It is difficult to say why I first became involved in aid work. It is something that I rarely think about unless someone asks me about it. I think that part of the reason may be because my origins are in the ‘less developed’ world. I have seen the other side of life, the life without glamour or any of the things we take for granted here in the UK. As a Muslim I also bring a faith perspective to my work, and I continually reflect on the privileges that this life has given me.
Most people are never exposed to the sufferings of the rest of the world. But I believe that once people experience it and relate to it, they always want to do more. This is what happened to me.
My first overseas assignment with Islamic Relief was in Kosovo, six months after the end of the conflict. It was in the middle of an extremely harsh winter and my role was to assess the needs of the community. This meant I had the opportunity to speak with all sections of the local population – victims, fighters, leaders and children. Each person had experienced suffering in a different way, and each was touched by the destruction that had torn whole communities apart.
This was also the first time that I had seen how religion can be used as a tool to divide people, turning people who had once been friends into enemies of each other. But despite this, on the ground various aid agencies of different faiths were working together. They were demonstrating the positive side of all faiths – the humanitarian side.
While religion may not consciously drive my every day work, after nine years with Islamic Relief it would be foolish to say it has no influence over why I continue to do what I do. For me the bottom line is that Islamic principles and humanitarian principles are one and the same. The added value is that Islamic Relief adopts Islamic values in its approach to delivering humanitarian principles. But the most important thing is that the beneficiaries receive the assistance that they need and that we make an impact, however small, on their lives.
I worked in Banda Aceh after the tsunami and was in Pakistan after the earthquake. These emergency situations are the times when my faith becomes really important. The total devastation and the mass loss of life is always going to affect even the most seasoned aid worker, and can strain your ability to do your job to the best of your ability. I find that in these situations being strong in my faith allows me to overcome these emotions and to focus on my work. I have never questioned why this is so, but take comfort and strength from it nonetheless.