Category: Personal

2017 in Review – Reap What We Sow

When I founded my first business, aged 17, never did I imagine that journey would take me to where I am now. Every year we grow a little more, fail a little more and hopefully learn a little more too. And the more I’ve learned and the more I’ve seen and done, the more I’ve realised how little I know and how there’s more to see and more to do than can ever be seen or ever be done.

At some point, early on in my career, I realised chasing outcomes was never going to be enough. I was brought up with the idea that money doesn’t make you happy, but I didn’t really believe it until, well, until started to make money. Of course, it was nice to have things that I couldn’t have before but it didn’t bring me the contentment I thought it would. It’s no surprise the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, taught us that if we were to have a mountain of gold, all we’d desire is another one.

The big shift happened for me when I founded Penny Appeal. The charity began for me as a healthy, spiritual counter-balance to my worldly-entrepreneurial endeavours; a reminder of the blessings I had and responsibility that came with success in my business-life. However, as the charity began to grow and I began living the life of dedicated humanitarian that’s when my journey really began.

From the inception of Penny Appeal, we were moved by a vision. It was more than fancy slogans and mission statements, it was an aspiration that brought together the faith in my heart, the ideas in my head and the resources in my hands. Even though it was a small effort, especially in the first few years, it brought me a sense of contentment that my business endeavours never could.

It’s no surprise the success of Penny Appeal has, in many ways, outstripped the success of my businesses. From humble beginnings, the charity has evolved into an institution serving millions of people across the world as well as right here in the UK too. For me, 2017 has been the year of Penny Appeal. After years of diligent groundwork, so many different elements have come together to take the charity to soaring heights I could never have imagined.

From meeting Prime Ministers and Presidents to the countless features across renown international, national and local media outlets, reaching literally millions of people with our vision. Penny Appeal has become more than a charity, it’s become a movement. Beyond the record-breaking amount of funds raised, people served and events run, this year saw new partnerships with an array of institutions as well as a whole host of incredibly accomplished role models including Yusuf ‘Cat’ Stevens, James Caan, Baroness Warsi and even the Mayor of London. We’ve set up new offices in the UK and around the world, while nurturing our relationships with international partners too. Our trophy cabinet is bursting at the seams with more accolades and recognition than we’ve ever had and our numbers of staff and volunteers have almost doubled.

What I’m most poignantly proud of this year is our commitment to investing in the poor and vulnerable right here in the UK. Each of our international programmes are now matched with a domestic sister-project under our re-branded “Penny Appeal at Home.” The effort now commands an annual 7-figure budget and growing. Note, it’s not parachuting money into the big gaping wounds of our society, rather, our team diligently and strategically addresses the root causes of poverty and work to tackle them in all their ugly forms. Having this work recognised at the highest of levels and finishing the year with our nationally-trending Winter campaign, was more than I could ever ask for.

As I reflect on all of this momentum (and what I’ve described is really just the tip of the iceberg,) I can’t help but feel indebted to the unsung heroes behind the scenes who have made all of this possible: my wife, my mum, my kids, all of whom have been the backbone of all that I’ve been able to do. Our leadership teams and executive office who keep the ships running on full steam, all of our staff and volunteers, from the top to the bottom who each contribute their skills and gifts and help shape the work we do. I say it all the time and I’ll say it again: it’s team work that makes the dream work, and when the dream is thriving, all praises due to God, it’s because the team is striving!

One of the seemingly oxymoronic teachings in Islam, oft-repeated by our fundraisers, is the Prophetic tradition that states charity does not decrease one’s wealth. Some interpret this metaphorically, that while your finances may deplete, your character and spiritual vitality, bloom. Others insist on a more literal interpretation, that by giving to those in need, God will ensure much more will find its way to you. Personally, and by personally, I mean experientially, I’ve found both to be true.

The first beneficiary of any donation is the donor themselves, and the first beneficiary of Penny Appeal, has indeed been myself. Just as I took my fledgling resources, burgeoning businesses experience and digital savviness to help incubate and nurture Penny Appeal, I see the dividends of chairing this award-winning humanitarian movement ooze into every sphere of my life.

Fuelled by our vision to embody the highest ideals of our faith through serving those in need, Penny Appeal has allowed me to see and do, that which I never thought I’ll be able to see or do. I’ve met people, I never thought I’d be blessed enough to meet, let alone work with or call my colleagues and friends. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve been honoured to be able to serve my fellow sisters and brothers in need across the world, in ways I never dreamed I could.

This is the power of a vision that is laced with light and love. We never chased big numbers or ran after celebrity endorsements. They came to us. We believed in something greater, even when Penny Appeal was a small idea, a pocketful of pennies to help transform the world, we were content with what we aspired to. Just as back then, we continue today to look beyond ourselves and envision a sustainable world with empowered people and strong communities. This past year we have reaped the fruits of the hard labour we had seen in the many years prior. I close the chapter of 2017 comforted with the knowledge that much more has been planted for the months and years to come. I have no doubt next year’s harvest will be more bewildering than ever before and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

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5 Essential Solutions before your New Year’s Resolution!

Adeem Younis

According to Google, the word ‘resolution’ originates from the Latin root word ‘resolvere’meaning to disintegrate, dissolve or solve, in this case, a problem or obstacle. Every year wide-eyed optimistic entrepreneurs set themselves ambitious New Year’s Resolutions in the hope to motivate themselves to achieve that which could never be achieved before and every year, they mostly fall flat on their faces.

Before sharing my New Year’s Resolution, I thought it would be wise to reflect on essential solutions (from the Latin ‘solvere’ similar to ‘resolvere’ just less intense) that every entrepreneur needs to consider before drumming up their elaborate New Year’s plans.

1. Know Thy Self

This is crucial. How can you start planning for the future, if you don’t know yourself first? And when I say know yourself, for an entrepreneur, that means knowing your business inside out, your audience, your market and your industry. Setting yourself a resolution that you simply can’t do is like asking a fish to climb a tree. You can’t set goals unless you have a map of the pitch, or in the case of the fish, a map of your pond.

To understand where you’re going, you have to first know where you’re coming from. Before you start thinking about resolutions, take stock on the last year. What worked, what didn’t work, what surprised you, what were the highs and the lows and so on and so forth. This doesn’t have to be a laborious, painful task, it could literally take a few hours of crunching numbers, researching online and talking to key staff. Trust me, it’s not time you will regret.

Once you’ve done this assessment, you’re going to have a much better grip of where you can potentially go in the comings months and years.

2. Dare To Dream

Human beings are naturally averse to taking risks. It leads to disappointment, waste of resources, let downs and ultimately failure. Sometimes we set ourselves goals that we know we are going to achieve anyway, kinda like when you put something on a to-do list that you’ve already done just do get that little lift when you cross it off (we’ve all been there!)

Your New Year’s Resolution is not another item on your to do-list. It should demand a to-do list of its own just to realise it. It’s supposed to push you and pull you and drag you to a higher level. It shouldn’t be something that you would do in any case.

Once you’ve carried out your review of the year, you’ll be in much better stead to set yourself a resolution that will push you to go that bit further for you and for your business.

3.     Cover Your Bases

Listen very carefully. If your New Year’s Resolution is to fulfil a core component of your business: YOU ARE IN SERIOUS TROUBLE.

You shouldn’t be waiting around for a random date in the diary (1st of January) to motivate you to do something you should already be doing. This time of year, for some becomes a kick up the backside but that’s not how your business will thrive. If your New Year’s Resolution feels like this, you really need to think long and hard about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

It’s like a husband setting his resolution “to be nice to wife” – seriously? You’re deep in trouble. Go get help. Now. Don’t wait for New Years’ Day, do it now. (And if your New Year’s Resolution is “to be nice to wife” – go get counselling. Don’t wait for New Years’ Day, do it now.)

4.     Discipline!

One of my teachers once asked, what is the difference between someone who has discipline and someone who doesn’t? He didn’t wait for answer, “DISCIPLINE! That’s the difference!” he exclaimed to the class!

If you can do a day, you can do two. If you can do two days, you can do four. If you can do four, you can do a week. If you can manage a week you can manage a month. If you can do it for a month, you can do it for the year. Human beings are capable of remarkable things, in every sphere of our lives, but only if they can be disciplined.

Set yourself milestones. Reinforce accomplishments with rewards. Push yourself. Dedicate time to evaluating your performance in realising your New Year’s Resolution. It’s not supposed to be easy but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. Take it one day at a time, chip away at the master plan bit by bit. You can do it.

5. Have Fun!

Being an entrepreneur is about enjoying what you do and fulfilling your dreams. So, don’t forget to have fun in the process.

Now that’s off my chest, I can start planning my New Year’s Resolution! Hope you found this useful and if you did, let us know in the comments below and be sure to share the article on your networks and with your staff!

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Remembering Grandad on Remembrance day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of every year our country marks the sacrifice of soldiers that fought and gave their lives to protect Britain.

Like many others in this country, Remembrance Day has a very special place in our family. Alongside over million other Muslims, my maternal Grandad, Abuzar Khan – affectionately known as Babba Jee, fought in the British Army and served our nation all over the world. Every year on Remembrance Day he’d share stories from the war and remember his fallen comrades, of all faiths and backgrounds.

Ever since I can remember, my family would don our poppies with pride and huddle round the television to watch the marches and ceremonies across the globe. As the clock struck 11, even when we were all at home, Babba Jee would lead us all into the minute silence.

After the war, he settled in Yorkshire and came to work in the Mills making Wakefield the only real home our family has ever known. Sadly, my father died when I was 6 years old and so I was very much raised by Babba Jee, a towering man who left an incredible legacy that continues to inspire me to this day.

Like many of his generation, he spoke little and did a lot. We never had much money growing up but he was an incredibly generous man and taught me that generosity of spirit was far more important than being generous with your wealth. It was as if our home belonged to the community, anybody would be welcome in, regardless of age, race or religion. He taught our family, through his example not his words, to serve others with grace and humility.

The war shaped Babba Jee and he, in turn, shaped me. I feel his impact in the work that I do and in the sense of responsibility I have to those around me. He was always looking to help others; in retrospect I feel our charity, Penny Appeal, was built very much in his image.

Although it feels like just yesterday, it’s been three years now since we lost Babba Jee and nothing reminds me more of him, his bravery and his courage, than when I see people wearing poppies ahead of Remembrance Day. People often see the success of my business and our charity, however that success has only been possible through building upon the legacy of those giants who came before us and sacrificed so much. Babba Jee is one such giant, he made me into the man I am today and I will forever be grateful for his gentle yet firm guidance.

It troubles me deeply when people question the loyalty of Muslims in this country. Babba Jee didn’t try to articulate how his British, Muslim and Pakistani identities go hand in hand, he simply lived it, fighting for our freedoms during the war and building our country as he raised our family after it.

Babba Jee, my Grandfather, a God-fearing Muslim, who prayed five times a day even as he lay on his death bed, helped build the Britain we have come to know and love. This Remembrance Day, in remembering his sacrifices and those of his fellow servicemen, I hope to further my resolve to help build a Britain that our future generations can know and love too.

Adeem Younis

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Eid at Number 10 – on the menu or at the table?

Adeem

A lot has been said about the increasingly infamous Eid reception hosted by the Prime Minister last week. While some have stated the contributions of British Muslims should be recognised and celebrated at the highest of levels, others are quick to point out the long list of failures our government is responsible for and the need to call our leadership to account. In any case, given we’re fresh out of the month of Ramadan I’d like to offer this three-pronged spiritually infused reflection for us all to consider.

adeem

Firstly, an external perspective.

British Muslims make up an incredibly diverse mosaic of communities, ethnically, culturally, geographically and professionally spread. We are far from a homogenous group of people, with no one person or group truly able to speak on behalf of ‘the Muslims.’ Crucially, all the research indicates the overwhelming majority of us have no qualms in reconciling our ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’ identities.

Now, having set up the most popular Muslim-run website in the UK and Britain’s fastest growing Muslim charity I have been afforded a direct window into the inner-workings of Muslim communities in Britain. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and pressures, from openly-Islamophobic politicians and an incessantly hostile right wing press to socio-economic struggles and failed security policies, British Muslims can be found contributing unapologetically at every level of society and across every industry too.

In recent months our nation has been rocked by four terrorist attacks, endured a gruesome snap election, witnessed one of the deadliest fires of our history and amongst all of this, once again, British Muslims have found themselves in the spotlight. Yet in the wake of it all, British Muslims continue to build, bind and inspire and I have been truly blown away by the incredible array of responses we have witnessed across the country.

British Muslims choose to engage in as many ways as we are diverse and this diversity is an incredible strength. Each of us have different passions and skills and we each have unique gifts to offer. Our unity is not in uniformity but rather by each of us engaging the world and its machinery in whatever way we know best.

Notwithstanding all of that, secondly, is an internal reflection.

Whilst externally British Muslims each choose to contribute in their own ways and pick the passions they battle with, internally the conversation should always be, how can we do more? How can we improve? How can we be better? Like any business, the success of SingleMuslim.com has been in solving a problem; fulfilling a gap in the market. We know there’s no shortage of problems out there and we as British Muslims need to continually strive to offer solutions through whatever outlets we can.

It is in this internal space that I am strong advocate for the need to collaborate more. Our rich diversity is one our greatest strengths. We have so much to offer each other and when we can maturely and sensitively leverage the variety of perspectives, insights and experiences amongst us, we will truly be a force to reckon with.

Remember, no one group or individual can solve all the crises that face our country, however, together we can achieve amazing things. We need British Muslims working with those of all faiths and none, protesting on the streets, signing petitions and demanding accountability of our leadership but we also need British Muslims, ever-conscious of the institutional corruption and injustices of our political structures, to be advocating inside the corridors of power, working the long-game for the most vulnerable in society and yes, even attending Eid receptions. Critically we all need to be talking to each other.

Whilst we may disagree on how one may choose to ‘externally’ engage the world, ‘internally’ we have to realise we are on the same side. I know sometimes, working in our silos, it can be hard to see this and hence why we need to invest in infrastructures and platforms that forge collaborations, networking and trust-building. Social media really isn’t the place for this. The Qur’anic injunction is clear: “Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all together, and be not disunited” (3:103) – we are tasked to work together and it is upon a firm foundation of faith that we can come to realise our angelic potential to serve all of society.

The truth is we can all do a little better in this regard; help each other up, assume the best of one another, hold our tongues (and fingers) from passing ill-informed jugements, share opportunities and so on. At Penny Appeal our internship programme seeks to do just that; thrust young people into the working world, empowering them to be positive change agents in society; confident in their faith identity, comfortable in their British identity and proudly serving all.

Finally, is the hidden dimension.

It helps, now and then, to take a step back and appreciate what we might accomplish in a lifetime is but a fraction of Allah’s magnificent work. We come to realise that in the eyes of the universe our lives are less than a blink, all we can hope to achieve is not just beyond our reach, but perhaps even beyond our imagination.

This realisation need not lead us to resignation but rather to a liberation. We plant with our hands the seeds for fruit that we may never see, just as the fruit we behold came from seeds planted by hands we never saw.

And just like a seed, we grow where we’re planted; whatever life might throw at us, it’s in our DNA to grow towards the light and you cannot block out the sun. In one of the most foundational teachings of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings upon him, said, “Our actions are judged by intentions and everyone will get what was intended”

It was with high intentions that I attended the Eid reception at Downing Street, right now I’m called to be at the proverbial Eid-table and I refuse to be on anyone’s menu. I can’t speak for everyone who attended that day, however what I will say is that you shouldn’t confuse one’s chosen method of ‘external’ engagement as an indictment against their ‘internal’ understandings of the challenges that our communities face or what needs to be done.

In parting, remember, we are always better when we can listen, learn and work together and I pray Allah plants the secret of this deep in our heart of hearts.

 

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A British Muslim Eid!

If you type in “Eid” into google image search, you’ll find a blend of eastern-themed cartoon caricatures and panoramic pictures of people in prayer; neither of which particularly speak to the Eid that I and so many others experience in the UK. The reality is that as British Muslims find themselves more and more rooted in Britain, Eid is fast becoming a truly British holiday and that should be a reason to celebrate.

This Ramadan has been the best yet for our award winning international humanitarian charity, Penny Appeal. We’ve reached more people online and offline and raised more funds, transforming more lives than ever before. At the same time, Ramadan has been a particularly difficult month with the snap election taking place, fatal attacks on our streets and the Grenfell Tower fire which tragically took so many lives.

Desperately needing to have our spirits lifted, Eid couldn’t have come at a better time and our Ramadan activities culminated with Penny Appeal being chosen as the headline partner for the Mayor of London’s annual open-air Eid Festival in Trafalgar Square. Celebrating the best of British Muslim lifestyle, culture, food and entertainment, the festival saw tens of thousands of Muslims celebrate Eid alongside people of all faiths and backgrounds you could imagine. Sadiq Khan, a proud British Muslim, gave a rousing speech praising the rich diversity of our country, where people from all walks of life have been welcomed and are proud to call Britain home.

I looked around Trafalgar Square at the moment and felt a deep sense of pride as I saw Muslims and non-Muslims of every description smiling and celebrating Eid together in the heart of London. Could there be a stronger image of what makes Britain great?

I was equally proud knowing that we have become an integral part of that story; donning my SingleMuslim.com t-shirt, having Penny Appeals iconic orange logo on screen, seeing British Muslim TV’s Nadia Hussein co-hosting and watching Yusuf Islam’s on stage talking about how profits of his new book will be supporting Penny Appeal’s OrphanKind programme – perhaps next year when I search for “Eid” on Google, these are the images that will tell the story of Eid we have come to know today.

 

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“Are British Muslims doing enough?”

It’s the perennial question on the tongues of journalists, politicians and even civil society leaders, not least in the wake of turbulent times.

So, are we? Are British Muslims doing enough?

Given we’re in the blessed month of Ramadan and given it seems to be such an ever-present, loaded, question, I’d like to offer a three-pronged reflection; the external dimension, the internal dimension and the hidden.

Firstly, an external perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the ignorance, prejudice and broad-based assumptions that lace such a subtle yet subversive question, nevertheless, indulge me.

British Muslims make up an incredibly diverse mosaic of communities; ethnically, culturally, geographically and professionally spread. We are far from a homogenous group of people, even our representative bodies hesitate to speak on behalf of ‘the Muslims.’ Crucially, the overwhelming majority of us have no qualms in reconciling our ‘British’ and ‘Muslim’ identities. (1) – It’s also worth noting British Muslims contribute an estimated £31+ billion to the UK economy with over a third of small-to-medium enterprises in London being owned by Muslims. (2)Finally, despite almost half of the British Muslim population living in the most deprived areas of the UK, remarkably British Muslims still give more money to charity per-head than any other group. (3)

Running a multi-million-pound tech company and founding a faith-led award-winning humanitarian charity has given me a direct window into the complex, albeit fragile, inner machineries of Muslim communities in Britain. In recent months, our nation has been rocked by three horrific terrorist attacks and once again British Muslims have found themselves in the spotlight. The truth is, I have been blown away by the incredible responses of British Muslims across the country. From taxi drivers who offered free rides to those stranded following the Manchester attack to hundreds of Imams coming together to boldly reject evil acts done in the name of their faith. (4) Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been raised by Muslim charities and we have seen a host of moving statements, inspiring events and heartfelt gatherings.

Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and pressures, from an Islamophobic President of the United States and an incessantly hostile right wing press to socio-economic struggles and failed security policies, British Muslims continue to build, bind and inspire. In summary, from this perspective, anyone who thinks “Muslims” aren’t doing “enough” quite frankly, hasn’t heard of Google.

Notwithstanding all of that, secondly is an internal reflection. Whilst externally British Muslims each choose to engage in their own ways and pick the passions they battle with, internally the conversation will always be, how can we do more? How can we improve? How can we be better? Like any business, the success of SingleMuslim.com has been in solving a problem and fulfilling a gap in the market. There’s no shortage of problems out there and we as British Muslims need to continually strive to offer inspired solutions through a robust British Muslim civil society engaging our faith institutions, businesses, politics and our incredible charity sector.

It in this internal space that I am a strong advocate for the need to collaborate more with each other and across faith lines. The rich diversity of Britain is one our greatest strengths. We have so much to offer each other and when we can maturely and sensitively leverage the variety of perspectives, insights and experiences amongst all those striving for a better society, we will truly be on to something great. No one group or individual can solve all the crises that face our communities, however, together we can achieve amazing things. We need folks protesting on the streets, for example, whilst others are advocating inside the corridors of power, critically we all need to be talking to each other.

Whilst we may disagree on how we choose to ‘externally’ engage the world, ‘internally’ we have to realise we are on the same side. I know sometimes, working in our silos, it can be hard to see this and hence why we need to invest in infrastructures and platforms that forge collaborations, networking and trust-building. The Qur’anic injunction is clear: “Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all together, and be not disunited” (3:103) – we are doubly tasked to work together and it is upon a firm foundation of faith that we can come to realise our angelic potential to serve all of society.

The truth is we can all do a little better in this regard; help each other up, assume the best of one another, share opportunities and so on. At Penny Appeal our internship programme and TeamOrange seeks to do just that; thrust young people into the working world, empowering them to be positive change agents in society; confident in their faith identity, comfortable in their British identity and proudly serving all, regardless of their backgrounds.

So, if you ask me from this internal perspective, are British Muslims doing enough? I’d tell you, we still have a lot to work to do.

Finally, is the hidden dimension. It helps now and then to take a step back and appreciate what we might accomplish in a lifetime is but a fraction of God’s magnificent work. Through perspective we come to realise in the eyes of the universe our lives are less than a blink. All we can hope to achieve is not just beyond our reach, but perhaps even beyond our imagination.

But this realisation need not lead us to resignation but rather to a liberation. We plant with our hands the seeds for fruit that we may never see, just as the fruit we behold came from seeds planted by hands we never saw.

And just like a seed, we grow where we’re planted; whatever life might throw at us, it’s in our DNA to grow towards the light and you cannot block out the sun. Even in the fleeting moments of darkness our roots still grow; with the courage to crack through the hardest of rocks and draw goodness from even the most begrimed of soils.

In one of the most cardinal teachings of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, said, “Our actions are judged by intentions and everyone will get what was intended”

We were meant for great and lofty accomplishments and we win as soon as we begin. Our work will never be complete, but we work nonetheless and we leave our space a little better than we found it grateful that perhaps God has chosen us to be conduits of his Merciful and Wise plan.

So, are British Muslims doing enough?

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Adeem Younis

Adeem Younis

Founder of SingleMuslim.com and PennyAppeal.org