Faith in the Workplace: A Muslim Engineer's Perspective (JHP Day 30)
As a Muslim born and raised in the UK, the relationship between my faith and my work has always been quite disconnected. Since I was young, the sorts of conversations that I'd have at school would be vastly different to those at home, and so I learnt very quickly to code switch: one minute I'd be talking to a friend about their plans for Christmas in English, and the next I'd be asking my mum when we'd all be leaving to go to the mosque in Urdu.
For a variety of reasons, whether it was too difficult to explain foreign concepts to people who weren't familiar, I just wasn't articulate enough to get them across, or, in the more extreme cases, I felt I'd be looked at differently, or worse, for bringing them up - that part of my life felt a lot more private, and something that I didn't usually let on to people. Out of habit, that became my natural perspective on it in the workplace: 'if people don't ask about it, there's no need to bring it up'.
But recent events have really lead me to question that mindset - and as I've gotten older and come into my own, learning more about the value of diversity in the workplace, I've really started seeing the benefits of being open and sharing my experiences.
This post came about after a trip I took to London, to attend my first ever Muslim Engineers' Network event in Southall - a dinner organised to give engineers from across the country the chance to bond over that shared aspect of faith, and foster a wider sense of brother and sisterhood, both within the Muslim community and the industry. I look back on it with a great deal of satisfaction at having taken the time out to travel from Sheffield and be there, because the lessons I learnt, and the people I met, made it more than worth it. I'll be recounting the events of the night to share those moments with you all, in the hope that you can get the same insight from it.
Networking From Across the Country
After a short walk from the nearest tube station, I found the venue and was seated next to some others who had arrived. We shared stories of our work and what we did, where we were from, what we were interested in, and as one of the younger attendees, it was really nice to hear from the more experienced engineers about what they loved about their jobs, and how they got there from the start of their careers.
Apart from connecting with people from new places, I was lucky enough to find more than a few from old ones: including engineers who'd just graduated from my university, had the same interests as me in piloting, and even someone from my secondary school, who I hadn't spoken to until then. Small world!
I think the general consensus in work related wisdom is that networking is almost always valuable for your career - getting to meet new people gives you access to new experiences, new opportunities and new knowledge - and those are specific things you can't get unless you're there, talking to others and making those connections. It felt really valuable to be doing that, even as an introvert who generally finds it impossible to start conversations :D
Faith and Work: Lessons from Mohammad Taher
One of the highlights of the event for me was a talk by Mohammad Taher, on incorporating faith into your work. He recounted a story from his job as Aerodrome Systems Specialist at Heathrow Airport, and his conversations with his superiors, sharing the concept of 'Amanah'.
It means to be fair, punctual and keeping of promises and commitments. It is an important aspect of a Muslim character - peace in society is achieved through individual faith, and the concept of amanah binds individuals with society.
Referenced from The Importance of Amanah (hafsaabbas.com)
Amanah refers to the moral obligations that Muslims have to others, to keep promises with regards to people's time, safety or even possessions - going so far as to cover anything that has been entrusted to them. Referenced in the Qur'an, it's a historical and religious concept that dates back centuries.
At the time, Mohammad's work involved the handling of passenger baggage from one part of the airport to the other, through the internal systems that take luggage from the check-in desk all the way to the plane on which they get boarded. Which is what brought him to raise the concept with his superiors, in an effort to push the efficiency of the system, and ensure that each passenger got their bags in the same condition that they left them (or better); on time, with no unexpected problems.
And unsurprisingly, it went down very well. The link between that religious concept, and what the staff at the airport were already trying to achieve through company policy, highlighted the way in which faith can be applied in tandem with regulations - and how as Muslims, not only was it beneficial to raise those ideas more often - it was exactly what people were looking for.
Nowadays, the progression of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion within the workplace has allowed for people to express their personal values and beliefs freely. The talk highlighted that in the Western context, the inclusion of diverse beliefs brought a massive amount of value.
As someone who’s always separated that religious and cultural aspect of my life from work, I found it really insightful to apply those lessons in the same way, and understand that even for those who aren’t religious, the teachings have value. As the general move towards ED&I becomes a larger part of my work in engineering, I've gained a newfound focus for it.
Follow Mohammad Taher, 'The Airport Guy' to learn more about his work!
The Human Appeal Charity Fundraiser
In addition to the networking and informative talks, the event also included a charity fundraising effort from Human Appeal, who raised money to supply aid for those affected by the recent natural disasters and crises in Pakistan, Yemen and surrounding countries. It's often easy to lose sight of the fact that in the Western world, with the privileges from technology and opportunity, there are still people struggling for basic needs - so a core tenet of Islam is to always return to those who are less fortunate. Even as Ramadan slowly rolls round again in three months time, many Muslims with fond memories of the religious month fast to remember exactly that, and practice charity and generosity.
Post-Meal Breakout Groups and Career Insights
After a generous buffet, the room was randomly split into groups, each led by a different facilitator, who recounted their career journey and offered insights to the other engineers. One really valuable lesson that a facilitator shared with my group was based on the concept of blessings in disguise - and how even if something seems like it might not be the best outcome in the moment, it could be avoiding something harsher in the long run.
All in all, the dinner was an amazing opportunity for me to talk to experienced engineers in the industry and gain insight into their day-to-day jobs. It also sparked the idea of hosting similar events at my university, and with societies in Sheffield. The event left me with a renewed appreciation for the role of faith in the workplace, and the importance of bringing my own individual beliefs to benefit others.
Thank you to everyone who organised it and took part, and I hope to come to many more in the future!
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