How to Establish a Global Culture of Community Building

Two weeks ago, I launched the #InMyBurkini Photo Series initiative, where I shared pictures of myself doing funny and mundane things in my Burkini for 5 days to promote inter-cultural dialogue and understanding.

[Pssst: did you miss the photo series? No worries! You can check out all the pictures right here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5]

When I announced the initiative, I didn’t really know what to expect, which is why I have been so overwhelmed by the response that I have received. Not only was I lucky enough to have friends in my personal and entrepreneurial circles sharing the #InMyBurkini message, I even had the honor of having a surprise feature in Emirates Woman by Emma 14963414_10154503383861839_1848392047_oHall. It was truly an exhilarating experience, especially since when I introduced my #InMyBurkini intiative I said:

“ I don’t know if this photo series will change anybody’s opinion of Muslims or Muslim women, or any minority for that matter. However I am determined to step out of the stereotype that is attached to my identity and be exactly who I am for myself, and others….”

After completing my initiative, I received a message from a dear university friend from the U.S.A, which only confirmed how important it is to be positive, vocal and open to dialogue with others, because it really can have a lasting effect on the people around you. The message read…

Lovely Lady,

I just saw someone spewing garbage and painting Muslims into the same category as extremists. And while it made me angry and upset I realized that for every comment like that I see, you probably see 5 more.

So, I wanted to give you a ray of sunshine and risk redundancy by telling you things you already know. I wanted to let you know how wonderful and special you are, how wise and reasonable every post is that I see from you. That you made a lasting impression on me the very first time we met 7 (!!!) years ago and have continued to do so ever since. Keep the faith in humanity that you seem to always be able to carry, even on the worst days. The world needs more people like you.

Your sister in Abraham ,
Kayla

When I read this message from Kayla, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for being surrounded by people like her, who value me for who I am and strive to promote tolerant attitudes to make feel included wherever I am. But this is not the first time that Kayla has extended her hand to me and made me feel accepted. On September 11th 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, our university, the University of Delaware, hosted a candlelight vigil that I was hesitant to attend as a visibly American Muslim. Despite my hesitation, I went and Kayla, a speaker at the memorial, asked me to light a candle for the victims. A small action that turned my fear of exclusion into a powerful “moment of inclusion” that still resonates with me today.

[You can read my full account of the event here]

These moments, and many others, give me the courage and the drive to continue creating “moments of inclusion,” because I know from personal experience how powerful it can be for someone to create a safe space for you to be who you are. I know that there are many people out there who live in communities where xenophobia is on the rise, which is pushing them to isolate themselves. But we can’t allow “cultures of isolation” to become a part of the fabric of our societies, because we are stronger together then we are apart. So, the questions remains, how can each one of us proactively create “moments of inclusion,” like Kayla, to promote community building in our respective communities?

1) Host an Event or Activity

Whether you choose to host a public campaign like my #InMyBurkini Photo Series or you choose to host a culture night in the privacy of your home, make sure you try to regularly create “safe spaces” for different people to learn about and understand each other. Not only do “moments of inclusion” promote positive dialogue and co-existance, they also promote a sense of global citizenry, which will make community building a vital building block of our increasingly globalized world.

2) Participate in Inter-cultural Activities

If you are not hosting “moments of inclusion,” make sure you attend events or activities where you can experience a “cultural aha” moment. If you find an event to go to, make sure to take a friend or a colleague that you think would be interested in sharing your “cultural aha” moment, so you can help others experience the powerful impact that a “moment of inclusion” can have on an individual or a community. If you can’t attend an event or activity yourself, make sure to “share the love” by sharing it with your network via social media or email.

3) Share your “Moments of Inclusion”

Unfortunately, nowadays, it seems like any video or photo that portrays social injustice goes viral instantly. While it is important to be aware of these injustices, so we can change them, it is also equally as important to share acts of empowering solidarity. So, next time you experience a “moment of inclusion” share it with your community, if only to remind yourself, and others, that being stereotyped doesn’t justify stereotyping. We all play a role in perpetuating stereotypes and we can all play a role in dismantling them too.

I would like to take this opportunity again to thank all the people who supported the #InMyBurkini Photo Series and continue to help me create and participate in “moments of inclusion.” I look forward to hearing how you will promote cultures of community building in your communities.

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