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Selma Cook

Halima Hussein was born and brought up in Glasgow, and her family roots are in Bengal. She is married and works full-time as a lawyer. She says that one of the greatest things she has done in her life was helping to establish the Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Center in Glasgow, Scotland.
The center is located in Govern Hill, Glasgow. It was set up by a group of Muslim activists and now the organization extends across the UK. The constitution was established 10 years ago. It started off because historically in the UK there is recognition of black and ethnic minority issues but there was also a need for a project specifically targeting Muslim women. This was necessary because Muslim women do not fall under one category of ethnicity. In Islam there is a wide range of cultural backgrounds and needs, for example, providing sports center access for Muslim women and proper segregation. Hussein commented, “First generation Muslim women migrants have a lot of language barriers and can not access the system properly and often have issues with violence at home.” Muslim women are often unable to access all the services available in the mainstream and there are not a lot of culturally sensitive services available. These founding members were looking to work with mainstream agencies to educate them about Muslim women and to provide direct services for them.
The founders had a conference in the mid 90s entitled The Needs of Muslim Women.  At this conference a number of Muslim women were present as well as government people. Research had been commissioned to find the gaps in the system. Governmental authorities made promises to set up this organization and five years later, the center opened its doors to the public. The Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Center also has offices in Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It runs a helpline for Muslim women so they can call at any time and this is open all day. People can leave a message and it is confidential. Confidentially is an essential part of the center.
Employees are trained on how to be culturally sensitive to Muslim women. They also help Muslim women to take active part in the community. The center produced a booklet about misconceptions about Islam and Muslim women and sometimes even the Muslim women themselves did not know what their rights are in Islam. So it is not just about educating non-Muslims but also Muslims. They generally work with people over sixteen years of age and will help anyone coming to them for help. There are non-Muslim women advising the center, working as volunteers and helping with fund raising.
The center has also been making progress with imams and Muslim men in general, especially in relation to domestic violence. It is necessary to work with the masjids and the men individually to help rectify this problem. Muslim women often go to the imams and usually do not get the support they need. However, now the Central Mosque in Glasgow is working with the Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Center and many imams have contributed to writing booklets and showing real support for women seeking help.
London no longer has a help line for Muslimwomen and so the center even receives calls from London. People recognize they are an effective organization. They do not push Islam onto people but if someone asks, the center will give them advice and direct them to the people who can give them further advice. Hussein added, “It’s not about telling someone to get a divorce but helping them to make an informed choice.” The people working with the center are well-trained and it is known as a qualified agency. The center has been received really well in Glasgow. They have had a lot of success working with a many mainstream agencies. They are funded from the Scottish government and this is recognition from them that what the center is doing is important.
The center serves women from all races. The main groups seeking help from the center are Arabs, Turks, Somalis, and Asians. These are also the main groups existing in Scotland. The Asians are the majority in Glasgow and Scotland. There is also a bereavement project for counseling people but unfortunately, there is no more funding at present. This is seen as necessary because people need to know how to deal with grief. Hussein said, “Even Muslims have misconceptions about this, for example, many think they aren’t allowed to cry.” The center has a library with computers and face to face counseling. There are also doctors available and people to help make out tax forms. If a person lacks confidence to go out alone, she will be paired up with a volunteer. This volunteer goes out with the Muslims woman so she can learn how to access the system. It is called the Befriending Project.
The helpline does not just answer calls but also works with community police and policy makers. They also educate other organizations about how to deal with Muslim women. “We want to work with other organizations and build up their resources so they understand what Muslim women need, so they’ll be able to help them too,” said Hussein.
There are other organizations that provide refuge facilities that Muslim women can use but until now there is no specific refuge center for Muslim women and even the mosques are thinking of helping in this area. The center has been talking to Central Mosque in Glasgow about setting this up. The projects are mainly about working with mainstream organizations.
Domestic violence exists in the Muslim community and that’s why they received the funding. Hussein noted, “Female circumcision hasn’t been a big problem in Scotland but forced marriage is and the Scottish government is attempting to put legislation in place to prevent this. The center is aware that Islam doesn’t ratify it.” Hussein said that there are also other issues that cause more problems, for example, the two year rule in the UK. According to this rule, it someone marries an outsider, that person has no rights in the UK for two years. This is especially significant for women who do not have rights to seek legal aid or benefits and there is a stigma on divorce and often these people are stranded and they do not want to go back to their home country because of leaving their partner. In Scotland they do not have a lot of options. The center has been lobbying parliament to find solutions for Muslim women who are in this predicament.
Honor killings are not mentioned so much in the calls the center receives but the center is aware that this does exist. In the last year there was a case that was reported widely in the press.
There has been a significant presence of Muslims in Scotland since the 60s. There have been Muslims here for a long time with many of them working in the ports. These Muslims are mostly Pakistani, Bangladeshi communities. They are basically people from the commonwealth. There are not that many Moroccans and Algerians as they are younger communities, meaning they came to Scotland in recent years. There have been more refugees over the last few years and they have their own issues. The newer refugees need even more help. They come from different cultures and the culture in the UK is very different. These newer refugees are mostly from Arab and African cultures.
The general Scottish community is accepting and welcoming and there is harmony there, but there has been institutional racism and in some pockets of communities where refugees are concentrated, there has been violence, even murders. In Scotland people are generally friendly and welcoming. Muslims are free to practice their religion. The existence of the center shows the willingness of the government and people to fund and help the Muslims. The Muslims in Glasgow are in a fortunate position compared to people in other places.
Despite terrorism, the Scottish people are still trying to integrate the Muslims, who, in return have been active for some time and have been educating slowly. This ripple effect has got us to where we are today. Islamphobia has been around for a long time but because authorities are aware of that and aware of the good work Muslims have done, now they see that the violence is being done by a minority within the Muslim community. They realize that the majority of Muslims are ‘good’ citizens. In Scotland the center received home office funding as proof of this.


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