish to mark the occasion of their wedding considers giving to charity, instead of sending a gift.” – with the couple personally choosing a selection of charities that represent a range of issues that they are passionate about.

What an incredible foundation to build a relationship on.

Now, let’s consider the couple themselves. Both have wrestled with tumultuous childhoods, with Harry tragically losing his mother when he was just 12 years old and Meghan dealing with her parents’ divorce when she was just 6. Meghan, being of mixed-race, is three years older than Harry and a divorcee herself.

Let’s be real. How many families, in our communities, would at the very least frown at the idea of their son, their precious youngest baby, marrying a divorcee, older than him and of mixed ethnic origin (not to mention her parents are divorced too.) I’ve known young couples torn apart because their families didn’t come from the same village in Pakistan. I don’t need to share the shock stories, we’re all too familiar with them.

As much as I’m comforted that many young Muslims are moving beyond the cultural baggage inherited from generations before, with more and more open to embracing other ethnicities, seeing past divorce and less apprehensive about differences in age, we still, nonetheless, have a long way to go. Ironically people label this as being progressive, but it’s only going forward because somehow or another we’ve gone so far in the wrong direction. Look at the examples we find in our tradition. Many Muslims have taken to social media, and perhaps rightly so, have reminded us of how this marriage bares resemblance to the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him. He too married a woman older than himself, who had previously been married but unlike Harry, she was wealthier than him and she initiated the proposal.

My dear single guys, your princess might not be what you or your family had imagined. Perhaps she’s a pearl that could only be cracked open through the painful grip of a divorce. Maybe the perfect woman for you is a little older, did the 15 years Khadijah had over the Prophet, peace, and blessing upon him, make her less perfect for him? Prince Harry was probably one of the most eligible bachelors in the world, with women across the world swooning at his feet. He had the pick of the bunch and he chose substance over style, and in truth, he got both.

My dear single ladies, don’t sell yourself short. If you’ve experienced difficult times, consider them preparation for the Prince who will sweep you off your feet (you may need to direct him a little at first, however!) Work on refining your character and fall in love with yourself before you hope someone to truly fall in love with you. Keep digging for gold and who knows, you might just end up with some ginger! Now’s that’s a modern day fairy-tale by anyone’s standard!

I pray that God helps strengthens and pours His Light and Blessings into our marriages and for those who are single, may you find that perfect partner who you can live in tranquillity with, just as Allah intended, and the love and mercy that He puts between us and our partners be a shining sign of His Love and Mercy for us. Ameen.

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Digging Deeper: My London Marathon 2018 Reflections

They say when you run a marathon, you’re not running against other people and you’re not running against a time, rather, you’re running against the distance.

Training for and completing my second London Marathon has given me a lot of pause for thought. Running has been one of the most gruelling yet rewarding experiences of my life. I took it up initially as a personal challenge but remarkably, I’ve found the experience to be incredibly therapeutic. With all the hustle and bustle of work, home and everything in between, running has opened up for me a new head-space to reflect and process.

“Running has taught me to dig deeper into my body and squeeze out every morsel of energy I can muster, and I’ve also learnt to dig deeper into my consciousness. Like most people, I never thought I’d have it in me to run a marathon, but 26.2 miles and 6 hours or so later, my aching body is a sign of how we are all capable of remarkable things. I think to myself if I can go from someone who would only run from my living room to the dining room for dinner to someone completing multiple marathons, what else could I achieve? The impossible suddenly becomes possible.

The struggle, aches, sweat and sprains are all part of the process. When I first began training, breaking past the one-mile mark seemed insurmountable. But I learnt to fight through the pain. Learnt how to embrace it and be spurred on by it. Week on week I was able to speed past milestone after milestone and discover the sweetness really is in the struggle.

Our physical stamina, I’ve come to realise, is a reflection of our psychological stamina. If we can push our bodies to do more, we can push our minds even further. What’s possible socially, entrepreneurially, economically, politically – even spiritually – is limited

Yes, we will hit those mental roadblocks, but just like running through the pain, we will find the sweetness in the struggle. We can leverage the blood, sweat and tears to lay the foundations that transform the obstacles we face into stepping stones to future successes. Every entrepreneur knows this. We all face tough times and difficult decisions, we all make mistakes and fail, but they are aches and pains that come with running the distance. It’s not about other people and it’s not about racing against the clock, it’s about going the distance.

What’s amazing is each and each one of us is capable of this transformation. I’m so proud that this year we had 10 runners representing Penny Appeal at the London Marathon. Each of them have their own stories that have moved them to take part, wrestling with their demons and barriers to prove we all able to turn our minds and bodies around.

And of course, Penny Appeal’s Team Orange volunteers were out there on the tarmac. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the London Marathon is the ‘Spirit of London’ – the phenomenal atmosphere of hundreds of thousands of people, from all walks of life, coming together to applaud the tens of thousands of runners on the track. It’s the most exhilarating experience. The banners, the music, the singing, the screams of encouragement – in fact there isn’t a single stretch throughout the entire marathon where you won’t see members of the public cheering on the runners, congratulating the effort and commitment that each of us has made to reach get as far as we have. There simply isn’t anything like it on earth.

We called our London Marathon campaign “Dig Deep” – Digging deep into our minds and bodies to raise funds to dig deep into barren lands and install water wells for communities who consider access to clean water a rare luxury.

So, what are you waiting for? Dig into your pockets and donate to my fundraising page www.Justgiving.com/digdeepwithAdeem and if you think you can really dig deep, drop me a line and run the marathon with Penny Appeal next year. Then you’ll see exactly what it means to dig deep and experience London like you never have before.

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Raising the tide and raising the next generation

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing upon him taught us, “God will help a person as long as they are helping others” – generosity is always a win-win. But if we’re being honest, the one who serves the other really wins more! Throughout our tradition, we are constantly given reminders and lessons that fly in the face of so much of the consumerist, dog-eat-dog world that surrounds us. The beautiful irony is that the more we serve and fulfil other’s needs, the more we expend ourselves for other people, the more we will find ourselves served.

The living legend, singer/songwriter and one our proud ambassadors, Yusuf Islam, beautifully addresses this in a song lyric that I hold close to my heart: ‘if you want to help your fellow man, you better start with what’s in your hand’ – If we all contribute a small change, we can collectively make a big difference, this is the very ethos of Penny Appeal. We began with a hope and prayer and what started as a tiny office pet project is now a global movement impacting millions of lives in over 30 countries across the world.

Growing up in a very working-class community, to a single mother struggling to support her family, I know first-hand how far a small hand of kindness can reach. For me, it began with two of my college teachers, Tony and Ron, seeing my passion for technology and channelling it by arranging an internship for me at my local ITV studios. They went out of their way to help me not knowing that they would set me on a path that would change my life and millions more across the world. All it takes is for someone to push you, to expand your horizons, to help you see a little bit further than before.

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I relish opportunities to engage young people in the hope of sharing a little of the experience I’ve accrued over the years. Dixons Academy in Bradford has had a chequered past with many of the pupils there hailing from disadvantaged backgrounds and so I was honoured to take part in their leadership workshops facilitated by the Baroness Warsi Foundation.

When asked who had heard of Penny Appeal, almost all of the children put their hands up. I told them about the first time I visited a village and Pakistan and met people living in dire poverty. I asked them to reflect on how much we are blessed in the UK and how I had promised to do something to help the people I had met. The reality of my Pakistan trip only hit me when I got home. I pulled up at a petrol station to fill my car and the meter stopped at £90. Before my trip, this wouldn’t bother me in the slightest but I then remembered a young man I met in the village, Ali. With his monthly school teacher salary of just £30 Ali looks after an extended family of 10 people. What it cost to fill up my car could have supported Ali’s family for three whole months. Recalling the story to the children sent shivers down my spine. That £30 is Ali’s monthly lifeline and Penny Appeal started all those years ago to help just one person.

I showed them a picture of Ali and his family and reminded them that big things have small beginnings and they were just at the beginning of their journeys. The enthusiasm and questions I received after my presentation were heart-warming, with one girl even asking, so compassionately about how Ali and his family were now. It was clear to me that these children have bright futures ahead of them and it was touching for me to be that person who could open their horizons a little more, just like my college teachers had done for me.

It’s said that a rising tide lifts all the boats at sea. A capitalist mindset would have the ships compete to see who could be highest, but the only way that’s possible is in turbulent waters with crashing waves. Instead, let’s take a leaf out of our Prophet’s book. Let’s seek to raise the tide, serve those around us and lift everyone up. What are you waiting for?

Adeem Younis

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The Roots and Fruits of Success

Henry Ford once said that you can’t build a reputation on what you plan to do. Leadership, I’ve learnt, is a careful blend of inspiration and perspiration, too little of the latter and you’re just a dreamer with your head in the clouds, not enough of the former and you’re like a headless chicken; a lot of running around but not getting much done.

This month, at Penny Appeal, we were honoured to fulfil an inspiration of ours and enlist as an ambassador the globally renown lawyer and veteran businesswoman, Lady Barbara Judge. She brings to our charity several lifetimes of experience from being the former Chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority to holding several trusteeships of cultural and charitable institutions, including the Royal Academy of Arts and Dementia UK.

When I first set out on my leadership journey, ‘perspiring’ away, laying down roots from a tiny office on top of a pizza shop in Yorkshire, never did I imagine the fruits of our success would include having one of Britain’s ‘most connected women’ working alongside us in furthering our vision and reach.

What I love about Lady Barbara is her old-school, no-nonsense, roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do attitude. If only I could bottle that up and serve it to all my staff! She personifies the spirit of Penny Appeal; a trailblazer, consistently smashing expectations, boldly going against the grain and giving a hand up to those following suit. I hope in enlisting her as an ambassador for our charity, we can channel some her indomitable character, taking our reach and impact to soaring new heights.

Now, on reflection, in our social media-saturated world, it’s easy to confuse the roots and fruits of accomplishments. Picking up awards at black-tie events, expanding our impact across the globe and enlisting prominent business executives like Lady Barbara as ambassadors are all examples of fruits. They are the end result of diligent hard work, patience and planning. The roots that facilitated these successes can’t be found in an Instagram filter or squeezed into a tweet.

As I’ve matured into a more established position in my career, I see more and more zealous young entrepreneurs with big ideas but little in way of concrete plans and even less of a resolve to roll up their sleeves and do the hard graft. Remember, you will only ever reap what you sow. This is what Henry Ford was reminding us; you can talk all you want about how amazing your fruits will be, but unless you dig the ground, water the soil and nurture the shoots, you will not produce a thing.

There’s a story behind every success, every fruit that we reap. I only came to know of Lady Barbara through my connection with the Institute of Directors (IOD), where she served as the first ever female chairman. Last year they honoured me with the title of Young Director of the Year for the Yorkshire and North-East region and I was humbled to go to gain a national commendation for our work at Penny Appeal and SingleMuslim.com – These awards were the fruit of years of painstaking hard work, attentive governance and nurturing the best teams I could around me.

Success begets success like steps on a staircase. You have to take them one by one. If you’re lucky, you might be able to skip one or two, but you can’t start on the top! Don’t let my social media feed or anyone else’s fool you!

Finally, if you’re frustrated that you aren’t getting where you want to, in your personal or professional life, then I leave you with the wise words of Rumi and wish you the best on your journey:

“Maybe you are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots”

Adeem Younis

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Adeem Younis

Adeem Younis

Founder of SingleMuslim.com and PennyAppeal.org