On the diversity bus

One of the hardest things about Ramadan for me is not being able to cycle around London. I know that getting on my bike might seem like a good idea at first, but the energy and fatigue it would cause just wouldn’t be worth it.

As a result, I’ve been reliant on the London bus network to get around. I’ve got a love (it’s cooler temperature-wise and has natural daylight) // hate (they’re always late and delayed) relationship with buses. But today sitting on the 453 to Deptford gave me a new found appreciation for something I’m so very passionate about.

Diversity.

I saw a black child and a white child playing and learning together as you see in this photo (it’s not creepy, I cropped out faces).

Diversity-Bus

How amazing, I thought. The conditioning of their backgrounds and skin colour have no impact on them playing together and learning from one another.

It got me thinking about the Great British Diversity Experiment that I’ve been involved in lately. I was put in a very diverse team of 10 marketers in the bid to solve a brief from Tesco. We documented the experience and long story short our team (the ‘Diversiteam’) won!

A few weeks ago Renato TataKat Murray-Clark and I were invited on stage to talk about our experience. There are a plethora of tweets with soundbites from our talk, but the one we ended on was “when will diversity stop being an experiment and just be the norm”.

Approaching six working years (oh how the time flies) I’m taking a bit of time to take stock about what I’ve learnt. Often you don’t know how much you know until you sit down and think it through. And that’s exactly why Ramadan is brilliant. It provides sorely needed reflection time and energy to think about what’s going on in my life and also in the world.

Sitting on the bus today I realised that we’re surrounded by diversity. It simply is the norm. It’s the norm on the bus, in the supermarket, out on the streets, but step into an advermarketingpr agency and it starts to disappear.

Change is going to take a long time and a lot of concerted effort (more to follow on that soon) but today I’m very happy to be on the diversity bus if it will lead to a world where the kids pictured grow up to work together in whatever field they choose to without the need for further experiments.

 

What to do at lunchtime during Ramadan

Lunchtime.

Time for a break. A bit of sustenance and a pick me up for the afternoon.

Not so.

Today I find myself half way through a film shoot. It hasn’t been an overly strenuous – things have sort of fallen into place along the way – but I’m feeling the fatigue. Yesterday I wrote about fasting having little impact on work and concentration and today I’m seeing that in action. I won’t lie. Trying to stay focussed is a little challenging, but I know that as soon as we wrap in a few hours I’ll have earned a nap before sunset.

I always find it amusing how every year I get the same questions about no water, losing weight and the lack of concentration. I think one year I’ll hand out leaflets. One thing that has struck me is that a lot of people think about Ramadan from their own viewpoint. A sense of  ‘I couldn’t do that’ and ‘That wouldn’t work for me’.

That got me thinking. In my professional time I spend a lot of time talking about unconscious bias and how we are conditioned to think a certain way without even acknowledging it. That’s what I’m learning to love about Ramadan. It’s putting me in a frame of mind of someone who – 11 months of the year – I am not. If I were not in the lucky position I am in, with the education I’ve had and the opportunities I’ve been afforded, there is just so much I wouldn’t be able to do both personally and professionally.

The slight onset of a headache and a little bit of dizziness is adding to that sense of gratefulness. It might sound crazy, but this really is a strengthening exercise for both body and mind.

 

Feasting after dark

I’m thinking about two things today:

How little I’ve eaten

There I was yesterday evening thinking I would enjoy a veritable feast having fasted the whole day.

Wrong.

After 5 dates, 1 banana, 1 yoghurt, 1 samosa and 2 pakoras I felt more stuffed than I have after a full Sunday roast with all the trimmings. They (I don’t know who ‘they’ is) say that your stomach shrinks when you fast and it’s no joke. After a brisk walk I could stomach some pasta and salad and that was me done for the day. I woke up at 2am, had a bowl of Fruit and Fibre, another banana, a yoghurt, and back to bed I went.

A lot of people ask me whether I feast after the sun sets. The answer is quite simply no. It’s almost impossible! It’s quite a strange feeling not being physically able to eat what and when you want to but I have to say I’m finding it really refreshing. I’m more productive (helped by working from home) and despite the odd moment, really focussed.

It remains to be seen what impact the lower food intake will have on my waistline. Cue the oft-cited: “gosh you’re just disappearing before my eyes” looks with :emoji: concerned face.

How many Ramadan articles I’ve read

Oh my days. There were so many Muslim memes doing the rounds yesterday. It wasn’t just Buzzfeed – I even spotted one on the Telegraph (yes they are frightfully similar articles)! That’s a pretty nice thing to see. Back when I wrote about Ramadan for the Huffington Post there were so few articles out there…it’s promising to see the mainstream media – online at least – providing a space for Muslims to talk about Ramadan. It’s always bugged me that for one month a year we were pushed to media such as Sunrise Radio and BBC Asian Network. Great as they are, it’s good to see fish where the fish aren’t swimming if you catch my drift.

Oh, but then there was this vitriol from Katie Hopkins. Here’s the funny thing. She’s right. Britain has changed. And Ramadan could be seen as a slight on productivity. Yes in manual labour that could be dangerous as the example in her article shows, but in the service industry (which I’m in) I’m finding it’s providing a great sense of productivity and focus.

It sometimes feels like one day is actually two (waking up twice in a 12 hour period I suppose) but I’m thankful that fasts are going well so far.

Onwards!

 

Why I’m starting a daily Ramadan diary

How smoke, it’s Ramadan again! I can’t believe it’s been a year since the last one. What’s changed?

I’ve moved house. For the first time I’m living alone. I don’t have to feel worried about waking up my non-Muslim flatmate when getting up to eat Sehri (the sunrise meal).

I am working from home. I have shifted my working pattern so it’s more conducive to the very long days. Fasts start at 2:45 and finish at 9:30. That’s 19 hours abstaining from one of my biggest pleasures – food and drink and the relief of not having to take the brunt of the rat race and the onslaught of coffee shops is something I am tremendously thankful for.

Today I’ve been thinking about how ashamed I’ve sometimes felt to publicly practice and talk about my religion. I know why this has happened. It’s the worry that I’ll be accused of being a terrorist. When I moved into my flat I thought long and hard about the curtains being open whilst I was praying in my front room. Think about it – a single Muslim man living alone and praying. I fit the media-portrayed profile. What would the neighbours say? I shouldn’t worry, but these things have crossed my mind after reading about men being kicked off planes and trains for uttering prayers that have invoked suspicion.

I suppose two things are slowly changing my own attitude towards this. The first is that I am finding new and interesting places to express my Muslim identity. The Inclusive Mosque Initiative is the first place I’ve found that is full of liberal Muslims. A place where women lead prayers and where your race, gender and sexuality don’t prohibit you from being a Muslim.

The second is that we have a Muslim mayor. I cannot understate how game changing it is to read articles like this from Sadiq Khan. To have someone else broadcasting what it’s like to be a liberal Muslim and working a day job makes me remember that although I’ve sometimes felt like the only one undertaking Ramadan, there are millions of other Muslims around the world doing the same. It reminds me of a quote by philosopher David Hume: “The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster”. That’s something that Ramadan always reminds me. That no matter what my woe is, it is insignificant in comparison to the greater woes of the world and if anything, someone, somewhere else will have experienced the same.

It’s my intention this year to keep a daily diary of how the month is unfolding. I’m doing this in part to share the experience and in part so that I can look back in years to come to remember previous experiences. I still look back fondly on one of my first Huffington Post articles back on the first day of Ramadan back in 2013.

It’s always a little nerve wracking heading, but I’m hopeful, thankful and looking forward to the journey. I hope you’ll join me in it.

Cutting your arm off

The Stonewall Faith Seminar was a fantastic event to meet other members of faith within the LGBT community. The Evening Standard came down and featured Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed talking about the work he’s doing in France on inclusivity in Islam. I was also featured in their news story. Read it here:

Being gay and Muslim is ‘like trying to decide which arm to cut off’, says founder of Europe’s first inclusive mosque.

Muslim Pride

I’ve started a new project.

Tired of not hearing the voices of your every day Muslims, I’ve set up a podcast called Muslim Pride. Each week I’m interviewing a prominent Muslim on their views. From why they wear the hijab through to their views on ISIS, I want to spread the message that there are thousands of Muslims worldwide who are setting an example and that, contrary to what the media would have you believe, are not parts of terrorist organisations.

Listen here on Soundcloud or here on iTunes.

Sign up here.

12 lessons I’ve learnt from 12 months at a start-up

Back then we weren’t European Travel Innovator of the Year. The idea of showing OTA prices on a hotel website seemed ludicrous to many and our talented team was less than a quarter of the size it is today. A very close friend of mine always ponders “think about what happened one year ago and what could happen one year from now”. If you’d asked me that a year ago I could never have predicted what would have happened.

So here goes. 12 lessons from the last 12 months:

1. Learn to hustle

All those Medium posts and stories you lead about having to hustle seem so abstract until you find yourself running around a trade show finding the right people to talk to and the right conversations to have. It seemed much easier back in agency land – people wanted to talk to you because you had a brand name behind you. All that changes…and fast. The lows suck (sorry, who are you?), but the highs are phenomenal when you’ve had a meeting that could just change the business.

2. Your experience only takes you half way

There’s a quote from Maya Angelou I love. “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been, told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive”. Yes, all well and good.

But I found I had been conditioned to succeed. Starting up is about failing fast, learning and moving on. That takes some time to get used to and so whilst you might be the sum total – I had to divide that by two.

3. Forgiveness is much better than permission

Try as I might to instil this upon my nephews and nieces (sorry sis if you’re reading this) – if you want to move fast, you’re going to upset people. It’s usually in a good way. I’ve learnt that through my writing this year – asking people to forgive me has been much more rewarding than stopping myself by asking for their permission in the first place. Otherwise it would never have gotten done. It’s a used Facebook adage but it works: move fast and break things.

4. Slack

I. Love. Slack. I don’t know how or why I sent so many e-mails. And if you haven’t met Slackbot, you should. He’s like the sarcastic friend you wish you never had.

5. You never know how much you know

Sometimes I surprise myself by how much I’ve learnt without realising. A year in many large organisations would be a drop in the ocean, but a year at a start-up makes me a coveted ‘veteran’. It lets me use phrases such as ‘in my day’ in the most ironic manner possible.

6. Breathe

We do yoga every Thursday and the physical and psychological difference it makes is remarkable. Take time to breathe when you’re moving a million miles an hour.

7. And breathe some more

Lots of Silicon Valley stalwarts swear by meditation. The funny thing is, so did my forefathers and their forefathers over in India. Meditation is more vital today than ever. Phones are always buzzing, screens are forever flashing. Take 10 minutes every day and just restore focus.

8. You’ll experience rewards from the simplest things

Up until last year I’d done umpteen press sell-ins and revelled in the coverage it generated. That coverage got compiled into a spreadsheet and presentation and that was it. Job done. When I generated my first piece of coverage at Triptease,the phone rang with a new customer at the end of the line. That may sound so basic, but that reward of an output having a business impact was a good reminder of the value of PR at a time when so many people continue to question it.

9. And you’ll experience frustrations from the simplest things

Printing. The bane of my life. Gone are the days of calling a 3-man strong IT team to looking at toner and paper. If you’re ever considering the leap to a start-up, be ready for a fight with a good old DeskJet (yes, they still exist). (And yes: I still can’t work out how to print wirelessly).

10. Beware: buzzwords

‘Inbound marketing’ seems to be one floating around start-ups. It’s using PR, content and events to have qualified leads get in touch with you. It’s funny that in three years at a PR agency I had never heard people talk of themselves as ‘inbound marketers’ but apparently that’s now a thing.

11. Culture is everything

Back from my very first job at IncrediBull (the best value: be cheeky) through to today – I’ve never underestimated the importance of culture. It’s the thing that keeps you going and the thing that keeps you sane when someone new walks in and you have no idea who they are but you know you’re both working towards the same thing.

12. Up your efficiency

Funny I’m writing a 12th thing here (12 months = 12 things…gettit?) but really I could have stopped at 11. The *lean* start-up isn’t just a book, it’s a great habit and way of thinking to get yourself into. Ask yourself – all the time – how are you continually innovating and cutting what you don’t need to do?

There you have it. A veritable advent calendar of things I’ve learnt. Along the way I’ve written some articles, launched a podcast and continue to be amazed by the pace at which technology is moving.

God bless the uncertainty of Eid

In central London this morning you may witness hundreds of dish dashes roaming around. Your eyes are not deceiving you. You are not in the Arabian desert. You are simply near Regent’s Park mosque and you have just witnessed the start of this year’s Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations.

Millions of Muslims worldwide woke up today and headed to the mosque to pray their ‘Eid namaz’ – their Eid prayer. I say millions – some are celebrating tomorrow, some others are celebrating on Sunday. That’s the beauty of Islam. There’s no uniting force when it comes to festivals. When I tell colleagues about the hilarity of not knowing when Eid is they look at me as if I’ve forgotten how calendars work.

Could you imagine if you didn’t know if Christmas was definitely on the 25th? (I’m aware the Germans celebrate on the 24th). Holiday planning and train timetables would be all over the place. The TfL Twitter account would have a field day.

And yet somehow we Muslims manage it. I find the uncertainty hilarious. The reliance on a ‘moon sighting’ even more so. That’s the beauty of it all. It forces you to let go and just see what happens. There are so many things we’re not in control of – particularly our emotions after 18 hours without food or water – and yet we still do it. Because life’s far more fun when you let go (that is the only way I can explain why ‘Let It Go’ has almost 500 MILLION views on YouTube).

That’s the biggest thing I’m taking away from Ramadan this year: embrace uncertainty. There’s so much in life – right down to what day one of your biggest festivals falls on – that you just can’t control. Rather than fight it, just see what happens.

And so whether you’re celebrating today, tomorrow, Sunday or (heaven forbid) Monday – Eid Mubarak.

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