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Interview with the President of the UK’s Largest Muslim Student Organisation

Assalam alaikum warahmtullahi wabaraktuh sister Zara Mohammed and congratulations on becoming the President of The Federation Of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). How does it feel to be at the head of an organisation that represents the voice of 115,000 Muslim students?

Walakum Asallam wa Rahmat Allah,

It is such an honour to be elected to serve and represent the interests of Muslim students across the UK & Eire. It is a huge responsibility that I endeavour to uphold to the best of my ability. Whilst acknowledging that the year ahead will be defining in its challenges for Muslim students, I will continue to ensure that we successfully celebrate the contributions of Islamic societies & Muslim students to campus life and beyond. I pray that we are also effective in our grassroots engagement, ensuring Islamic societies (ISOCs) have the support and services they need to then take care of Muslim students.

Can you tell us a bit more about FOSIS?

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) was established in 1963 with the aim to represent and serve Muslim students across the UK & Ireland. FOSIS is an umbrella body for 130 Islamic Societies – providing key services, training and networks for societies with the end goal being the development of Muslim students.

Now in our 53rd year, we are blessed to look back on a rich history of alumni – some have gone on to be leaders of states, others setting up global charities, social change organisations and beyond.

FOSIS projects include:

  • Newly developed ISOC 101 training to empower ISocs across the UK & Ireland
  • Annual Conferences which bring together hundreds of Muslim students across the UK & Eire
  • Campaigns including Believe & Do Good, Islamophobia Awareness Month
    Palestine Conference with guest speakers from around the world
  • Student Affairs support ranging from prayer room campaigns to tackling PREVENT
    Charity Treks and National Camps.
  • What does FOSIS mean to you?

For me, FOSIS is a vehicle of change. It is a place that aspires to develop those within it and those we represent. By providing a unique platform, we are able to really embrace the diversity-rich community of Muslim students which allows ideas to flourish and as a result enabling us as Muslims to grow & develop. My time in FOSIS has allowed me to meet Muslim students across the UK and Eire and really get to understand both the challenges they face but also the incredible talent and hard work students put in every day.

What is your vision during your term and how does that build up to FOSIS’s vision?

My vision is really to develop confident Muslim students who will make positive change in the world. To encourage the thinkers, the creatives and the change makers, that their faith is something that is very much part of who they are, they don’t need to hide it. FOSIS seeks to cultivate leaders in every community, and I feel that in order to achieve this we must begin with ourselves and empowering our regional teams. If we can really begin to work from a bottom up approach, through which the grassroots impacts the work we do it will help us do what is needed. Furthermore, I want to create a culture of writing, share the thoughts and reflection of students on our own platforms as well as encourage debate and discussion in ISOCs, its really important we take hold of how we are represented and showcase the best of who we are.

What are the aims and goals you wish to achieve during your term?

Ensuring stability for FOSIS as an organisation and strong ISOCs would be a real success. There are many cases whereby ISOCs are struggling to carry on or as a result of poor succession planning. As FOSIS we need to be there throughout, make sure student societies are strong and well developed. Further, by making sure that our teams are reflective of the talented & vibrant students we represent then we are also able to create a powerful organisation which is relevant and effective for our students. I feel it also important that islamic societies are making a difference for students across campus irrespective of faith or background and as FOSIS we really showcase this existing work that muslim students are doing.

Are there any challenges you envisage? How do you plan to tackle them?

Every organisation has challenges and as FOSIS our challenges are a mirror of what Muslim students and the wider Muslim community are going through. There are many concerns by Muslim students from how to survive university to how to even get into higher education – given the issues surrounding tuition fees and maintenance grants. Other issues surround the mental health and well being of Muslims as well as feeling they can be a part of campus life. This year we have many projects planned to address these concerns, some are campaigns and others will be down to our regional teams speaking to ISOCs and Muslim students, making sure our services are tailored to them. Nationally we will also carry on pushing shariah compliant loans until they come into fruition as well as see what other support is available. I am blessed with a hard-working team of diverse backgrounds who will all work together to tackle these challenges.

Tell us about FOSIS’s recent achievements and how you plan to build on that in the future?

Alhamdulilah FOSIS achievements have been across different fields of work. Some of my own highlights:

  • After almost two decades we has our annual Winter Conference in Scotland with over 250 students attending across the nation and even from Europe!
  • Our Mount Snowdon Trek for Charity had 100 students come from across the country raising £30k
  • Our Believe and Do Good Campaign which combined the efforts of ISOCs and local community organisations showcased hundreds of students nationwide providing meals for the homeless, food bank support, blood drives to giving gifts to children in hospitals.
  • Our fantastic and unique trip to Spain relived the history and experience of al Andulsia for students who ventured with us.
  • Our campaigning against the PREVENT legislation and grassroots efforts to support students from Islamophobia was met with much success including a UK wide tour and backing from the National Union of Students.
  • We had 110 Muslim delegates attend the National Union Students which shows the success of our on campus efforts to get students more politically aware.
    What role does FOSIS play in attempts to engage students in politics? (student affairs)

Our Student Affairs department plays a critical role in engaging Muslim students in politics, annually we support all ISOCs with issues ranging from prayer room closures, islamophobic attacks to student union engagement and the NUS. This year alone we have seen 53 Muslim sabbatical officers in student unions across the country, which is unprecedented and showcases how Muslims are becoming more politically aware. FOSIS also empowers regional reps, some of our team in Scotland represented the Scottish Youth Parliament, and others have spoken at consultations on issues such as the experience of student employment for the inquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee, which was published.

How is current situation regarding Islamophobia and how is FOSIS dealing with things like Prevent?

Last year, along with the NUS, we ran a powerful campaign called “Students not Suspects” which toured UK university campuses raising awareness of PREVENT. The campaign also received national coverage with hundreds attended a national conference in London. Islamophobia, post brexit has become a greater issue and we will be launching our campaign raising awareness for Islamophobia awareness month alongside Mend. FOSIS is committed to ensuring that ISOCs get the support they need from Student Unions and Universities when incidents occur and we will carry on working on this growing issue.

How does FOSIS instil confidence to Muslims students about their faith?

FOSIS has been around for 53 years, many of those who come out of the organisation have gone on to be leaders of state, CEO of international charities and essentially good role models for our community. I believe a strong and effective FOSIS is what makes a difference to the experience for Muslim students, knowing that there is a body with the primary purpose of ensuring that their work and rights are protected. As an organisation we seek to provide key services including speaker tours, which are a vehicle to share knowledge on these issues, students have. We also recognise that many Muslim students won’t know who we are as we work directly with Islamic societies, and so really a working Islamic society, full of leaders that embody the best of Islam is what really will help give students that confidence too.

What do you think is the top priority for Muslim students across the UK?

I think top issue is really around being confident to be Muslim on campus, for many that’s simply surviving university. This issue relates to a range of other concerns ranging from finance matters, mental health, support and spirituality. This all comes back to ensuring there are strong ISOCs on each and every campus.

How does a student or anybody else get involved with FOSIS?

I would always encourage joining your ISOC on campus who are the grassroots of our organisation. Islamic societies annually affiliate with FOSIS, so getting involved with your ISOC is always the best first port of call. Nonetheless, at FOSIS we have a wide range of teams who are always in need of volunteers. Keep an eye out on our social media and website for vacancies within our teams. However, if you ever have an idea, suggestion, or want to let us know how to improve – don’t hesitate to contact us through any of our social media channels.

Jzakallah khayran for your time, we wish that Allah may accept your efforts and grant you all the success insha Allah!

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