I read these words on a family fun-day event’s poster with ‘Game On 2020’ in a large, colourful paint-brush font. The logo looked modern and fresh. I thought, hmm, this is interesting.
My very good friend, whom I think of as a dear sister, invited me to this Redbridge Hub’s family event as I am contemplating moving over to the East side one day soon. She thought it would be a great opportunity to meet the community she helped build and find this elusive community spirit we so lack in many parts of reserved, suburban London.
It was half-term and I thought, why not? At best, I would have supported my friend and her community, and at worst, I would still have supported my friend and her community.
Upon arriving at a local school venue with ample parking space, the Faith Inspire organisers were kitted out in their orange volunteer Hi-Viz jackets. Colourful balloons decorated the floors and a hubbub of noise from many young people filled the hall. I pleasantly noticed we were not all one kind of Muslim. There were Indians, Mauritians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. I paused for thought:
this was different from the predominantly one-ethnic communities I’ve been exposed to where I grew up in Birmingham.
Parents were scattered around, talking to people nearest to them. We were late and had just missed out on the congregational prayer. We were given some private space to pray. First impressions were so far so good. This was very well organised.
We then registered and were given our printed team-stickers. My eight year-old minion got our family organised by writing our name and whacking it on any space on our chest he could find, including on my one year-old bubs. He should have been napping but true to form, he was gawping instead from the pushchair. We were excitedly team ‘Mo Farah’ (woo hoo!) until I found out we were against team ‘Mo Salah’ (boo hoo)! I love both these sportsmen, but I think I may be a closet fan of the latter (he definitely had the edge🤫). My children were super excited and the buzz in the air was one of friendly and comfortable anticipation.
We all tied balloons to our ankles. As an icebreaker, each team had to try and pop their opponents’ balloons. What ensued was literally an explosion of noise: balloons popping like fireworks and shrieking laughter from all – adults, young adults and children. It was so infectious!
Game after game was played – brain training memory games, quizzes, giant buzz-wire, physical games (men, women and children separately), you name it. If the name of the game was to connect with each other, then connect we did. The results from each game were consistently the same – laughter, high team-spirit and friendly rivalry.
Although I knew my dark horse of a husband was sporty, I had long forgotten how fierce he was. He was a tiger, organising his cubs, strategizing the quickest and best methods to hunt for prey. Truly, it was a magnificent but scary thing. Secretly? I thought ‘Go Tiger, go get’em, grrr!’
After much hullabaloo, we were feeling peckish. Although snacks were provided earlier on the side, a pleasant dinner awaited all after the games were done and dusted. We sat down on school dining tables, and were grandly served pizza, salad, many different types of nibbles, plenty of fried chicken as well as soft drinks followed by a lovely trio of desserts.
We sat in our teams and as we ate, we got to know one another. I met a lovely sister with her grown-up children who had all attended. She didn’t look nearly as old enough! I wondered what it would be like to have my brood all grown up like hers and whether I would look as good as her.
I had a quick flashforward and could visualise my eldest child as a young adult sitting on her own somewhere, watching the scene observantly. I could see my eldest boy right next to his old dad, still partaking in the games with zeal. I could see my middle boy, slightly on the heavy side, sitting next to me, still eating junk food and drinking juices. As for my youngest boy, well, I haven’t had him long enough to know how he would pan out. I tried to block out the weird image of a grown man in a pushchair gawping. I’d like to think he would be in the thick of it all, making his voice heard and smashing it!
I was rudely awoken from my reverie by that same grown man-baby’s wail – he was awake after I had rocked him to sleep earlier – demanding his grub. I gave him some pizza (bad mum I know, what to do?) and promptly told my husband off loudly for attempting to give him some fizzy drink (tried to redeem myself somewhat).
I spoke with my beautiful friend’s family who felt like my own family, and a few others. My husband was also mingling I noticed. Children were busy eating, chatting or playing. Life was pretty good, alhamdulillah.
Soon after, scores and winners were announced, and on-the-spot prizes awarded. My daughter won the first hamper after answering a Harry Potter question – ‘What was the mascot for Hufflepuff?’ My shy daughter squeaked ‘Badger’. There was a roar of encouragement and support as she was ushered to the stage to collect her prize. I was secretly praying it wasn’t the spice hamper. Lo and behold, it was the spice hamper! I’ve got to cook with it now, I inwardly groaned.
No, rewind. This was a monumental moment. Huge. Historical. My daughter who had been plagued with report after report for ‘not taking part’, ‘for not speaking up’, for ‘not having a voice’, not only took part and spoke up, her voice WON her the first hamper! Okay, ‘voice’ is a bit of a stretch. Her squeak then. Or half-hearted whisper. Whatever it was, I couldn’t be prouder! My chest was so puffed that that oddly plonked team-sticker was literally falling off!
Okay, so it had spices. So what this meant I had more cooking in store for me. My daughter could cook too. Heck, so could my son or husband (who am I kidding?!). This hamper saved me from a shopping trip and that pot thing that’s holding all the packets looked interesting. Always find the silver lining. My daughter came to me looking weighed down from carrying the heavy hamper (or perhaps from the shock of it all) and as she handed it to me, she whispered, ‘You keep the spices, I’m keeping the pot.’ There went my silver lining.
After all the prizes were handed out (Mo Salah won – no surprises there; at least we were a close second!), we were all given chocolates and another invitation to attend another session. The superb volunteers were recognised and applauded. It ended with a wonderful short video of Faith Inspire’ s projects as well as other community events they actively supported such as my friend’s Play Streets.
We all helped in some small way to clear up and prepared to say goodbye. The kids had a whale of a time playing. Parents also had a whale of a time playing but also left looking like whales as we had just far too much to eat. I know I for one, looked like a pregnant penguin in Hijab (I have the photos to prove it.) Just as quickly as we entered this stranger community from the North of London, just as quickly we left feeling like we were part of this community and no longer a stranger.
As my husband and I reflected, on our drive back to our hidden community in North London, we wondered why it was more than seven years since we attended an event to this scale. We wondered why our community wasn’t brave enough to organise this kind of community interaction. We realised strict segregation may have something to do with it. Or perhaps snobbery – how to interact with the unknown?
Or maybe we simply needed a courageous hand to reach out and build that trust.
We wondered what community spirit looked like at the height of Islam, when women and children attended masjid quarters freely without being shut down. We thought a bit about how our children were growing up fast and what we could do to bring them up in a safe environment where they could also rely on their community to be their backbone.
We came to this conclusion: if a community really wanted to be one, and if people really wanted to bask in its spirit, then the first action would be to step out of one’s comfort zone (such as our fine suburban houses where it is easy to confine oneself) and reach out. Go and knock on those strangers’ doors and simply say ‘Hey’ or turn up to another community’s event. Better yet, start one of your own and invite everybody.
Break down those barriers. Be inclusive. Therein lies the elusive community spirit, simply waiting to be found.
If you would like to see a snapshot of our amazing day and the wonderful work of faith inspire click the video below. Inshallah we all build communities in our own areas as inclusive and as positive as this. Let us know in the comments how you are planning to get involved with your local community.
By Nafisa Rahimi
Co-Founder of Muslim Mamas, Founder of Super Smart Learners and an award-winning podcast – Not Another Mum Pod. Nafisa graduated from the University of Birmingham in Applied Theological Studies and completed her PGCE in RE and English from the School of Education in Birmingham. She is a self-confessed workaholic living in London with her four children and husband. Nafisa enjoys writing, eating out, travelling and hanging out with the sitcom ‘Friends’.
By Nafisa RahimiCo-Founder of Muslim Mamas, Super Smart Learners English (a unique educational programme) and an award-winning 'Best Podcast 2020' - Not Another Mum Pod. The audio Ramadan diaries are now a Permanent Collectionof the Museum of London. Nafisa has recently been named in Techmae's ‘Woman Spotlight’.Nafisa's pods regularly make waves, frequently ranking in Apple Podcast charts worldwide (no.12 in Sweden and 13 in UK ). Nafisa faces difficult topics head-on in an attempt to grab the mic, and address Muslim-related issues with authentic Muslim voices. Nafisa lives in London with her four children and husband. She enjoys writing, eating out, travelling and hanging out with 'Friends'! Read all about it here:https://linktr.ee/Nafisa.Rahimi