Mountain Muslims: BMC holds outreach conference in Birmingham

Posted by Yassar Mustafa on 14/01/2014
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The BMC is committed to tackling barriers to minority participation in climbing, hill walking and mountaineering. A step to achieving this goal was taken in Birmingham, with a successful conference reaching out to the city’s large Muslim population.

On a particularly chilly winter morning in December, Al Furqan School, situated in the centre of a bustling and diverse community in Birmingham, hosted a BMC outreach conference. This conference was specifically aimed at targeting the largest minority faith group in the UK – Muslims. They constitute an ethnically diverse group of people which was certainly reflected in the delegates attending – South Asians, White Europeans, Arabs and Black Afro-Carribeans – but nevertheless are a group of people which the conference revealed have specific and unifying barriers when it comes to outdoor recreation.

The leaders and representatives invited to attend came from Muslim groups dotted around the Midlands and are active in encouraging outdoor sports, for both males and females, young and old.  These included Muslim Scout Leaders, freelance expedition leaders, community centres and mosques, As-Suffa Institute, Jabal Experience, Islamic school teachers, Birmingham City Council, Mosaic National Network and of course the BMC. Mountain MuslimTM, an innovative organisation and website that aims to facilitate this minority group to experience the outdoors, was also present and helped to organise the conference in association with the BMC.

The primary purpose of the conference was to identify barriers to participation in the outdoors from the Muslim community and to suggest solutions to overcome them. Secondly, it aimed to inspire the delegates to return to their respective groups and organisations with a renewed enthusiasm to aim higher and to achieve even more than they have already. The feedback following the event indicated that it succeeded emphatically in both domains!

The day started with Mohammed Dhalech (Chair of the Mosaic National Network) giving an inspiring account of his personal journey into the world of the outdoors, and also a very insightful history of Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) participation in the UK outdoors over the past few decades. This was followed by an open discussion of barriers to Muslim participation in the outdoors, facilitated by Dr Yassar Mustafa (a medical doctor from the local Heart of England NHS Trust). This open discussion was kick-started into action by a heartening video of a local Muslim children’s group climbing Mt Snowdon, participating in kayaking and other watersports, and facing the trials, tribulations and successes therein. This session proved to be very fruitful and the several minds in the room worked together to highlight a number of key barriers to participation. After the break, Carey Davies, secretary of the BMC Equity Steering Group, did a great job of responding to each of the points raised and thereafter several potential solutions and ideas were shared.

A summary of the key barriers highlighted, along with solutions discussed is presented here. Firstly, it was acknowledged that a lack of outdoor knowledge, experience and training within the wider Muslim community is a key barrier. It was agreed that sustained work needs to be done by the several grassroots organisations present at the conference and also many others not present in order to change this situation. Secondly, female-specific issues were raised such as some women feeling more comfortable participating in all-female group activities, and other women suggesting for increased usage of the local and regional green spaces. It was also revealed that all-female events had previously been run and the BMC can certainly facilitate this again.

Thirdly, participating in the outdoors was regarded as outside of many people’s comfort zones and abilities and therefore work needed to be done to change the mainstream societal perception to a more positive can-do attitude with regards to mountainous terrain and national parks. Fourthly, a distinct lack of role models was cited as a barrier, with too few local role models existing from previous projects to feasibly help the growing communities.

Finally, cost was raised as a factor obstructing ease of accessibility into the outdoors. Regarding the latter two points, Carey Davies highlighted that funding would be available through an upcoming BMC-funded scheme aimed specifically at training potential outdoor leaders from BAME youth and community groups to pro-actively encourage participation in outdoor sports within their respective communities.

To finish off the conference, Dr Chamu Kuppuswamy (Lecturer in Law from Sheffield University) shared her story of overcoming barriers to BAME participation in the outdoors. She gave an inspiring account of her work with a community of traditional Indian dancers in the Peak District, for which she recently won the UK National Parks Volunteers Award.

To conclude, this event demonstrated the commitment of the BMC to increasing minority recruitment to the outdoors. The conference certainly achieved its objectives and more – a number of barriers and potential solutions were discussed and the feedback showed that several delegates were inspired to expand and enhance their activities. The feedback also revealed that many found the breaks a great opportunity to network with each other, share ideas and also to find out more about what had already been happening within the region. A number of delegates commented that they had thought much of the outdoors was outside of the reach of the Muslim community, but that the conference helped them to realise this was certainly not the case and that, with a little guidance in the right direction, the outdoors is within everyone’s grasp.

Indeed, the head teacher of the school that hosted the conference was inspired by the conference to give an impromptu speech to the delegates encouraging them to return and help provide outdoor opportunities for the pupils of the school. In the same way that today’s children are destined to inherit the future, it is hoped this conference will simultaneously act as a catalyst to develop the next generation of outdoor leaders from minority communities.

Yassar Mustafa, BMC Equity Steering Group



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Anonymous User
14/01/2014
There are absolutely no cultural reasons whatsoever why an individual of any religious or ethnic background cannot take part in outdoor activities.

This is liberal box-ticking at it's finest/worst. Complete waste of time and money.
Carey Davies(staff comment)
14/01/2014
Spreading the opportunities and means to access the outdoors has been at the heart of the BMC's mission since it was formed in 1944. The evidence suggests minority ethnicities are significantly under-represented in the outdoors. Just 2% of respondents in our 2007 Equity Survey described themselves as non-white, compared to 10% in the population at large, a figure that fits in with the bigger picture; successive surveys by Natural England have found BME groups to access the outdoors much less than their white counterparts. Just 1% of visitors to National Parks are estimated to be from BME backgrounds. There are a host of other factors at play which can thwart people’s opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, such as deprivation, which is – by contrast – disproportionately higher among BME communities.

Where there has been improvement, it is attributable in no small part to the efforts of organisations like MOSAIC and others who have attempted to identify the barriers that clearly do exist and have worked to overcome them, whether they are religious, cultural, social or economic. We want to contribute to these efforts as the outdoors should not simply be for the use and benefit of Middle England.
Anonymous User
15/01/2014
Carey, while I respect the BMC's efforts to reach all parts of society, including those who are under-represented, I will not accept that a person's religion is a barrier to taking part in outdoor activities.

Islam is not a race of people; Muslim does not mean BME and BME does not mean Muslim. They are not interchangeable, so please stop doing so.

If the BMC is concerned about reaching people from BME backgrounds why not open these types of outreach conferences out to everyone from inner-city BME communities including Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, India etc. Why limit it to Muslim only? By doing so you are already limiting the amount of people you will reach before you have even started.

The only barrier you have suggested for BME communities not to part-take in outdoor activity is economic. This is NOT a religious barrier and I stand by my previous comment that this was a box-ticking exercise.

I also hope you were not suggesting that I am 'Middle England' as you would be way of the mark there.
Carey Davies(staff comment)
15/01/2014
Thanks for fleshing out your orginal comments.

Far from being a 'box-ticking' exercise, this particular initiative has been led, developed and implemented by volunteers on the BMC's Equity Steering Group from a Muslim background who want to try and increase knowledge, understanding and participation in the outdoors within their community. This is a perfectly laudable aim which we are happy to support, and which is consistent with the founding aims and purpose of the BMC and its current equity strategy.

"Why not open these types of outreach conferences out to everyone from inner-city BME communities including Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, India etc. Why limit it to Muslim only?"

Indeed, why not? We are hoping to attract more volunteers to join the Equity Steering Group from other backgrounds to lead similar efforts within their communities. The BMC is a volunteer-led organisation and what we can do in this respect is guided by those who get involved. If it is a subject you are interested in you are welcome to attend.

"Islam is not a race of people; Muslim does not mean BME and BME does not mean Muslim."

Others will have better expertise in this regard, but the article above recognises that Islam is not a single ethnicity. In Britain, however, nearly 90% are of non-white ethnicity and more than 70% are from South Asian backgrounds.

"The only barrier you have suggested for BME communities not to part-take in outdoor activity is economic. This is NOT a religious barrier"

There is a wide field of research on barriers to participation within BME communities. As I said above, these barriers can be religious, cultural, social or economic. If you would like to find out more you are welcome to email me at carey [at] thebmc.co.uk and I can provide relevant links and literature.
Anonymous User
16/01/2014
Let’s get one thing straight before I reply – and I will simply repeat my earlier assertion; Islam is not a race. Muslim does not mean BME. BME does not mean Muslim. There is no level of expertise needed to comprehend this. Anyone saying otherwise is being dishonest. The article above even alludes to ‘White European’ Muslims – are these people BME’s? No. It is a very simple concept.

When the idea was initially proposed for the Mountain Muslim conference, did nobody at the BMC Equity Steering Group think or want to expand it to include all BME’s or was everyone too busy patting each other on the back? If I was Ghanaian Christian or a Indian Hindu or a Jewish atheist (yes, you can be both Jewish and not believe in any gods) looking for further information on outdoor activities I would feel terribly let down that the BMC was happy to spend time and money giving further assistance to white Europeans (your words, not mine) and not me, solely based on what god or prophet I chose to believe in.

Out of interest, if a group of Kenyan Bahá'í or Sri Lankan Buddhists had arrived for the event, hoping to take part, would they have been turned away? If not, then why not just open the event up to all BME groups? If they would have been turned away it simply makes a mockery of inclusion and diversity.

I have given you plenty of opportunity to give me a credible, religious barrier that a Muslim would face taking part in outdoor activity. You have failed to do so. If you are unable reiterate or summarise the relevant links and literature in your possession I am highly dubious of its validity to provide a credible religious barrier.

Would the BMC seriously consider an outreach conference for those with a Communist political ideology to help break down the barriers that this minority populous faces in pursuit of outdoor activity? If a vegan contacted your Equity Steering Group, would you hold a workshop aimed at combating prejudices certain outdoor persons hold against people with a specific dietary requirement? I expect the answer to both of those questions to be a polite 'no' despite both political and dietary barriers being as credible as religious ones.

I am personally involved with volunteers, it is my job, and it is always brilliant when under-represented groups approach me to assist with local, community development. I cannot, however, work with them if it is at the expense of other under-represented groups, nor could I be involved with an organisation that would.
Anonymous User
16/01/2014

Dear Anonymous

I feel I am in a particularly apt position to respond to your points, as a white, Caucasian, Muslim woman who attended the mountain Muslim conference and found it incredibly beneficial. I disagree with a lot of what you have said:

1. I think I am a perfect example of the fact that Islam is not a particular race and nobody is claiming that it is so there is no need to keep repeating the same thing. However, the vast majority of Muslims in the UK are from a BME background which should not be forgotten.

2. There ARE religion-specific barriers to outdoor participation. Whilst many of the barriers discussed at the conference were generic (such as cost, access to outdoor spaces etc), I as a Muslim woman for example keep to certain rules of gender interaction prescribed in my faith, and therefore am looking for female-only training courses and facilities. I don't suppose you know much about the Islamic details, hence my surprise that you would out of the blue dismiss that any religious barriers could possibly exist. Many other examples were discussed on the day which I do not frankly feel the need to have to justify to skeptics such as yourself.

3. Even if there weren't any specific barriers (which as I have demonstrated, there are), it is quite reasonable to have a conference targeting a particular religious group. If most Muslims come from a BME background and there are agreed upon barriers to BME participation then having a meeting targeting Muslims may open the channel of communication to those who may be more interested to attend a conference addressing their religious group than simply a generic BME meeting - and opening these channels of communication about outdoor activities is the whole point of the Equity Steering Group.

4. By having a 'Mountain Muslim' conference this is not to say that the BMC now only deal with Muslims or that there will not be any catering for other groups. This was a small meeting to help brainstorm and tackle the issues for a particular group so with all due respect, if any of the other minority groups you mentioned feel passionate enough about it then let them organise something for themselves, I'm sure the BMC are more than happy to facilitate a discussion.

I say well done to Carey and the organisers from Mountain Muslim, the conference has certainly been a means for me to assist my local community group to get into the outdoors and I commend them highly.

Mirina
Anonymous User
21/01/2014
www.the-hope-project.co.uk my muslim brothers let me ask him one question you all want to know the answer of . is a member of the bnp allowed to be in the bmc . if the answer is yes this would worry me as i need to trust my comrads up mountains .please come see me on facebook the beacon of hope eco heritage trust we are the only org set up for minoritys ,BAME,all religions, genders , activists and all other disenfranchised lovers of the great outdoors . carey we do not want words we want real actions .thanks sam
Anonymous User
08/02/2014
There is a comment asking whether a member of the BNP could also be a member of the BMC. Yes, why not, last time I checked your political affiliations did not disbar you from being a member of the BMC and so it shouldn't, just as your religion should not or your ethnicity for that matter. If it was an illegal organisation that would be different, this is a country that fought for the right to be free after all. Everyone should of course be treated as an equal member of our society, would you object e.g. to be being belayed by someone of a different religion or colour to yourself? It seems to be you who is spouting discriminationary views.

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